Category Archives for "Contesting"

Contesting for Beginners: 4 Reasons to have Goals

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Most contesting looks like a gauntlet to beginning contesters. You have to know the contest operating hours, what all the rules are for the contest, know the exchange, work on your code speed, figure out propagation for the contest — and then compare your newbie self to all those big guns in the contesting world.

Then wonder how you will ever compete.

The answer to that is to have goals for your contest participation. A lot of contesters write about having goals for a contest, of course. But they write about goals for a certain number of contacts, points, or perhaps year-to-year comparisons for the contest.

That works, of course. But, for starting out in the new world of contesting, I’d suggest having goals in different areas outside of goals oriented to the results of the contest.

Here are four reasons to have goals for the contest that aren’t related to the results of the contest:

You define success for the contest. If you are just starting out, you cannot be a world wide champion in the largest contest on the planet. But you can win on your personal goals, no matter your situation.

Limited time for the contest. Contests, at most, are 48-hours long. Since there isn’t a lot of time, having goals around the contest will help keep you focused during that short time.

Defines your elevator speech. When someone — friend, ham or family — asks you what you are doing in the contest, your goal helps define your 30-second response. “I’ve got a new antenna and I want to see how it performs busting pile ups. This contest is the perfect way to test it.”

Removes feeling overwhelmed. Opening up the volume on your radio the first hour of CQ WW and it’s easy to be overwhelmed with your 100-watts and a vertical. Having goals helps stay out of the overwhelmed area and instead gets you moving on your goals for the contest.

Once you’ve done a fair amount of contesting, having goals about the contest results (500 QSO’s in 12-hours on 20-meters) makes sense. But starting out, we should have goals about what we’re trying to accomplish in the contest — either personal skills or station capabilities.

Scot, K9JY

Contesting for Beginners: Why are contests in Spring and Fall?

Ham radio follows the seasons. In the dead of winter, we work the low bands working with the darkness to carry our signals around the planet. In the summer, we blissfully talk into the night, our signals carried on the high bands basking in the light.

But, from a contesting viewpoint, winter and summer are poor times to contest on all bands. The reason: the light and dark times are very different in each part of the world. Consequently, there is built in bias to the different parts of the world for working the bands.

No, the best times for a contest on all bands are when the the sun is right above the equator with equal day and night around the world. All bands are in play the same relative time during the 24-hour day. Propagation evens out to match the evenness of the sunrise and sunset.

Do you have access to a grey line program? On many, the program allows you to change the time and season to see how the grey line looks. Taking a picture of the grey line at a summer solstice or an equinox clearly shows this propagation difference.

Here is a picture from the summer solstice with the sun it’s furthest north:

Greyline northern summer solstice

You see how narrow the darkness area is in the northern hemisphere? And the darkness is spread out in the southern hemisphere because the sun is so far north. Antarctica is dark all day and the Arctic is the land where the sun never sets.

Contrast that with the spring or fall equinox grey line:

Greyline at equinox

See how square the darkness area looks now? At the spring and fall equinox, all bands in all parts of the world have equal propagation.

And that makes a contest fair. At least as far as propagation on a band goes.

Scot, K9JY

Field Day: A contest for your Ham Radio Club

Preparing AntennasAnother field day has come and gone. When I was in my club back in Wisconsin, there was the continued debate as to whether or not Field Day was a “contest” or a “social gathering with emergency testing” intent.

Personally, I’ve always thought of it as contesting in a hurry and on the run. Setting up, breaking down, exposing many to a fast paced weekend of contacts with media looking over your shoulder…if that’s not a contest of some sort, I don’t know what is a contest.

But I think Field Day is another type of contest: it is a contest about the health of your club. It’s a contest on your club’s involvement, participation, and social interaction. It’s a contest about how well involved new members can be in your club.

You see, Field Day is no easy thing to pull off. You have to find a site. You have to line up radios. You have to line up antennas. You have to line up operators and a schedule. You have to line up food. You have to line up publicity. Somehow, you have to practice what you can’t practice before the event. You have to accommodate those that want rate, rate, rate and those that just want to have a good time. And you have to figure out all the logistics of who is bringing what and when and how it all gets done.

In short: there are conflicts all over the place that need to be addressed and resolved. Or, people don’t participate. That’s the contest for your club.

It’s an interesting perspective, isn’t it? How your club performs as a club is embodied in how your Field Day works.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers for a “good” or “bad” Field Day.

But, as leadership in a club, you should be able to evaluate your Field Day based not upon the score, but instead based upon how well your club performed at efficiently, effectively, and effortlessly pulled off such a club-wide event.

If, in your mind, Field Day wasn’t efficient, effective, or effortless, your club has a little bit of work to do for this contest.

