How to learn from every ham radio contest

When taking notes at the end of the contest — what went well and what could have been better — what should you consider for inclusion?

Here’s a short trigger list for what you can learn from every contest:


  • Radio working properly
  • Amplifier working properly
  • Keyer working properly
  • Computer issues
  • Contesting software issues
  • Interface issues
  • Rotor box issues


  • Each antenna, each band notes
  • Directional weakness and strengths
  • Listening antenna performance
  • Feedline issues

Contest Performance

  • Right band, right time
  • Right frequency for the band
  • Missed band openings
  • Propagation challenges
  • Performed handling runs well
  • Performed S&P well

Support Performance

  • Meal breaks
  • Forced time off at right times?
  • Completed contest submission on time

Once you have all of your notes, you build a to-do list for the next contest and start to complete those items.

This is a great way to continuously improve your contesting skills while learning your station’s strengths and weaknesses. This also helps you see your improvements in your contesting and that provides further motivation to improve.

Any other items that help us learn from every contest?

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Multi-operator contesting teams and sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation also impacts the productivity and performance of teams. This, from Bob Sutton, in Sleep Deprivation and Group Performance. While the point of view of sleep deprivation is on business teams, I think it directly applies to ham radio multi-operator contesting teams as well. Especially those that have not operated together often enough to bond as a team.

Not much research has been done on sleep deprivation and teams, so the article he cites is both ground-breaking and needs more confirmation. The article is not linked (it’s an academic article, so I don’t think it is on-line…), but the basic points are these:

  • The individual impact of sleep deprivation — “reduced ability to process information, reduced ability to learn and perform novel tasks, irritability, and impatience” — disrupt team performance as well.
  • If the team is set up as a hierarchy, overcoming the leader’s errors is very difficult.
  • “…when people on a team are sleep deprived — regardless of their personalities — the resulting irritability and grumpiness is likely (regardless of personality) to cause the kind of nasty interpersonal conflict associated with poor performance and decision-making”

If you have operated on a multi-operator contesting team, even a team of two in the middle of a Saturday night of contesting, you’ve seen these effects in play.

Has sleep deprivation distrupted your multi-op team?

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Ham radio Contest Stations database updated

Do you want to find out about the set-up at your favorite ham radio contesting station? Well, you can through the voluntary efforts of the contesting station owners and the Contest Stations website. Pete, N4ZR, and Mike, NF4L, have been working hard on updating the site making it easier for contest station owners and users of the site to find and update information.

Easier Updating by Contest Stations

Now station owners can update their information on the site. The update triggers an e-mail to Pete, N4ZR, so he can review the update before the change is made to the web site. This is done for security reasons, of course.

Enter your station — or update your information

The information for my entry was from when I still lived in the Midwest. Now that I’m in the Pacific Northwest, my entire antenna system has changed along with my approach to contesting. It took me only a few moments to update the information in the database.

Now, if Pete’s on the ball early this morning(!), you should see updated information for K9JY on the Contest Stations site. Just enter in my call in the search field and take it from there.

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Ham radio contesting on your terms

We’re coming to the end of the major contests this spring ham radio contesting season. Did you contest on your terms?

It is an important question because contesting is a diverse activity within the ham radio hobby. For example, this year we have the Triple Play Award offered up by the American Radio Relay League. Contesting on your terms could mean that you contest only to work and confirm new states for the Triple Play Award. You don’t worry about your score or winning your division or how well your station is working. Instead, you contest on your terms and search for stations that help you win the award.

Think a bit on how ham radio contesting on your terms can help focus your efforts in the hobby.

Ham radio contesting shows station performance

Contesting quickly tests anything you need to in the shack. Want to test that new 40-meter antenna? Enter a ham radio contest as a single band entry on 40-meters. Want to see how that 40-meter band works DX? Make sure you enter as a single band entry in a DX contest.

