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Contesting

VE3XD operating VE3SY M/2 2006 CQWWAmateur radiosport is arguably the one sport with the most active contestants anywhere in the world. The 2006 CQ Worldwide SSB contest saw 25,000 amateur radio operators take part in the single event on the last weekend of October 2006. This is probably the most widely attended contest but there are others running a close second and many that also sport thousands of operators in a single weekend.

Most weekends of the year will see at least one contest but many weekends will have more than one running simultaneously. Contest activity is greatest in the fall and winter with the pace slowing in the spring and there is generally light activity in the summer. We are of course referring to the seasons of the northern hemisphere. But contesters from all continents participate in these events.

Contesters compete for first place in their category. But unlike many contests, amateur radiosport does not have any financial rewards which would be illegal in ham radio events. Instead hams spend thousands of dollars to build competitive stations to compete for paper certificates and at the very best for a plaque. Some even spend thousands to travel to exotic locations to set up a temporary contest station just for the purpose of giving another multiplier for others to work in the contest. It seems that the pleasure and fun of operating the contest is reward enough for most amateurs.

Types of Contests

Some contests promote worldwide activity such as the CQ Worldwide and ARRL International contests while others are more focused on a given country or region. There are contests for phone operators, CW and even RTTY is popular. A few are focused on PSK. The CQ Worldwide contests have separate events for each of SSB, CW and RTTY which are held on different weekends so you can choose your favourite mode or enter all three if you wish. This is also the case with the Worked All Europe contests. There are also contests that combine modes, such as QSO Parties or Field Day, that let you use both phone and CW in the same contest.

In some contests such as the CQ Worldwide everyone works everyone else in the contest. In others there are restrictions. For example, in the ARRL International stations in North America work only DX stations while DX stations work only North America. In the All Asia contests, Asian stations work everyone else in the world while stations outside of Asia can only work Asian stations.

In the IARU HF World Championship contest everyone works everyone on all HF bands not including WARC bands. Modes are SSB and CW. In this example YL4HQ is a headquarters station in Latvia. A SSB exchange is made with VE3XD.

Click YL4HQ to hear
the contest exchange

While most contesting uses the HF bands including 10, 15, 20, 40, 80 and sometimes 160 meters there are also contests for VHF and UHF. Some contests only use a single band such as the ARRL 10 meter and ARRL 160 meter contests. So there are plenty to choose from depending on your interests.

Contest Activity

During the hours of a contest each station attempts to make contact with other stations in the contest. A successful contact will result when there has been an exchange of information including call sign and one or more other items of information depending on the rules of the contest. Each contest has specific rules stating what information must be exchanged to make for a valid contact. This exchange always includes the station's call sign plus data such as a signal report, zone, state or province, grid locator, operator's age, year of licensing of the operator or the operator's name. Rarely are more than two or three items of information required so the exchange can be quite short in most contests.

For example in the CQ World Wide contest the exchange is the call sign, signal report and the station's zone. So the author's station located in CQ zone 4 would send  VE3XD 599 4 as the exchange. VE3XD would then receive a similar report from the other station to complete the exchange. Each station records the information in their contest log which will be submitted to the contest organizers after the contest is over.

In the CQ WPX CW contest the exchange is call sign, signal report and a consecutive serial number. In this contest VE3XD has found ZL6QH on the 40 meter band and calls them. ZL6QH acknowledges VE3XD and sends a report of 599 (abbreviated to 5NN) and a serial number of 432. VE3XD then sends the report of 5NN and a serial number of 195 to complete the exchange.

Click ZL6QH to hear
the contest exchange.

In the ANARTS RTTY contest the exchange is call sign, signal report, CQ zone and UTC time. In the sample video VE3XD is calling CQ and is first answered by UR4U. Following a successful exchange VE2FK calls. Again a successful exchange is made and VE3XD asks (QRZ) for any other stations.

Click ANARTS to view
the contest exchange.

Categories

In addition to the mode, contests can define different categories of operation that can be chosen by the station to suit their preference or capabilities. Contesters in different categories compete with others in the same category to provide for some equality in the awards.

Power Categories

Not all contests have separate power categories but many do. Generally there are three power categories:

  • Low power usually permits 100 or 150 watts maximum.
  • High power allows the legal limit generally considered to be 1500 watts but that can vary from country to country.
  • Lastly there is QRP which is limited to 5 watts or less.

