Contesting
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LAST UPDATED: 14th May 2014

CONTESTING (and Contest Reports)

The Basics of Contesting:

So what is a radio contest? A contest is an event that takes place on one or more amateur bands, where the object is usually to achieve the highest score possible within the rules of the particular contest by working other stations. Now working the most stations in a given contest doesn’t necessarily mean you will get the highest points and therefore win. To even things out a bit, not only do you work stations, you also have to collect as many ‘multipliers’ as possible (multipliers are extra/bonus points that are awarded for working, say, different countries, prefixes, zones or even ages of the operator of the station contacted. It is important to know what information you will need to provide when entering a contest and to read the rules carefully. All contests require you to give a signal report and then a secondary piece of information, such as an incremental serial number (that usually starts at 001 then 002 and so on for each station worked. The larger contest stations can work upto 3-4000 or even more stations over a weekend. Copying down the callsign and serial number (or zone number etc.) correctly is vital and points will be deducted for errors.

Tune around the ham bands at the weekend and you will probably come across a contest of one sort or another. Contests are like Marmite, you either love them or hate them - I love them!

Just this morning, I switched on the radio and found an RTTY contest on and in the space of a couple of hours logged just over 200 stations in 50+ DXCC’s on 20 and 15m. I have always enjoyed the competitive aspect of contesting and I set myself goals for the particular contest - like how many dxcc’s I can hear or how many stations I can log. There are several contests throughout the year, each requiring a particular skill or set of skills. I have only entered one contest seriously and that was the RSGB IOTA (Islands On The Air) a few years ago, and I worked on CW for the full 24 hours. I ended up with 550 QSO’s in the log and when the results came out I finished 18th in the world - I was very pleased considering I was using an attic mounted wire antenna and 30w. I don’t tend to do many SSB contests as it gets a bit noisy for me :-) I prefer CW, where I can squeeze the bandwidth right down and use my skill to eek out the weakest stations.

The biggest contests of the year are the ones arranged by CQ magazine, the CQWW and CQ WPX series, both have SSB, CW and, I believe, RTTY legs. The contest are always the same weekends every year and last for a full 48 hours from 0000 on Saturday to 2359 and 59 seconds on the Sunday. Operating for 24 hours is pretty exhausting but trying to do a 48 hour contest tests your band/propagation planning to the maximum as you obviously need to take breaks. The key is when to take the breaks and when to change bands. Given decent conditions you can put over 100 countries in the log over the course of a weekend. My best is 138 dxcc and over 1200 contacts in the log (SWL-ing of course) in the CQWW CW contest. Contests are an excellent way of improving your country score and sharpening your operating skills.

Below is a list of some of the major contests that happen throughout the year. There are many more contests than this, some last only a couple of hours or are built up from a number of short contests throughout the year. For more information, visit the site of SM3CER which is dedicated to contesting (this list is a much abbreviated version from SM3CER’s website) Although no dates or start times are given (the dates change each year so that they fall on the same weekend as the previous year) the contests listed are in chronological order so the first contest listed will be the first major one of the particular month. As I write this, the ARRL International DX contest has just finished, and looking at my list, I can see that there are still 4 major contests left for this month - deciding which one to operate in needs careful consideration when there are multiple contests on at the same time. The dates, times and rules of each contest are shown and links to the home page of the organizers are provided where known. If you plan on entering any contest it is vital that you fully understand the rules as you can be penalized by way of losing points for minor violations or even being disqualified if the violation is serious enough.

 Calendar of major contests through the year:

