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Contest Operating Tips
Home > HF Contesting > Tips and Techniques > Contest Operating Tips
This page contains a variety of Contest Operating Tips.
This page contains a variety of Contest Operating Tips, collected from the Ham reflectors, from the Internet, from other Hams, and from my own experience. I'd like to thank everyone who has contributed, and apologise for not being able to mention all of the originators.

Be mentally prepared to compete at whatever level you have chosen.

Set goals for yourself and keep them in mind during the competition.

Keep your temper under control and don't panic!

Realize that the "sound" of the runner and the folks responding to his "CQ" in your ears can reflect a very different situation than the sound that is in his or her ears. QRM, QRN and propagation effects can lead new contesters to jump to wrong conclusions about the runner's motives. He isn't deaf or playing a game with you or making an unspoken comment about the quality of your station if you've given him your callsign 10 times but he still wants it again. Keep at it with a very positive attitude and you'll both be smiling when you've gotten through and are in each other's log or still in good spirits if it doesn't work out.

If you think your transmit signal is weak and find yourself in a lot of long, frustrating attempts at search and pounce contacts, notice whether you've got your receive preamp on and consider turning it off.

If you think you have a loud signal while searching and pouncing because each runner comes back to you immediately or whatever, if there's any room in the band to do it, CALL CQ CONTEST! Then if you can't hold the frequency, nobody comes back or you just get a few contacts, go back to search and pounce mode. But don't go back to S&P thinking "Oh no, I didn't have a 100/hr rate, so that was a horrible waste". The contest logger can show you how much rate you need for a net gain from calling CQ vs S&P. Pay attention to that, not the boastings of others.

When you are running (calling "CQ") use a very predictable exchange format and above all else repeat your callsign after every contact.

Just log a dupe unless the exchange represents a real burden. If you are compelled to acknowledge the dupe, do it at the end by tacking "again" onto the thank you for the contact. If the guy comes back again, come to an understanding of what is needed, provide it, then move on. Don't ever "slap somebody in the face" by abruptly telling them they are a dupe and shutting off their reply by repeating "CQ CONTEST" or "QRZ?".

In a dx contest, after the first 24 hours, usually about 0300z Saturday night (when things are pretty slow), I use the 'alt-m' key in CT to look at what countries I am still missing that I have on other band(s) and that I should work. e.g. I got 9Y4H on all bands but 15. I make a list of these countries and keep it on the operating table Sunday and I hunt these stations down and ask when they will be on such and such band that I need them on.

Stations that I hear alot and have on all 6 bands, I put on a list so I know I don't have to bother typing in the call again to check if I have them definitely on all 6.

One thing that I do is hide the summary window during the contest. I do this because if I see that I have 395 q's on 15, I will stay on the band and try to make 400, even though I should be going back to 20 because 15 is dying now. Probably just kind of a personal thing. I do check after 24 hours to see how the country totals are and whether to look for more mults or q's. The last CQWW CW, I didn't have any idea what my score was close to, until with about 1/2 hour to go, at the bottom of the CT screen, it said something like, "Boy you must be on the eastcoast with 3M" or "Boy you are good-3 million".

If there is no reason why the other station won't come back to you, stop! Check your output power/swr first, then check to see if you are inadvertantly operating split.

Model what you want the other station to do. Say: "section, section, section" if you want him to repeat his section several times. Another way is to say: "again, again, again".

Sound excited when calling CQ!!! Make the casual op want to talk to you.

Say "QSL, yourcallsign, contest", not "QSL and good luck in the contest, QRZ from yourcallsign".

Talk *fast* if QSB is rapid (meteor scatter).

Turn your antenna to the section you need in SS at the time appropriate for propagation. Call: "CQ, looking especially for KL7 and VE8".

If it's not on my band map, it's (mostly) not on other peoples' band maps - spot it; if it's on my band map, everyone else (generally) received the same spot - move along.

Most people tune a band from bottom to top. You should tune from top to bottom. Why follow some mongo competitor up the band, who kicks out your teeth in every pileup.