Scot, K9JY

Fixed versus Portable Operation

Portable OperationsMost of my ham radio life I’ve lived in a place where I have been able to have some sort of ham radio antenna. The house that I am currently living in, I can’t.

That’s OK. I have options. I can go on DXpeditions or operate from Multi stations here on the West Coast. Or go portable. A “100-pound DXpedition” from the United States.

To be fair, operating from a fixed location has a lot of advantages. Mostly related to convenience and being able to track changes in the shack against operating from before there were changes in the shack.

But I think portable operation has some merit on the HF bands as well. One can vary their location. One can try different antennas from a single location. One can vary power from a location.

And then try it all over again in a different place.

That’s portability.

Throw in salt water beaches and there is a powerful incentive for portability in that verticals on salt water perform. Finding a location and varying operating conditions at a salt water location adds some interesting learning to what is being done.

Now back from vacation, I’m moving to finding some locations and seeing what we can do to test things out. Should be fun.

Scot, K9JY

Thinking about Portable HF Operation

Clearing skies - Grayland BeachWhile on vacation this week, I was often treated to full size views of Lake Michigan. Not seeing the other side of the lake made me think of living on the ocean back in Seattle-land. There is a choice that kept setting itself up in my head.

Have a house on the beach or go portable with an RV and verticals and travel to the ocean.

I think anyone would say to have a house on the ocean beach, given a choice.

But, I have some problems with that.

The real ocean, from Seattle, is three hours away. That’s too far to get to a job. If you want to be on Puget Sound, which is salt water, be prepared to pay dollars that I could retire on for the price of the house. Even a house with a view.

So, while staring at the never-ending horizon of Lake Michigan this week and thinking of it as the Pacific Ocean, I’m still inclined to do the portable antennas on salt water with some sort of RV.

But, it sure would be nice to have a house on the salt water beach. Wouldn’t it?

Scot, K9JY

Did Dayton Rock?

Dayton DreamsI don’t know about the rest of you, but the e-mail traffic on the reflectors that I belong to was noticeably down. Since the reflectors are national, I can only assume it is because a few of us were at this little Hamvention in the Midwest.

Or something.

So, how was it? Dish! How was the Contest University? The Contesting Dinner? Meeting with the other ham radio bloggers?

Inquiring minds want to know!

And check out the cool photo compilation of Hamvention photos past and present.

Scot, K9JY

PVRC Forfeits 2006 ARRL Sweepstakes Competition

In a stunning move, the Potomac Valley Radio Club has voluntarily forfeited the Sweepstakes Competition and Gavel.

The reason was the large number of scores outside of the “circle” used to calculate where a club’s geographic boundaries reside. Removing the scores from outside the circle resulted in PVRC losing the competition by a wide margin.

This is a classy move.

I’m not sure that there are log checkers out there looking at the geographic circle of a club and comparing it to the address of the callsign on the log, so I’m not convinced that anyone would have found out about it.

But they revoked it anyway with a clear explanation as to why they were returning the championship.

This should not diminish the efforts of the individual operators working the contest — indeed, PVRC had the largest turnout for the Sweepstakes competition in their history. Participation is the name of the game in Sweepstakes, so this is a good indicator of the strength of the club.

The amount of self-policing in ham radio contesting is very high; especially compared to other sports. We all make efforts, from huge to small, to participate in our hobby. There are hundreds of different objectives for different operators in the same contest — from winning to trying out a new antenna to building code speed — but we all pretty much stay inside the rules.

This move by the PVRC is an affirmation that we participate in contests by following the rules — and taking ourselves out of a compromised situation when we don’t.


Scot, K9JY

Run for the Bacon Contest

Well, in the best tongue-in-cheek fashion, the boys and girls over at the Flying Pigs QRP Club have come up with the best-named contest ever — Run for the Bacon.

CW Only on suggested frequencies, they are calling it “Pignacious” fun. I’d agree.

When you run a ham radio contest Emeril could love (“Pork Fat Rules”), how could you miss?

Be Amateur Radio Active this weekend.

Scot, K9JY

CQ-M 2007

Beam-up-down towerThe CQ-M contest was this past weekend. Did you participate?

I didn’t, but one of my fondest radio memories was participating in this contest. It was one of those weekends where I was really into the flow of the contest.

It was one of those sunny, clear days where the beam was pointed straight north, the CW was music to my ears and conversations in my head, and the rest of the world’s worries fell away for a while.

Oh — and I worked about 700 stations in the contest time frame.

The radio, beam, CW, propagation and sending the worries of the world away for a while. It doesn’t get much better than that, does it?

Scot, K9JY