JANUARY

Modes

Hours

PODXS 070 Club PSKFest

PSK

24

Mongolian RTTY DX Contest

RTTY

24

Hungarian DX Contest

CW/SSB

24

UK DX Contest, RTTY

RTTY

24

CQ 160-Meter Contest, CW

CW

24

UBA DX Contest, SSB

SSB

24

FEBRUARY

Modes

Hours

CQ WW RTTY WPX Contest

RTTY

48

ARRL Inter. DX Contest, CW

CW

48

Russian PSK WW Contest

PSK

24

CQ 160-Meter Contest, SSB

SSB

24

EPC WW DX Contest

PSK125

24

UBA DX Contest, CW

CW

24

MARCH

Modes

Hours

ARRL Inter. DX Contest

SSB

48

RSGB Commonwealth Contest

CW

24

BARTG HF RTTY Contest

RTTY

24

Russian DX Contest

CW/SSB

24

CQ WW WPX Contest, SSB

SSB

48

APRIL

Modes

Hours

SP DX Contest

CW/SSB

24

EA RTTY Contest

RTTY

24

JIDX CW Contest

CW

30

Yuri Gagarin International DX Contest

CW

24

Holyland DX Contest

ALL

24

TARA Skirmish Digital Prefix Contest

DIGITAL

24

SP DX RTTY Contest

RTTY

24

Helvetia Contest

ALL

24

MAY

Modes

Hours

ARI International DX Contest

ALL

24

CQ-M International DX Contest

CW/SSB

24

VOLTA WW RTTY Contest

RTTY

24

EU PSK DX Contest

PSK

24

His Maj. King of Spain Contest, CW

CW

24

CQ WW WPX Contest, CW

CW

48

JUNE

Modes

Hours

SEANET Contest

ALL

24

UKSMG Summer Contest

ALL

24

RSGB National Field Day

CW

24

IARU Region 1 Field Day, CW

CW

24

ANARTS WW RTTY Contest

RTTY

48

All Asian DX Contest, CW

CW

48

His Maj. King of Spain Contest, SSB

SSB

24

Ukrainian DX DIGI Contest

DIGITAL

24

Marconi Memorial HF Contest

CW

24

ARRL Field Day

ALL

27

JULY

Modes

Hours

RAC Canada Day Contest

CW/SSB

24

DL-DX RTTY Contest

RTTY/PSK

24

IARU HF World Championship

CW/SSB

24

DMC RTTY Contest

RTTY

24

CQ Worldwide VHF Contest

ALL

27

RSGB IOTA Contest

CW/SSB

24

AUGUST

Modes

Hours

TARA Grid Dip Shindig

RTTY/PSK

24

European HF Championship

CW/SSB

12

WAE DX Contest, CW

CW

48

Russian District Award Contest

CW/SSB

24

EPC Russia DX Contest

PSK63

24

SEPTEMBER

Modes

Hours

All Asian DX Contest, Phone

SSB

48

Russian RTTY WW Contest

RTTY

24

RSGB SSB Field Day

SSB

24

IARU Region 1 Field Day, SSB

SSB

24

WAE DX Contest, SSB

SSB

48

Scandinavian Activity Contest, CW

CW

24

CQ Worldwide DX Contest, RTTY

RTTY

48

OCTOBER

Modes

Hours

TARA PSK Rumble Contest

PSK

24

Oceania DX Contest, Phone

SSB

24

UBA ON Contest, CW

CW

4

RSGB 21/28 MHz Contest

CW/SSB

12

Oceania DX Contest, CW

CW

24

UBA ON Contest, SSB

SSB

4

JARTS WW RTTY Contest

RTTY

24

Stew Perry Topband Challenge (Warm-up)

CW

24

Worked All Germany Contest

CW/SSB

24

CQ Worldwide DX Contest, SSB

SSB

48

NOVEMBER

Modes

Hours

Ukrainian DX Contest

CW/SSB

24

WAE DX Contest, RTTY

RTTY

24

OK/OM DX Contest, CW

CW

24

EU PSK63 QSO Party

PSK63

24

CQ Worldwide DX Contest, CW

CW

48

DECEMBER

Modes

Hours

ARRL 160-Meter Contest

CW

18

TARA RTTY Melee

RTTY

24

MDXA PSK DeathMatch

PSK

48

OK DX RTTY Contest

RTTY

24

RAC Winter Contest

CW/SSB

24

Croatian CW Contest

CW

24

Stew Perry Topband Challenge

CW

24

PODXS 070 Club QRP DX Scramble

PSK31

24

MY CONTEST REPORTS/SCORES:

CQWW (CQ WORLD WIDE) CONTESTS

The contests that are sponsored by CQ magazine tend to be the among the largest ones, in terms of participation, so there is more chance of getting a decent QSO total than with some of the smaller or more specialised contests. CQ magazine run contests that cover ‘Phone’ (take that to mean SSB, but as it is correctly called a ‘phone’ contest, I suppose you could use AM or even FM - but I doubt you would get many, if any, contact or win many friends doing so!), CW and RTTY modes. These contests run for a full 48 hours from 0000 UTC Saturday to 2400 Sunday (or, to be more precise 2359:59 UTC) Also covered are two more specialised contests: the CQWW 160m contests (both Phone and CW), plus the CQWW VHF contest, which run for 24 and 27 hours respectively.

