Frequently Asked Questions about Contesting|
This page is designed for the complete novice to contesting, and answers all those questions you were too embarrassed to ask on the email lists !
Q. What's it all about ?
A. Licensed Radio Amateurs organize contests to improve their communications skills. These contests are open to all Amateurs who wish to take part as long as your license allows you to operate on the bands and in the modes being used.
Q. Do I have to pay to take part ?
A. No, there is no charge to enter.
Q. Do I have to register beforehand, or tell the organizers that I want to join in ?
A. No, you don't have to tell anyone before you enter. Simply turn up and start operating. The only time you have to tell others beforehand is in a group Field Day contest, where the organizers want to know where your portable location is.
Q. How do I know what contests are taking place ?
A. Find a Contest Calendar. These are published in many of the Amateur magazines, or on the Internet. Check my Contesting Links page HERE for the major ones.
Q. What's the first thing I need to do ?
A. Once you find a contest you like the sound of, the first thing to do is to get hold of a copy of the rules, from one of the sites mentioned above. Study them carefully, noting the date and time, the bands and modes in use, and the contest exchange.
Q. What's the basic way to take part ?
A. This depends on the contest you've chosen, but generally, the idea is to contact as many people as possible in the countries or zones specified. Some contests are worldwide events, where you contact anybody and everybody, whereas others might be based on a particular country or area, and the idea is for stations outside that area to only contact those inside the area. The rules will tell you this.
Q. OK, so I'm ready to go. What do I send to the other station ?
A. The information sent is called the 'Contest Exchange', and the rules will tell you what this should be. There are generally two types - either you send the signal report and some local information, such as your CQ zone number, ITU zone number, age, etc., or you send the signal report and a serial number that starts with 001 and increments with each contact.
Q. How many digits is the serial number ?
A. You should stick with three digits, until your number of contacts exceeds 999. In a CW contest, people often send short-form numbers to save time. This can be a bit confusing at first, so be prepared for when it happens.
Q. What are Short-Form numbers ?
A. These are when only one dash per number is sent. So, a zero will be sent as a single dash. A nine will be sent as dash-dot, an eight will be sent as dash-dot-dot, and so on. They will only be used when the contest exchange doesn't contain letters, so you won't mix them up by mistake. Zero and nine are the most common ones you are likely to meet, and sometimes one.
Q. Is the signal report always 599 ?
A. Well, there's no rule to say it has to be, but generally, everybody sticks to 599 in CW, or 59 on phone, even though the actual signals may be weaker or stronger. You can send a different report if you wish, but a lot of the contest logging programs fill in the report automatically, so its best not to upset people by making them change it.
Q. Is it best to start by calling CQ ?
A. This depends on your experience. Its probably better to begin with some Search & Pounce (S&P) first of all, by tuning up and down the band working stations as you find them. This will show you where all the action is taking place, give you an idea what signals are like, who's taking part, as well as get you into the rhythm of call and reply. You'll also know where a free frequency might be to do a bit of CQing on - in the big contests, clear CQing frequencies are difficult to find and jealously guarded against all-comers, though there are often spaces at the band-edges.
Q. Can I operate anywhere on the band ?
A. No, you should stick to the Contest-Preferred Segments. There are always other people who want to use the band during the contest, such as the SSTV, data, or beacon enthusiasts, as well as various well-established nets that have regular frequencies for their members to meet on. You can find some of the Contest Preferred Segments in a series of images drawn up by VK4EMM HERE, or check the contest rules, which often give recommended operating frequencies.
Q. Do I need a computer to take part ?
A. No, you don't. However the computer does make life a lot easier, by checking for duplicate contacts, keeping the scores in order, sending CW from the keyboard, and a whole lot of other things as well, so its best to use one if you can.
Q. My computer's pretty old - will it be OK ?
A. There are many different logging programs available - some are top-of-the-line and expensive, some are shareware, some are free. The newer ones run on Windows and need a faster computer, but there are plenty of DOS-based programs that are quite happy on an old 386 or 486 that you might otherwise have thrown away. We are not talking High Speed processing here !
Q. My station is pretty basic - is there much point taking part ?
A. Yes Yes Yes. To start with, it can be a lot of fun just taking part. Everyone will be glad you came along, as you will be increasing their scores when you make a contact with them. If you live in a rarer area, that will mean you count as a Multiplier, which will make them even more pleased to work you.
Q. And what's in it for me ?
A. Don't forget that a lot of rare DX stations operate in contests. Although they will have big pileups on them early on in the contest, they are often looking for weak stations later on, and you will find it easier to work them then than in a normal DX weekday pileup. In the bigger worldwide contests, many stations have made DXCC in a weekend. Even 5-band DXCC is possible with practice. At the same time, you will be learning about operating, about propagation, and testing to the full the capabilities of yourself, your station, and your antennas.
