Category Archives for "Contesting"

30 Ham Radio Contesting Tips — Find joy in contesting

Beam-NortheastThis month, I’m providing a ham radio contest tip-a-day (along with other posts) to help you trigger your own contesting activities.

Today’s tip: Find joy in contesting.

In this final installment of thirty ham radio contesting tips, it all comes down to joy.

Contesting is exceptionally challenging to operators. Contests, whether entered competitively or simply as an afternoon break on a Sunday, are demanding. Our equipment must work the way it was designed. Our computers need to have all of their interfaces working. Our bodies need to be in shape for the time we will spend contesting. Our operating skills need to be at the ready. And our head needs to be in the contest.

The great thing for me about contesting is this ability to let the rest of the trials and tribulations I may be experiencing in my life fall away for the duration of the contest. The contest, because of the focus on the operating, becomes the “flow” experience where time melts away.

The thrill of a monster contest run effortlessly handled, the elusive multiplier that gets snapped up by checking a long path propagation route, and the great honor of hearing those familiar calls once again on the air is the joy contesting brings to me.

So my final contesting tip is simple: find your joy in contesting.

Scot, K9JY

Rockin’ in CQ WW RTTY

This weekend I’m at the QTH of K7ZSD on the Smoke Mountain Ranch in Oregon for the CQ WW RTTY Contest. We’re using the callsign of Hank, KR7X, and operating Multi-two for the contest.

But it’s a tough one. Out here in 7-land, the QSO’s with EU are few and far between. JA’s have been loud — but few — and the rest of the world is pretty quiet with the sunspots being what they are right now.

My personal highlight from the overnight was working 9M6XRO on 80-meters. It took about three minutes to get the callsign to print, but 9M6XRO was patient to get the QSO delivered.

It’s cool outside, but the contesting is hot inside.

I’ll catch you on the flip side of Zulu.

Scot, K9JY

30 Ham Radio Contest Tips — Participate on a contesting team

PA148711061133This month, I’m providing a ham radio contest tip-a-day (along with other posts) to help you trigger your own contesting activities.

Today’s tip: Participate on a contesting team.

One of the great things about some contests is having a “team” category. The idea is that a group of people can get together and form a contesting “team” and have each of their scores contribute to an overall team score for the contest.

This is differentiated from a club score because the team size is usually much less than the entire club effort and from a multi category in that each operator is operating as a single operator during the contest.

But, the overall score goes to a team.

The advantages of signing up for a team are pretty interesting:

  • Your commitment to the contest increases. Because you are part of a team, you will spend more time in the contest.
  • Your competitive nature will increase the score. Who wants to have the lowest score on the team?
  • You will focus more on the score. Capture those elusive multipliers. Look for weird openings during the contest. Really up your contesting game.
  • Have more fun. Teams often will instant message back and forth on how they are doing in the contest, keeping up the interest and the fun.

Besides, you can usually make up your own team name. There are some pretty interesting ones out there…

Scot, K9JY

30 Ham Radio Contest Tips — Practice CW before contests

Morse Code KeyThis month, I’m providing a ham radio contest tip-a-day (along with other posts) to help you trigger your own contesting activities.

Today’s tip: Practice CW before contests.

When a contest starts, it’s fast and furious. When I first started contesting, I was always amazed at how fast the CW was for the stations doing the running.

Of course, I was no slouch at CW either, but even though I was on the air a lot and was into Morse Code, that wall of fast CW was hard to get used to after ensuring the station was setup right for the contest and everything (usually) checked out.

By the end of the contest, no matter what, I was also much faster at my CW speeds then I was before the contest started. There is a rhythm to CW and contests that takes over and helps the operator copy code.

Consequently, I started practicing my CW before the contest, just to get into the groove of the dits and dahs. Get a feel for the wall of CW that starts a contest.

Bring up Morse Runner and pop it up at 40-WPM with a little pileup and you’ll be rocking with the best of them come contest time.

Practice. It will help you penetrate that wall of CW at the start of a contest.

Scot, K9JY

J-38 Morse Code Key picture courtesy of Flickr.

30 Ham Radio Contest Tips — Go on a contesting DXpedition

VP9 DXpeditionThis month, I’m providing a ham radio contest tip-a-day (along with other posts) to help you trigger your own contesting activities.

Today’s tip: Go on a contesting DXpedition.

