Category Archives for "Contesting"

Contesting and Sleep

SleepMost people operate contests in what would be considered a “casual” manner. They operate on Friday night, or Sunday afternoon, or devote a day of the weekend to work some of the deserving.

Or, if the rules say an operator can operate only 36 of the 48 hours of the contest, then six hours of sleep a night might not be such a bad thing.

Sleep, in these operating modes, doesn’t much come into play.

But, if you are serious about working a contest and want to go full bore for the vast majority of the contest, sleep is a big issue. Because we should have so much of it.

There is remarkably little literature on what can be done about sleep during a contest. Even less about the effects of the lack of sleep on how you operate. But there are some resources out there.

One such resource is K5ZD’s excellent article, originally appearing in the National Contest Journal called A Sleep Strategy for DX Contesting.

K5ZD carefully looks at sleep basics, the first 24-hours of the contest, the second 24-hours, and even more tips after that.

Every person’s pattern will be different. But this article gives you a great jumping off point for the serious contest operation.

Scot, K9JY

Photo Credit

Beginning Contesting

K4JA Precontest CheckoutAfter you have done something for quite a while, learned a lot about it, experienced working with it, you still believe that you don’t know a lot about the subject. Consequently, you think the simplest things in your head everyone would just “know.”

The same is true in contesting. Yet, my first contest experience (Field Day) was a lot of learning on what to expect, how to go about making contacts, learning a little bit about how the band behaves in contests as compared to regular conditions — and to make sure I caught that great Saturday night meal the club put on. Yum yum!

But it was a lot of learning to do. Now it seems like not much. To someone starting out, though, there is a good amount to know.

Be willing to teach the simplest things about contesting to others. Just like learning how to do moon bounce, or mobile operating, or catching the elusive DX station, contesting requires others to teach who are willing to learn.

Be a teacher.

Scot, K9JY

Contesting at the Noise Floor

towerandantenna-1.jpgI don’t know about you, but I used to think that great contesting stations with all those big antennas heard everything — and heard them clearly.


I’ve been very privileged to operate from some great multi-operator stations and one of the most fascinating things that I learned was that big antennas help you hear more stations — of course — but you still have to work the noise floor.

In a somewhat controversial post, I noted in “Contesting to the fourth level station” that big antennas simply allow you to hear more stations. Level one stations will be loud; no doubt about that. Big antennas also allow one to hear “fourth” level stations — those with dipoles in attics running perhaps 100 watts.

But those “dipole in the attic” stations will simply be at your noise level and you have to work them just like someone with a dipole at 20-feet needs to work some station that is at their noise level.

Contesting, in many ways, tests your skills as an operator at working stations at the noise floor. Can you get the call sign and exchange when the static and noise are at the same level as the station calling? Can you get it at the first exchange? Do you need repeats and slow down your rate?

Many contesters believe that, because you have big antennas, big stations effortlessly work stations using no contesting skills. Not true. We all work the noise floor. The stations worked may be different, but the noise floor is what tests our skills as contesters.

Scot, K9JY

CQ WW SSB 2007

pa148711061135-2.jpgWell, how did you do? Inquiring minds want to know!

Sure, the scores are on the web and they may have already been uploaded to Logbook of The World and your favorite QSL provider.

But, it’s not the scores.

How did YOU do?

Meet your goals? Tested everything out before the contest? Struggled through poor operating conditions? Surprised at the ten meter openings with ZERO sunspots? What would you have done better?

It’s After Action Review time! I’d love to see some discussion around what worked well for you, what could have been better, and whether or not you tracked to your goals for the contest.

Scot, K9JY

CQ WW SSB — Dry Run

Station readinessThe CQ WW SSB contest is coming up pretty quick. After the contest, watch the reflectors you belong to carefully. How many people will wail and knash their teeth on the reflector about equipment not working, antennas not turning, and software not doing the job?

Now, there is some legitimate breakage during the contest. But you see those posts as “20-hours into the contest, my amplifier blew up and I had to continue on barefoot…” type of comments.

I’m not writing about those types of issues. I’m writing about those contesters who tell us they started the contest and nothing worked right. The antennas had high SWR, the radio wouldn’t connect with the software program, or the rotors wouldn’t work.

The cure for common failure is this: do a dry run of your station before the contest starts.

Here are the critical components to test:

  • Radio, amplifier, and antenna transmit with low SWR
  • Antenna rotors turn
  • Contesting software is set up for the contest at hand
  • Contesting software networks with other computers
  • Software drives the antenna rotors if so configured
  • Software and radio works to transmit your messages
  • Your sound card works to receive signals
  • You work five imaginary stations in your contest program — check to ensure it is scoring the contest correctly.
  • On each antenna, preferably on each band

You’ll be glad you tested at least a week before the contest — it gives you time to research, fix, and air ship any parts before the big one.

Otherwise you can go crazy watching everything break and enjoy the pressure of trying to fix 20-things one hour before the contest.

Hey — you get to choose!

Scot, K9JY

Online Planned Contest Operations

Contest DXpeditionsOne of the good things to do before operating in a contest is to know what special operations will be on the air for your particular contest.

NG3K offers a great website resource that updates the latest announcements of contest expeditions (and planned DXpeditions) at his Amateur Radio Contesting Resources and Information page.

Check it out before your next contest and be ready to work those special contest stations.

Scot, K9JY

30 Days — 30 Ham Radio Contesting Tips

beam-north-northwest.jpgFor September, I gave myself a challenge: post one ham radio contesting tip a day to kick off the fall contesting season. The subject matter was easy as I love contesting. The challenge was in writing thirty articles, as well as a few others, during the month instead of my normal 20-25.