Q. But I'm not likely to win anything, am I ?
A. Yes you can. All contests have a number of different 'sections' for people to enter in, and whilst you need a very good station to win the 'Assisted All Band World' category, there will be other sections such as Low Power, Single Band or QRP where the entrants are fewer, and you could very well come up with a winning score. See my 'Budget Contesting' section for more on this.
Q. I'd like to take part, but I've only a few hours free..
A. There's no rules to say you must operate for a minimum amount of time. Obviously, the more of the contest you take part in, the bigger score you are likely to get, and the more exotic DX you are likely to work, but even if you just make a few contacts, you will please those people very much. Some contests, such as the popular 'Islands On The Air' (IOTA) have separate entry classes for 12 and 24 hour operation. The Belgian 80m contests are only 4 hours each !
Q. I've made a few contacts. Do I have to send in my log ?
A. You are not obliged to send in a log, though the organizers hope you will. You can send it in as an actual entry, or just as a 'check-log', where it will be used to validate the contacts made by the other competitors.
Q. How do I send in my log ?
A. The rules will help you here, and tell you of any special conditions for that contest, but generally, you need to send in your log, in the format requested, and a Summary Sheet, that gives your claimed scores, equipment details, and a declaration that you have followed all the rules. Most contest logging programs will print these out in the format required, which is another good reason to use a computer, even if you just make a few contacts. Don't forget to rename the log as 'YourCallsign.log' before you send it off.
Q. Can I email my log ?
A. Yes - this is the preferred method these days. Its quick, cheap, and easy. An added bonus is that you know its been received, as most organizers will acknowledge receipt automatically or manually. The log file (MYCALL.LOG) should be sent as an attachment to the email, not in the message-body itself. You can also mail your log if you prefer, on a 3.5" floppy disc which you won't get back. Hand-written logs below a certain size are also accepted, but not computer print-outs - they'd rather have the computer file itself.
Q. Is anything else required ?
A. This depends on the contest. Large-scoring entries may require 'Dupe Sheets' which are not, as you might think, lists of all duplicate contacts, but are instead lists of all contacts made, in alphabetical order by callsign. 'Mult-Sheets', which are lists of all the multipliers you are claiming, are sometimes requested too. However, most modern log-checking programs generate these automatically, so separate lists are rarely requested these days. Again, check with the rules, or if in doubt, contact the organizers. The last thing they want is a lot of wrongly formatted entries that need to be hand checked, so they will be pleased to explain just what is required.
Q. How do I calculate my score ?
A. Your logging-program will normally do this for you, but if you are logging things by hand, simply check how many points each QSO is worth, add up the total points, add up all the different multipliers, and multiply them by the points. For example, say you were contesting in the CQWW contest. QSOs are worth 1 point in your own continent, and 3 points for a different continent. Multipliers are based on different zones AND different countries contacted. Say you'd worked 50 European stations (1 point) and 25 other stations (3 points), with a total of 12 zones and 30 countries. That would give you a QSO points total of 50+75=125 and a multiplier total of 12+30=42. The final score would be 125*42=5250.
Q. When the results are published, my score is smaller than I claimed !
A. Even the most careful operators make mistakes, and a mis-heard callsign or a duplicate QSO not noticed will mean points are deducted from your score. Some of the big contests, such as CQWW, will let you know where mistakes have occurred in what are called 'UBN and NIL Reports'. A guide to how to understand them is linked-to from my 'Contest Links' page HERE.
Q. I've made some duplicate QSOs. How is my score affected ?
A. Duplicate QSOs, or 'Dupes' should be clearly indicated in the log, and marked as '0 points'. If this is done, you will not be penalized in any way. However, un-marked Dupes are dealt with strictly, and if you have over a certain number (3-5, depending on contest), a percentage of your score will be deducted, or you might even be disqualified, so watch out !
Q. I worked a rare DX station. Can I ask for a QSL ?
A. Asking for QSL information during a high speed contest is rather bad form, and can lead to the DX station 'losing his rythmn' as well as QSOs. You would be better to wait until after the contest, or check the Internet, which often has these details on it. Likewise, don't ask him what rig/power/antennas he is using, or finish the QSO with a long list of pleasantries.
Q. How can I improve my technique ?
A. Enter lots of contests. Listen to the style of top contest-operators. Enter lots of contests. Join a club or help a local contest-station. Enter lots of contests. Subscribe to useful magazines. Subscribe to the CQ Contest email reflector. And enter lots of contests.
Q. I haven't got a license yet. Can I join in ?
A. This depends on the contest, but there certainly are contests that have sections for Short Wave Listeners (SWLs), and the leaders will be awarded certificates and plaques just like the other entrants.
If there are any more questions you feel should be included here, please email me. Details are on the 'Contact' page.
Another useful Beginner's FAQ page is published by the RSGB and can be found Here