For as long as I have been an amateur radio operator, I’ve wanted to go on DXpeditions. Fortunately, with the Cinco Nueve Contest Group, I’ve been able to go on a couple where I’ve gone out of the country and operated in contests.

But, you don’t have to leave the country to go on a “DXpedition.” While living in the Midwest, people took a trip to North and/or South Dakota to help put a needed multiplier on the air for Sweepstakes.

Last year, the Cinco Nueve Contest Group drove from Washington and Oregon to Idaho to put Idaho — a unique multiplier for the CQ WW RTTY Contest — on the air for the deserving.

Here are some good reasons to go to that relative rare one for a contest:

  • The other end of pileups. Yes, they ARE different on the other end from where you’ve been calling for your entire ham radio career. How to handle them is a skill you will need to quickly learn.
  • Speed of operation. Because you are rarer in the contest, the activity stays up longer and operates faster. If you are familiar with “speed” in sports, then you’ll be able to relate that DXpeditions up your speed game.
  • Logistics. Picking up everything and going somewhere to operate provides a completely new set of challenges. Going through the logistics experience helps you understand what is important for operating — helping you set priorities for your own station back home.
  • Motivation for the contest. You made the trip. You are more likely to be committed to the contest then if you were surrounded by all of the comfort — and tasks — of home.

Going on a contest DXpedition aren’t for everyone, of course. But if you get the opportunity, my suggestion is GO. You’ll learn a lot.

Scot, K9JY

30 Ham Radio Contesting Tips — Leverage your strengths

Your Contesting StrengthThis month, I’m providing a ham radio contest tip-a-day (along with other posts) to help you trigger your own contesting activities.

Today’s tip: Leverage your strengths.

One of the truisms in corporate life is to “leverage your strengths” so as to better your performance.

Yet, as contesters, we try and be all things to the contest world and stretch ourselves too thin. Sure, all of us will work a variety of contests and modes, but few of us will focus on those areas that are strengths in contesting.

A classic example is one who is great at CW and not as good at SSB. Or a contester fabulous at RTTY trying to duplicate that effort on phone.

Instead of operating skills, many of us ignore the reality of our equipment and geography. Instead of trying to be number one in the world in DX contests when we have a mere dipole and a hundred watts, we should focus our efforts on contests where a dipole and a hundred watts would give us the best advantage.

Every station and contester has relative strengths to others. These should be identified and then maxed out to create the best contesting environment for you.

Scot, K9JY

30 Ham Radio Contest Tips — Learn from contesting pros

Learn from contesting prosThis month, I’m providing a ham radio contest tip-a-day (along with other posts) to help you trigger your own contesting activities.

Today’s tip: Learn from contesting pros.

Contesting pros are all over the place; on the air, quoted in print, and self-revealing in their write ups about the contest.

Yet, the rest of us tend to read the stories, check out the pictures, listen to them on the air in amazement — and ignore the lessons being taught to us.

One of the best ways of learning from a contesting pro is listening to that person running during a contest. Or working a pileup for that new multiplier.

One of the best ways of learning propagation is reading about the contesting pro checking 20-meters for that elusive long path opening and scoring a new multiplier.

One of the best ways of learning how a station should be set up is by examining the pictures that shows the placement of the hardware, computer, and logging windows used by the contesting pro.

No, the learning isn’t “in your face.” But you can learn a lot from the great contesters out there by looking for the lessons.

Scot, K9JY

30 Ham Radio Contesting Tips — Join a contesting club

Tower and AntennaThis month, I’m providing a ham radio contest tip-a-day (along with other posts) to help you trigger your own contesting activities.

Today’s tip: Join a contesting club.

Clubs are the heart of Amateur Radio, in my humble opinion. Hams in clubs provide support for their members, encourage ham radio friendships, and give focus and direction for their membership.

Now, general interest ham radio clubs are an important start to people who may be interested in contesting. There are usually programs provided to the membership about contesting or subsets of the membership roster who do ham radio contests. Most general interest clubs also sponsor a Field Day which is often the first glimpse of contesting-like operation for a ham (it was mine).

But most areas also have clubs specifically devoted to ham radio contesting. Because the club can submit club scores, the club is often geographically disbursed and meetings are anywhere from formal to ad hoc depending upon the club.

There are a few common characteristics of contest clubs. Most have an e-mail reflector. Most have a web site. Most have an electronic newsletter.

