Category Archives for "Contesting"

30 Ham Radio Contest Tips — Schedule your contests

Scheduling ContestsThis 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: Schedule your contests.

After you have been contesting a while, certain contests stand out for you as ones that you really like to do. Maybe it’s state QSO parties. Or the great DX contests. Or VHF/UHF contests.

Whatever your favorites: schedule them on your calendar.

Here are four great reasons to schedule your contests:

  1. Scheduling your contests defines your time commitment. Whether it be what days to take a vacation day from work or in working with your family for the time, scheduling clears up what the time commitment is for contesting.
  2. Scheduling increases your commitment. By placing the contest on your calendar, you’ve psychologically made a commitment to the contest. Usually this will result in more time “in the chair” working contacts.
  3. Scheduling focuses your efforts on your favorites. By doing so, it should increase your satisfaction with ham radio and contesting because you’ve decided this is the one to schedule.
  4. Scheduling tells you when you should start marshalling resources for the contest. Need to go to that mountain top for the UHF contest? Scheduling tells you when to start preparing for the trip. Need to have that antenna project completed? Scheduling helps give you that extra push to meet a deadline.

The great thing about contests, say in comparison to DXing, is that contests are regularly scheduled events. You can fit them into your life through a little bit of planning.

Working in any non-scheduled contests then become fun additions to what is already planned.

Scot, K9JY

Doing the Dry Run

K4JA A-Team - K9GY KE9I W3BPIn late September, I’ll be part of a multi-operator team contesting in the the CQ WW RTTY Contest. While not traveling out of the country for the contest, there are still a bunch of logistical issues to cover in doing a multi-operator contest.

It’s called a “dry run” and it is an attempt to bring all of the needed radios, amplifiers, computers, and accessories together. Then hook them up to see if the operate.

The basic process is:

Decide in advance who is bringing what to create the station setup. If there are three stations, one needs to have three sets of stuff.

Set up the equipment — radio, amplifier, computer, and accessories. Make sure all of the connecting cables, sound cards, and all are both receiving and transmitting. In other words, actually working and not just looking like they are working.

Test the Networking. This is no small thing. In a multi-operator setup, making sure the contesting software is networking correctly will show any glitches that need fixing (e.g., work group conflicts in windows, etc.).

Make notes. This is so that when the contest occurs that we can refer back to the notes from the dry run and have the same adjustments take place. Instead of trying to remember what happened, we look at what we documented so we know what happened and what we did to fix it.

While one can think this is a bit of overkill, we always find out at least one or two things that need to change as a result of the dry run.

And in spite of the dry run, there’s always at least one other issue on the day of the contest to fix, so the dry run gets Murphy down from the size of a disaster waiting to happen to the size of an issue that needs fixing.

Scot, K9JY

Guest Operating

K4JA Precontest CheckoutFor most of my ham radio experience, I’ve had a very limited ability to contest with great equipment. Most of the time I’ve had a good radio, decent amplifier — and a five or six-band vertical antenna. Throw in contesting from the West Coast and it’s pretty tough sledding.

Now, one can still contest with this setup. You can meet all of the contesting criteria that you set for yourself. You can meet or beat your goals for the contest.

But it’s tough to get the thrill — some would say addiction — to running stations one after another that a larger contest setup would enjoy.

To get the challenge of contesting from a larger station, one alternative is to “guest-op” at a station with a better set of antennas and perhaps hardware than you have. Think of it as going portable to another station and operating from there.

Where can you find such stations?

The first place to look for guest operating opportunities is right in your own ham radio club. If you’re working with a dipole in an attic as your best antenna, those people with triband beams up 50-feet in the air with an amplifier connected to a radio look pretty good in comparison.

Another place to look is during your local ham radio convention. While typically a DX convention, there are often hams who you know outside of your club that could have a station that you could use for a contest.

Finally, there are usually (not always) multi-operator stations who often look for operators to help out during contests.

Single Operator or Multi-Operator?

The dynamics of being a guest operator are different if you are operating as a single op as compared to a multi-op. Single operators simply have to work with the station owner and go from there. Multi-ops are part of a team; a completely different set of dynamics.