Ham radio contesting helps you learn software

Want to find out all the new features and roles of a software program that interacts with your radio? Enter a contest using the software (contesting or not) and you will soon find out how everything works. Or doesn’t work. When you are under the gun in a contest, learning happens quickly compared with the stoic pace of casual conversations.

Ham radio contesting helps you increase your Morse code speed

Work a CW contest and watch your code speed increase about 10-WPM. Nothing is better than trying to copy code in a crowded band with many stations running!

Contest on your terms

This is not to say that you shouldn’t go out and try to win a contest. There are many people who do just that. But contesting is a diverse activity and one that can help you focus on the hobby without going after the “win” for the contest. Instead, use contests as ways to learn, test and increase your operating ability to get you out of your comfort zone.

Have you been contesting on your terms? If not, you still have some time before the end of the spring contesting season.

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This is the first CQ WW SSB Contest I have listened to from this location. And the comparison to my previous location is striking.

This location is much worse for ham radio than the one I had about four miles from here — it is lower, on the side of a hill, with another hill due west from me. Signals arriving from the northeast and east have to go through a pile of dirt into a vertical antenna. Not pretty.

It showed, too, during the weekend. DX was few and far between — and, for that matter, so were signals of any sort. Where I expected tons of signals on 20-meters, I instead heard few. Nothing on 15 meters. Nothing on 10 meters. Forty was OK Friday night and Saturday morning, but not spectacular. I heard Europe, Japan, and other stations in the Pacific in my short time on the bands.

So the net of this location: for ham radio, I’ll need lots of sunspots and good openings to work a decent number of stations in a contest. A true “little pistol” in a geographically challenged contesting area.

I didn’t move here for ham radio. But I sure wish it was better.

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October, 2008, QST to have Radiosport Insert

20m antenna

Here’s a good idea (via the ARRL Letter):

We here at ARRL HQ are excited over the theme of October’s QST — radiosport! In addition to feature and technical articles focusing on contesting — ranging from the history of radiosport to a product review of a rig geared for the avid contester and DX’er — ARRL Contributing Editor H. Ward Silver, N0AX, has put together an 8 page insert focusing solely on radiosport.

This section features such articles as how to interpret your Log Checking Report (LCR), guidelines for the upcoming contest season and a list of resources that no contester should be without, as well as a listing of major contests throughout the year. Of course, no issue of QST would be complete without “Contest Corral” and “This Month in Contesting.”

Look for an announcement by ARRL Contest Branch Manager Sean Kutzko, about how 2009 is the Year of the State QSO Party. Be sure to check out October QST — in your mailbox in September — to find out more about this exciting new event.

This is a great addition. I don’t remember QST having an insert in the magazine before – and this one is about contesting.

And 2009 the year of the state QSO Party? Sunspots haven’t been great for DX and most hams with limited antennas can only work domestic contests. This looks like a great theme for stateside.

While early on in their roles, both Sean and Ward have been making changes in the contesting stuff coming out of the ARRL – something I’m very grateful for seeing. We need a bit of excitement to generate enthusiasm about the hobby and less defending the rules-based realm of every technological change that comes along.

More of this, please. And thanks for the work so far.

Scot, K9JY

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Coordinating the Magazine and Web Contest Results

Thesis Tower and Antenna There is some good commentary going on about the ARRL posting of the ARRL International DX Phone contest results on the contest reflector.

You will recall the original hullabaloo when either CQ or the ARRL (or both) said they were going to limit contest results printed in the magazines due to costs and move more content over to the web. I agreed with that proposition then and still do now. Any magazine article should be of the highlights of the contest that any ham would enjoy (and perhaps enter the contest the next time). Those of us diehard contesters want more and you can provide endless content on the web at the cost of network and disk space.

There seems, however, to be an issue with execution. What is becoming apparent is that the publishing of the results takes place in different locations at different times. For example, the top ten boxes come out differently than the contest write-up compared with the magazine publishing version.