Off of these three common contest club traits come the unique advantages of belonging to a contest club:

  • Contesting support. Someone in the contest club has your logging program, can answer your question about the rules of a specific contest, and can tell you their experiences in a contest with that radio and antenna setup that you are thinking of doing. This is much more specific support than you are likely to find at a differently focused Amateur Radio Club.
  • Camaraderie. Because a contesting club will submit scores as a club, there is a much stronger sense of “team” in a contest club.
  • Contesting e-mail reflectors tend to be much more active than other types of radio reflectors because of the focus on the results of the last contest or the planning of the next contest.

As with most things, specialization increases focus and knowledge about a particular subject. Specializing in contesting as part of your ham radio hobby is no different. And the fastest way to increase your knowledge about contesting outside of operating contests is to belong to a ham radio contesting club.

Scot, K9JY

30 Ham Radio Contest Tips — Do an After Action Review

MagnifyingGlassThis month, I’m providing a ham radio contest tip-a-day (along with other posts) to help you trigger your own contesting activities.

Today’s tip: Do an After Action Review.

After Action Reviews were originally done by the military, but now carry over into many different situations where one desires to improve performance. Essentially, an After Action Review provides a great feedback method — for a contester — to determine what could have been done better before, during, and after the contest.

While there is extensive documentation on how to conduct an After Action Review (for example, this “technical guidance” PDF file from the US AID organization), the review really boils down to answering the following questions:

  1. What was expected to happen? This is where the importance of some level of goals for a contest is needed. Whether the goals are oriented to number of stations and multipliers worked or for non-contest oriented work, having an objective for the contest is the basis of knowing what was expected.
  2. What actually occurred? At the end of the contest, where did we end up in comparison to the goals we had for this particular contest? This is not the events of the contest, but simply a comparison of we wanted “X” and we ended up at “Y” — so how close were we?
  3. What went well, and why? Here we analyze the events of the contest to figure out what went well and why. For example, we moved to 20-meters at EU sunrise and enjoyed a two hour run. The why was because we didn’t wait to change bands; we moved away from 40-meters to twenty right at EU sunrise to get there at the beginning of the opening.
  4. What can be improved, and how? Here we try and figure out what needs to be better next time. Perhaps it wasn’t testing the antennas before the contest and we found a short in the cable to the beam, or not reading the contest rules before the contest, or not getting enough sleep to really operate 80-meters as a single band. Whatever it was, this is the place to note the improvements.

What went well and what needs to be improved should be noted so that these areas can be addressed for the next contest.

While this can seem to be overly formal (and it could be…), the idea here is to take some time after the contest while the events are fresh in our minds and write down the answers to these four questions. In doing so, you will improve your contesting experience — both performance and your enjoyment of the contest.

Scot, K9JY

30 Ham Radio Contest Tips — Challenge your operating skill with QRP

QRP ContestingThis month, I’m providing a ham radio contest tip-a-day (along with other posts) to help you trigger your own contesting activities.

Today’s tip: Challenge your operating skill with QRP.

There are some really hot operators out there — when they have the big amplifier with the stacked beams and in the right geographic location. But put them at an average station in a geographic neutral location and they can’t make the score of an average contester in the area.


Not enough operating skill. Contesters working without the benefit of thousands of dollars of towers, antennas, and location have to contest the old fashioned way: they have to earnit.

Consequently, they learn about propagation on the bands, how to bust that pileup without the best equipment and location, and when to call CQ and when to Search and Pounce.

If your operating skills haven’t been tested, I’d suggest this: operate a contest QRP.

First starting the contest, you’ll be totally frustrated — and that’s good. It tells you that you have to figure out new ways of working a station, getting that multiplier, and busting that pileup.

After a while, you’ll become less frustrated because a couple of things that you’ve done worked and you’ll start putting stations in the log.

After a day, you’ll have figured out a lot about what propagation has to be for you to work a station, how loud the station has to be at your S-meter before they can hear you, and whether or not tail-ending or calling off frequency works.

By day two, you’ll be less frustrated still and will get into a bit of a groove now that you’ve tried new ways of working stations.

By the end of the contest, the uncomfortable ways of trying to work a station will have become comfortable — the sure sign that learning has taken place.

And the next contest that your operate QRO you’ll have a better score because you worked the last contest QRP — and increased your operating skill because of it.

Scot, K9JY