If you are familiar with contesting and have a good relationship with your fellow hams, I’d suggest trying to guest operate as a single operator. It’s a simpler dynamic, will help you learn more about contesting from a larger station, and will maximize your operating time during the contest.

Regardless of your decision, guest operating is a great way to enhance your contesting experience.

Scot, K9JY

Regional Commentary on Contests

Beam - Cloudy - NorthOne of the great things about taking the contesting commentary out of the printed page and putting them up on web sites is the fact that electrons are a lot cheaper then paper and mail — meaning more information can be posted online than printed.

The upshot? Contesting isn’t fair. All one needs to do is look at the contest rules and figure out where to go to maximize the score.

Most of us, however, are not that fortunate to travel where the points are high and the winning is easy. Instead, we contest from our homes, wherever they may be, and do the best we can. We contest for our goals, our fun, and our reasons.

But, if we give an all out effort from a geographically challenged area (my only lot in life…), our efforts are ignored on the printed page and the glory goes to those who are fortunate enough to be located in the right location with corresponding skills.

However, there is an effort to recruit those who can write about the “regional” effort put forth by contesters and publish the stories in the online version of the contest results. These regional writeups really tell the story of the contest for where the contester is located.

Whether it is the Black Hole of the Midwest or the the propagation lost in the Pacific Islands during the noon hours, we can have our triumphs, challenges and victories for the region that we operate.

Contact your favorite contest sponsor and ask to do a regional writeup of the activities in your area. It will make us all be winners in the contesting game.

Scot, K9JY

Good Contesting Practices

Beam-up-down towerOne of the overlooked resources for contesters, especially new contesters, is a white paper on the ARRL web site that asks and answers the hard questions about the ethics of contesting.

Beyond “reading the rules,” the white paper looks at when the contest is over, sanitizing logs, interacting with other contesters, and the use of spots in a contest.

At the Pacific Northwest DX Convention, Ward, N0AX, talked through some of these items as a member of the Contest Advisory Committee.

I didn’t know about the white paper, but went and read it after the convention. It is a good, thoughtful read and I’d recommend it for any contester.

You can find it at the ARRL Site as HF Contesting — Good Practices, Interpretations and Suggestions. You do not need to be a member to see the article.

By the way, Ward mentioned that 95% of the logs from a contest are now electronic — and uploaded within one week of the contest date. Certainly, contesters are processing the “electronic paperwork” well.

Scot, K9JY

Single Band Contesting

VP9-K9JY WriteLogOne of my favorite types of contesting is working a single band. There are few better ways to learn about propagation of any kind than through working one band for 48-hours.

Ham radio contesting is filled with stories of working another continent on a band that should be closed at that particular time. Or, working tropospheric openings on ten meters when the sunspots are at a minimum and no contacts should be made.

The beauty of working a single band is learning how the band opens. How the band closes down. How the band opening moves between geographic locations as the contests continues.

Rather than racing to the next open band in the contest, a single band entry allows the operator to check long path openings, skewed path openings, and just plain weird openings that happen during the course of the contest.

It’s loads of fun — and you learn how propagation works at the same time.

Scot, K9JY

Why Contest: Testing New Antennas

Beam-NortheastThere are several great things about contesting and ham radio. One of the primary ones in my mind is the ability to test out something new “under the gun.”

Usually, contests will offer a lot of activity across many different bands, giving the ham radio operator the opportunity to try out different things.

This is especially true with testing antennas. Testing antennas is a great activity for a contest:

Activity. Lots of stations on the air gives the operator a way to gauge how well the antenna works in a one-on-one situation. Get through on the first call? The other operator gets the report the first time with no repeats? Sweet!

Pileups. Using pileups to test antennas is a great way to utilize a contest. All the operator has to do is go for the latest DX Spot and head over to the pileup with a hundred other people calling and give the antenna a whirl.

Search and Pounce. Working up and down the band is a great way to determine how well your antenna is hearing stations. Do you hear your buddy down the street calling someone you can’t hear? Or are you hearing stations that others can’t in your area?