Operator Categories

This category determines whether you have one or more operators and/or transmitters at your station:

  • Single operator. One and only one operator is present for the duration of the contest. This operator performs all of the contesting functions.
  • Multi-Single (M/S). In this category one transmitter is used (except for a special situation) but there can be more than one operator. Thus different people can takes turns at operating relieving each other as required. The special situation is that a second transmitter can be used to work only new multipliers in the contest.
  • Multi-Two (M/2). In M/2 there can be two transmitters and two operators working simultaneously. Additional operators can be used to take turns at either station to relieve the operators.
  • Multi-Multi (M/M). This is the big contest station where there can be a separate transmitter and operator for each band. Additional operators can be available for relief.

In addition there can be variations such as Assisted where a single operator station is permitted to use packet or telnet spots. This will depend on the contest as some permit spotting for any and all operators while other permit it only for Assisted category operators. Some contests have a Rookie category for first time entrants in the contest. This helps to promote the contest by attracting new blood to the event. You can see that the rules can be a challenge to interpret at times.

A number of contests also have club and/or team categories. A club is a group of contesters within a limited geographical region such as a circle of a 275 Km radius. Clubs then submit their total score to compete with other clubs around the world. Club contesting is popular in CQ and ARRL international contests. A team is an ad hoc group that is formed prior to the contest for the purpose of competing with other teams. Team competition is popular in NAQP contesting.

Scoring

To identify the winners in a contest a set of scoring rules are required so that everyone is compared on the basis of their performance in the contest. The final score is based on a formula that is different for each contest but consistent within the individual contest.

Each contact or Q is awarded a point. There can also be points awarded for multipliers such as contacting a station in each of the 40 CQ zones around the world in the CQ World Wide contest. Or a multiplier can be given for each U.S. station or Canadian province in an NAQP contest. In the WPX contest a multiplier is given for each new call sign prefix worked.

For example, the rules for the North America QSO Party Phone contest state that to calculate the score:

Multiply total valid contacts by the sum of the number of multipliers worked on each band.

A multiplier is a state or province or any other North American country. Thus a station who made 591 contacts with 138 multipliers on the 6 bands between 160 and 10 meters would calculate

Score = 591 X 138 = 81,558

This is the claimed score that would be submitted to the contest organizers along with a log of the contacts made during the contest.

It is necessary to consult the rules specified by each contest organization to determine how the score is calculated for a contest. Fortunately most contest software has already been taught the rules and will automatically calculate your score as you log each contact.

Contest Software

Although you can log by hand on paper you will find this tedious and error prone compared to computer logging. So as you are bitten by the contesting bug don't wait too long to acquire software to assist in your contest logging. The box on the right suggests some very good contest software. Some of it is free and some has a small fee to get a fully functional registered copy.

Sources for Contest Logging Software

CT by K1EA
N1MM
TR
Win-Test
Writelog

For a complete list go to Contesting.com
and choose Contest Software

Good contest software will help you tremendously in your quest to become a skilled contester. Software will alert you to duplicate contacts. It will suggest potential call signs when you have entered a partial one. Software can be interfaced with your radio so that it always knows what band and mode you are operating on. You can use the software to send CW or phone messages that have been pre-recorded. It can interface with your RTTY software and some have RTTY built in. It can tell you what beam heading to use for that DX station you can barely hear. It can tell you what your current rate of contacts per hour are or the rate for the last 10 minutes. It can tell you how many mults you have and how much time can be profitably spent looking for new mults. It can tell you your current score. Most of the programs in the box above will do most of these things and some will do much more. Good contesters rely on this data on an ongoing basis during the contest to help in making informed decisions about their operating choices.

Don't confuse contest software with logging software used to record all of your radio contacts over time. Contest software is designed for contesting and not for daily logging.

Submitting a Log

When a contest is over you will want to submit your log to the contest sponsors. This is generally done these days by email or an online form. If you have one of the mentioned contest logging programs then all you need to do is have the program generate the Cabrillo file to be sent to the address announced by the organization. A good program will produce all of the needed information to be sure that you will have your log entered into the appropriate category.

Contest Calendars
ARRL Contest Calendar
SM3CER Contest Service
WA7BNM Contest Calendar

Once your log has been submitted you will receive an email acknowledging receipt or informed of a website where you can check for logs that they have received. Now all you need to do is wait for the announcement that you have won your category and the certificate or plaque is in the mail. But don't despair if you weren't a winner. Most contestants aren't first place winners but everyone had fun and that is really the main purpose of the event.

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2007 Don Cassel VE3XD

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