If your rate drops below a certain point (#Q's/hr will vary with the time of day, point in the sunspot cycle and the station itself), work 3 bands every hour - this does not include working occasional people on the second radio - it means going to that band and CQing or S&Ping.

If you make a mistake in a contest, after your ears stop burning just acknowledge it, promise yourself you won't do it again, "zero point" any contacts involved (but leave them in the log) and continue. Don't beat yourself up too hard about an honest mistake. Talk your mistake out with a more experienced contester if it is grinding on you. You'll get the perspective of their greater experience and feel 100% better very quickly.

When calling a someone in a contest, make your exchange of information as brief as possible. (This is especially important in marginal conditions as unnecessary repeats of known information may cause you to lose the contact because of QSB or QRM.) For example, the repeats shown in the sample exchange below (by KA11XXX) should be avoided:

A: cq contest de K1VUT B: K1VUT K1VUT de KA11XXX KA11XXX 

A: KA11XXX 599 MA B: K1VUT K1VUT de KA11XXX KA11XXX 599 599 MA MA 

A: ur state? B: K1VUT K1VUT de KA11XXX KA11XXX QSL QSL 599 599 MA MA 

A: KA11XXX ur state ? 

A: KA11XXX ur state ? 

A: KA11XXX ur state ?

In a recent contest, I was unable to complete a qso with about 15 different operators due to situations like this. (The other operator's signal faded away before I could copy the qth.) In many cases, the other operator may not have been a serious contest entrant but probably wanted my qsl card for an award. Unfortunately the qso was never completed, so he isn't in my log and I won't even be able to exchange qsl cards.

A proper exchange would have been:

A: cq contest de K1VUT B: K1VUT de KA11XXX 

A: KA11XXX 599 MA B: QSL 599 MA 

A: ur state? B: MA MA MA

While it may seem like a no-brainer on CW to S&P by dumping your call in once at a nice snappy 35 wpm, it's all wasted effort if the guy you're calling can't copy it. Also, many beginning ops aren't sure you're calling them unless they hear their call too. So vary your speed and think carefully about when the type of operating at the other end might suggest that you use the other guy's call de your own. A smart contester varies his operating procedure according to the conditions of the moment. No, one size does not fit all!

In CW contests it doesn't do you much good if you're calling the guy way off the frequency he is listening on. Observe the frequency that the last guy who QSO'ed him was on and get close to it before calling.

When repeating your call more than once on CW in a pile-up, leave a space between the end of your call and the beginning of your call. Too many guys seem to be afraid to leave any space there for fear someone else will occupy it, but to run your call together makes the other station miss it more often than not. I am not K3ZOK but just K3ZO. A good technique is to count one-two-three between the end of your call and the beginning of the secondtime you send your call, as in "de K3ZO (one-two-three) K3ZO".

Situation: Big screaming pile-up to Africa/South American during CW contest. Tactic: Try slowly moving your VFO across the pile-up while sending your call. It is amazing how the frequency change will get the DX stations attention. Move slowly and not so much that you move out of his passband.

Work the contest. If you're going to work a contest, then, by God, WORK IT. A 48-hour contest runs for 48 hours. If you want to be competitive, you will run for 48 hours too. Hey, if you can't, then you can't. But then don't whine about not winning. The single biggest weapon that a small pistol has is persistance. I've heard lectures from big guns where they advocate switching bands when your QSO rate drops below 60/hour. That's okay for a big gun, but here are some suprising statistics:
At a rate of 60 Qs/hour, you would work 2,880 stations in a 48-hour contest.
At 30/hour, you'd work 1,440 stations in a 48-hour contest.
Even a rate of 15/hour (only one QSO every 4 minutes!), you'd still work 720 stations in 48 hours!
Cherry pickers don't win. If you give up when the time between Qs stretches out to 4, 6, 10, or more minutes, you give up your competitiveness. A contesters mettle is measured in the dead of night when calling CQ endlessly on a seemingly dead band or when tuning 20m or 40m or any other band straining to pull that next new station out of the noise. (Hint: This is where 1 dB or less makes all the difference in the world.)

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