A Beginner’s Guide to Ham- Radio Contesting by R. Dean Straw, N6BV Senior Assistant Technical Editor, ARRL MDARC, October 17, 2003
We’ll Explore the “Five W’s” and “One H” in Contesting Who contests? What is a contest? When are the contests? Where can you contest? Why contest? How do you contest? Field Day at W6PIY
What is a Contest? “An Amateur Radio contest is an operating event, held over a predefined time period where the goal is…to enjoy yourself.” — The ARRL Operating Manual, 6th Edition.
Who Contests? Contesters come in all sizes, shapes, ages and forms!
But Why Contest? Why spend an entire weekend, 48 hours, shouting into a microphone, talking with a hoarse voice to thousands of other people around the world? (Maybe that’s a clue!)
Why We Contest To increase operator proficiency. Contesters are highly trained operators who can communicate during emergencies. Their big signals often can get through when smaller stations can’t. Here’s a little test copying calls in a CW pileup:
Why We Contest To advance the state-of-the-art. Contesters developed packet protocols and leading-edge logging software. Contester have been in the forefront of antenna design and have driven contest-quality radio design. For new countries, zones or states. For certificates and plaques. We contest because contesting is FUN!
N6BV, ARRL Sweepstakes Phone, November 2001 The competitive urge is strong in all human endeavors. Running rate is great fun! First hour: 174 QSOs.
What Kinds of Contests are There? There are four general contest categories: Domestic contests DX contests VHF/UHF contests Speciality WJ2O and WA6O at N6RO
Domestic Contests ARRL Sweepstakes Various State “QSO Parties” (like the California QSO Party!) Field Day (officially not a “contest” but many contesters started out in Field Day)
DX Contests Most Popular International DX Contests: ARRL International DX, SSB (Mar.) & CW (Feb.) CQ Worldwide DX, SSB (Oct.) & CW (Nov.) CQ WPX (Prefix), SSB (Mar.) & CW (May)
VHF/UHF and Speciality Contests ARRL Jan. VHF Sweepstakes ARRL Jun. VHF QSO Party ARRL Sep. VHF QSO Party ARRL & CQ 160-m contests ARRL 10-m Contest Worked All Europe contests All Asia contests
Field Day! Many contesters started out learning the ropes at Field Day.
When are the Contests? You can find a contest almost every weekend. Try the state QSO parties for practice. The California QSO Party (CQP) is very popular. DX contests are held in the fall/winter. See the Contest Corral column in QST or K1AR’s Contesting column in CQ magazine for contest calendars.
Where Can You Contest? Most hams contest from their home QTHs, but some go to exotic DX locations to operate contests.
Coche Island 4M7X 1999 4M7X Dxpedition to Coche Island, Venezuela Margarita Island
4M7X Dxpedition CQ Worldwide DX Contest CW, November 1999 First hour on 20 meters: 199 QSOs Again, running rate gives a great adrenaline shot!
High-Band Shack at 4M7X 15 M 10 M 15 Mult 20 M Our Creed!
How to Contest Know the rules— See Contest Corral in QST Know the exchange (often, a signal report and your state, zone or a serial number: such as “59 California” or “59001,” or “59 03,” etc.) Your category (single or multi-operator, high/low power, assisted/unassisted, all- band/single-band, etc.) The Basics
AnotherExample of a DX Contest: 1990 K1AR Multi-Single CQ Worldwide Phone Start of contest on 20 meters. Antennas: 4/4/4 on 120’ tower on a magnificent hill in Massachusetts.
How to Contest Experience comes from doing. Listen for a while and then jump in and try! Give your complete call (no “last two” please!) Realize that there always will be QRM. Keep a “dupe sheet” or use a logging program.
How to Contest Know your station’s limitations (these will determine whether you “S&P” or can “run” stations by calling CQ). He with “iron pants” is the winner. You’ve got to sit in the chair! Be fast and efficient — and accurate.
What kind of radio do you need to start out contesting? On HF: a basic transceiver, 100 W, 80-10 meters coverage. This can be an “oldie but goody” -- TS-520, TS-830, IC-735, FT-101, etc. (Some folks call these “boat anchors.”) On VHF/UHF: a multi-mode transceiver, perhaps 25 - 100 W -- TS-690, IC-706, etc.
What kind of antenna do you need to start contesting? On HF, even a simple dipole will get you started. A triband Yagi will really put you in the hunt. (The monster 20- meter stacked Yagis at N6RO in the background are not typical!) On VHF/UHF, a simple ground plane will work but a small Yagi will work better.
Contest Clubs Contest clubs are a tremendous resource for new contesters. You can find an experienced contesting Elmer to guide and help you. Club members can help in many areas, not just help teach contesting. (Got RFI? Need information on antennas, rigs?) Check out the Northern California Contest Club, http://www.nccc.cc/.
Contest Logging Programs are Great! They automatically find “dupes.” They identify multipliers. They can control packet input/output and can put your radio on a packet spot frequency -- automatically. Running a rate of 400+ per hour is easy (well, sorta)! Here’s a screen shot of CT (“Contest”), a DOS program.
W4SO at 4M7X Just remember: Contests are supposed to be FUN, as well as an excellent training ground for operators. Jump in and give contesting a try! And remember, Nov. 1 & 15 are Sweepstakes weekends!