What I didn’t want to do was have one article with a simple listing of 30-tips. I wanted to go into a little more depth with each of the tips so that some reasoning and explanation could take place.

But, it’s tough to scroll through the entire month of September to find those tips, so I’m consolidating them here.

Thanks for all of your comments and writing references to these articles; I really appreciate it.

30 Ham Radio Contesting Tips:

  1. Schedule your Contests. The really great thing about contesting is they are regularly scheduled — regardless of great propagation, DXpeditions or the mood of the sun.
  2. Create a contest goal. Goals are good and help motivate you while participating.
  3. Contest on your terms. Contest for and be motivated by your reasons. Not everyone is out to win the contest; it could be you want to learn a new mode.
  4. Have an operating plan. Having a plan provides you guidance for the contest and a baseline to compare against reality in the midst of battle.
  5. Test equipment before the contest. You do want your stuff to work, right?
  6. Update Multiplier Files. Downloading the latest ensures you won’t miss a juicy multiplier during the contest.
  7. Read the contest rules. You’d be surprised how often this bites you — even experienced contesters.
  8. Work a contest one month before the real contest. The sun rotates once a month (27 days)…so work a contest the month before to experience the propagation you will have before the one you really want to concentrate on later.
  9. Test ergonomics. Sitting in a chair contesting a long while will test how well your station is laid out for operating.
  10. Have a guest op checklist. What should you bring as a guest op?
  11. Compete with a partner. Work a contest with someone in your club (together or at your individual stations). Discuss what worked and what didn’t about the contest.
  12. Review Newsletter for Contest DXpeditions. Lots of people travel for contests. Make sure you take a look at the list from your favorite ham radio newsletter.
  13. Have propagation plan. Propagation programs can suggest what will be open where. Having a propagation plan can give you a guide while contesting.
  14. Filter your packet connection. If the contest allows packet, filter the connection to match up with your station.
  15. Accurate logging. A contest is about working stations — and logging them accurately. If you don’t you get penalized.
  16. Send in your log. Even if you didn’t work many stations, you can help the contest by sending in your log to help enable log checking.
  17. Logbook of The World. Want to reduce your QSL’ing chores for contests? Submit your log to Logbook of The World for instant confirmations for you and the people you contact.
  18. Review UBN’s. Uniques, Busted, and Not in the Log. It’s how your log is viewed for accuracy.
  19. Have a QSL System. Even if you use Log of the World, contesters get a lot of QSL card requests. Have a system for processing them.
  20. Use a grey line map. Grey line propagation is the cat’s meow. Having a visual representation of where the grey line is right now can help you point your antennas the right way.
  21. Learn a single band. Want to learn propagation on a band fast? Do a contest on a single band. You’ll learn.
  22. Challenge your operating skill with QRP. Get frustrated fast. Operate a contest QRP from your station. Then learn how to get through the mess for points. It will make you a better operator.
  23. Do an After Action Review. Did we achieve our goal, what went right, what could be improved. Record the results for the next contest.
  24. Join a contesting club. Amp up your contesting knowledge and motivation.
  25. Learn from contesting pros. They are out there. They can teach you a lot.
  26. Leverage your strengths. Great CW operator? Great antennas? Whatever your strength, leverage it for the contest.
  27. Go on a contesting DXpedition. Even if it is to a different state. It’s a very different experience and will teach you a lot.
  28. Practice CW before contests. Notice how much better you are at CW at the end of the contest compared to the start? You need to practice before the contest.
  29. Participate on a contesting team. Many contests offer team (versus club) entries. Join a team to up your motivation for the contest.
  30. Find joy in contesting. It’s there. You know it. Go find it.

There are many more contesting tips, of course. But thirty to start out the fall contesting season seemed like the right number for me.

I had great fun writing these. Enjoy the resource.

Scot, K9JY

Contesting to the fourth level station

Mega station antennasWhen you contest from big stations, you are really trying to get to the “fourth level” of stations that are in the contest.

The concept of levels is interesting, but probably not well known. Here’s my definition of the three levels of stations in a contest:

  1. The mega-stations. They open the band. They close the band. If you can’t hear them, the band isn’t open. K3LR, W3LPL.
  2. The “typical” ham station. On the higher bands, a tri-band beam. On the lower bands, a competitive vertical with lots of radials or a very high dipole in relation to wavelengths. Usually have an amplifier as well. Oh, that I should have a typical ham station…
  3. The “wire” station. All wires or a multi- band vertical on all bands. May or may not be optimal in terms of height for wavelength or not enough radials to be effective. Most likely running barefoot. But, they are on the air and can work people in optimum conditions.
  4. The “attic antenna” station. When you get QSL’s from stations that have wire antennas in attics running 5-watts, you’ve hit the fourth level.

If you think about it, working a contest is working at the noise level. The bigger the antennas, the better you can hear those fourth level stations trying to work you. And in the game of maximizing contacts and multipliers, getting to the fourth level is what differentiates great contest stations from contest stations.

Scot, K9JY

200-WPM Morse Code Copying

OK, so I didn’t believe it, but it looks like it really happened.


Can I get to 40-WPM in a contest? Ahhh…no.

Scot, K9JY

Sweepstakes Manual — Do you have yours?

Station RightThe classic November Sweepstakes contests from the ARRL are just around the corner. Clubs and individuals promote this contest. Clubs rally around this contest as individual scores within the club “circle” contribute to the Club Score.

This contest has been sliced, diced, and analyzed while having club members promote the contest to club members to participate.

The Mad River Radio Club even has a 23-page manual on how to do the Sweepstakes contest from the Midwest.

If you’re looking for ideas on how to run this contest, this is a great place to start. And thanks to the Mad River Radio Club for publishing it for all to see.

Scot, K9JY