Calling CQ. How well can you hold a CQ frequency? What kinds of stations are answering you? Those with kilowatts and big antennas? Or, are you hearing 100-mw QRP stations on a dipole in the attic 6,000 KM away?

Working out the new antenna during a contest is a great test of the new antenna — and a perfect reason to contest.

Scot, K9JY

QRP Contesting

Beam - Cloudy - NorthThere is a challenge in QRP contesting: getting large gain antennas to compensate for the fact that you are running under five watts.

But most of us don’t have large gain antennas (think of a 3-L full size 40-meter beam up 140 feet…). Instead, we have our verticals, or dipoles or long wires.

Why should we contest QRP with that type of setup?

If you want a challenge to your operating skills, try operating QRP in a contest with your regular antennas. You’ll quickly find the boundaries of who you can work, how many people can be calling until you get through to a station, how long you can hold a frequency, and your level of patience.

It’s a great, albeit frustrating, test of your operating skills and station setup.

Scot, K9JY

Antenna Types and Contesting

Tower and AntennaWhat’s the best antenna to have for contesting? Well, in my book, it’s the one you currently have because if you don’t have an antenna, you can’t contest!

I admire those that can put up killer antenna farms to work the world, but the vast majority of hams can’t do that for all sorts of reasons.

But different antennas will do better in different contests than others and we should try and focus our efforts based upon the strengths of your antenna.

For example, it may be that you have a love affair with 160-meters and have that single antenna on your property. If it’s a killer 160-meter antenna with great beverages, I’d suggest operating every 160-meter contest and single band 160 on multi-band contests. Your antenna will put you in the best position to do well in the contest.

For a long time, all I had was a multi-band vertical for contesting. When deciding to be in a contest, I focused first on domestic contests. The reason for this was that a vertical would most often lose out to a beam in a DX contest, but a beam was not as effective in a domestic contest. This is because beams, if at the right height, only hear well in one direction and domestic contests require you to hear in many directions at once.

The other aspect of a multi-band vertical is that they tend to do very well on one band compared to other bands.

For example, one of the verticals I had was 33-feet high; a perfect height for operating 40-meters as a half-wave vertical with no power losses from matching systems. Forty meters was also a good band in relation to beams as not many hams have 40-meter beams.

So in a DX contest, I’d try and operate 40-meters as much as possible because my antenna worked as well as most others in the contest.

One of the things you should look at in deciding which contests and which bands to work is the type of antenna you have at your location. Each antenna type and installation has strengths and you should try and maximize that strength in a contest.

Scot, K9JY

Contesting for Beginners: Non-Contest Goals

EarthYesterday I wrote about having “non-contest” goals if you were just starting out contesting in ham radio. There were four reasons to have goals .

But, if there are reasons to have non-contest goals, then what non-goals should one have?

There are two areas of non-contest goals that make sense to me. The first is personal skill-set goals. The second is station goals.

Skill-set goals

Skill-set goals are about what you as an operator can improve upon or learn about during a contest. For example, you have never really listened to 80-meters all night to understand how propagation works on 80-meters when there is lots of activity on the band. How early can you work Europe? Asia? North America? South America?

Or perhaps you try and work everything in the contest long-path to determine what works and what doesn’t with that mode of propagation.

Another skill set area is to learn about different modes in ham radio. Want to test how well you understand RTTY and how your software program works in that mode? A RTTY contest is a great way to find out. Or improve you Morse code speed. Or increase the efficiency at which you work stations moving up and down a band.

Learning about different aspects of radio in a compressed time frame is a great thing to do as a goal for a contest.

Station goals

Another aspect of goal setting involves station goals. A contest is a great way to test your station while there is lots of activity — and competition to work people — on a band.

Want to test that new antenna you just put up? Try it out in a contest. Some new ancillary device? Try it in a contest. New station layout? A contest will quickly tell you what’s right and what’s not.

Or, in a different station aspect, you could have an objective to work DX on 80-meters to get you to DXCC.

Contests, in other words, isn’t just about contesting. Contests offer a great opportunity to improve your skills or test your station capabilities.

Contests are not to be missed.

Scot, K9JY