If you are fanatic about contesting, this will drive you crazy. If you are rules based (and many hams are), this will drive you crazy.

Process Suggestion

Somehow, I think the contest managers pursuing the holy grail of speed to results answer lost their way and just published whatever they have at that time. Or, they have scheduled it in a way where they know the schedule and we don’t.

So my process suggestion is this one: release all the results on the web at the same time, regardless of the magazine publishing schedule. One day there are no results for the contest, the next day they are all there. Even if it delays the entire publishing one week, it would be worth the reduction in craziness we all feel when getting half a detailed loaf when all we want is the full meal.

Use the power of “future date” publishing and get it all showing up at once.

And, my hats off to all the volunteers providing content, producing it, and getting it published. As one who publishes a blog, I know it is no easy task. This is a process issue, not a content issue.

Scot, K9JY

PS You might want to add in ALL the current licenses from the FCC into the log checking programs too before doing the log checking. It really helps on the accuracy numbers of the contesters working people who just got their license…

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IARU Championship 2008 — K9JY

WriteLog Keyboard Shortcuts

Nice to be back on the air…

Worked into DU, JA, VK2, VK6, ZL, V31, KL7, KH6, and EA (a long way from Washington State in these conditions!) as well as North America.

Class: Single Operator, CW Only, High Power (400 Watts), Five Hours operating time.

Band CW QSO’s Zones HQ Mults
40 70 15 2
20 32 6 1
15 8 2 0
Total 110 23 3

Total score: 6500

Conditions were poor here in the Pacific Northwest with Saturday night the best conditions. I heard W1AW/9 on both 40 and 20 but couldn’t work them from here.

Scot, K9JY

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The importance of copying the full call the first time

Contesting is a radio sport that requires the operator to have many specific skills. One of these skills is being able to handle the “rate” of callers coming back from your CQ. The faster you can handle a pileup, the more contacts go in the log helping the score.

But, where to start learning the “rate” skill?

The first place I’d start is learning to copy the entire call the first time you hear it. Whether it be phone or CW, but especially with CW, getting the whole call the first time will do more for increasing your rate than any other trick.

The reason this is such an important skill is getting only a partial call means that you, in essence, work the same station twice. Not only does this take time where you could be working someone else out of the pileup, but it also discourages others waiting for you to complete the contact so they get a chance to work you. Even repeating with only one other person waiting will often drive that person away from your frequency.

Speed of logging is everything in contesting because the more correct contacts in log, the higher the score.

The only way to increase your capacity to hear one full call in a pileup is to practice. On CW, this is fairly easy using a program such as Morse Runner. Start out by copying the complete call with no others calling and increase your CW speed as well.

Here’s a video of Morse Runner in action:


Then, start adding in stations calling at one time in the simulation. This will force you to hear the one station you are copying even though others are calling on top of the station you are trying to work. Everyone calls on slightly different frequencies, so if your receiver can handle the load, you will develop hearing stations in spite of the closeness.

Increase your rate by copying the full call the first time.

Scot, K9JY

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June contesting weekend

Field Day It was a big contest weekend, at least here in the states with the ARRL VHF contest. Lots of people were out looking for elusive VHF openings and stations to work — and found them. Quickly perusing the scores this morning finds many stations worked over quite some distances. Amongst the floods of the Midwest, it looks like a little break was found for the the weather weary.

On the other hand, it was also the weekend of the ANARTS RTTY contest. I was able to participate in the contest this time around from home. However, conditions just sucked. With the solar flux sitting at 64-67 most of the weekend and the K-index from 2-3, not much was bouncing off the ionosphere to work.

I heard nothing east of Texas from Seattle-land. No DX, though I understand there was a brief opening on Saturday evening around 1700Z to Europe.

It’s tough to slog it out with poor conditions. Fortunately, it was a lot of fun and great to be on the air again (more on this later).

Hope you enjoyed your weekend.

Scot, K9JY

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