Below are some of the CQWW contests that I have taken part in (usually as an SWL).

CQ 160m SSB contest

The last full weekend in February sees the CQWW 160m Phone contest arrive. 160m, being at the lower end of the spectrum, just above the MW broadcast band, has some unique propagation features. The most exploited propagation mode on ‘Top Band’ is via the ‘Grey Line Terminator’. The ‘Grey Line’ is the border between daylight and darkness that encircles the earth. Signals that follow this line tend to be much stronger than if the same path was tried in full darkness.  

This past weekend (the last weekend in February 10) was a busy one on the radio. There were two or three fairly big contests on and I had a listen in on two of them. The first was the CQ 160m SSB contest. The idea of this one is to exchange CQ zones (which count as multipliers) and obviously work as many stations and zones as possible during the 24 hours of the contest. The start time of this one is unusual as it begins at 2200 UTC, rather than the more usual 0000 UTC. This is a good contest to boost up your 160m score and, if conditions are favourable, hear some choice dx. I didn’t spend long on this one as I needed sleep, but I still put 60 stations in the log in about half an hour and then added some more the following evening.

CQWW WPX Phone Contest

The last weekend in March is host to the SSB leg of the Work PrefiXes Contest (WPX). This also coincides with the change from GMT to BST (British Summer Time) in the UK, meaning the contest does not finish until 0100 British local time (0000 UTC) or 49 hours after it started (but there are still only 48 hours of operating time - there has been no physical time gain, just the clock going forward an hour for local time, GMT/UTC is, as always, the same and does not suffer from this silly change to ‘daylight saving’ or British Summer Time). I would rather we stuck to GMT all year round as the change messes everyone’s sleeping pattern around for a few weeks while we adjust to getting up an hour earlier than usual.

CQWW WPX Phone Contest 2010

Conditions for this contest were not brilliant but there was still a good amount of DX around. 10m produced no signals at all at my QTH. 15m was fairly quiet but there were plenty of long distance stations to be heard. 20m, as usual, carried most of the traffic and at times it became very congested. I did not get that long to operate in this contest, particularly in the evening/night so my scores for the lower 3 bands are pretty low. 94 DXCC during the weekend was surprising, I was only expecting about 60 if I was being realistic. Certainly bodes well for the big contests at the end of the season (well it’s what I use as the end marker (October/November)). Any large SSB contest is going to be difficult as you need to use every trick in the book to copy a weaker station when it is being swamped by splatter from a powerhouse just a couple of kHz up or down. This is where adjustable IF/DSP filters and passband tuning come into play. By juggling these you can usually recover enough of the audio to get the callsign and serial number of the station required. It may take time though as you really need a time when the strong station is not transmitting but the weaker one is and giving their callsign. If I haven’t made any sense of the station I am listening to within 10 minutes, I note the frequency and come back later if it is one I need. No point in spending too much time as you are missing out on other, possibly valuable, stations while you are trying to drag the station out of the noise. The only time I will spend more time is if it is a rare one on the lower bands where there might only be a limited time frame in which they are audible (ZL on 160m for instance).

Here is the breakdown of the 2010 CQWW WPX Phone Contest:

Unique Callsigns per Band

Band

Total

WPX

160m

21

21

80m

44

44

40m

34

34

20m

308

264

15m

115

98

Total

472

388

 

 

 

DXCC

Band

Total

 

160m

14

 

80m

25

 

40m

22

 

20m

69

 

15m

43

 

Total

94

 

 

 

 

Total QSO's:

523

 

CQWW WPX Phone Contest 2014

I had more time to operate than I expected, which is always a bonus - although I have to admit to not making full use of the time (recurring shoulder tendinitis was giving me too much pain to concentrate). Still using the indoor antennas that have been in use since I moved to this QTH 9 months ago, and I am pleased with the way they perform. Down side is that anything below 20m is not too good ( I have an active loop at ground level, but that is noisy as it is right in the near field for tv/computer etc. noise from the neighbourhood and is in a fixed/non movable position. That said, I have heard some good DX on 40, 80 and even 160m - or at least what I consider to be good dx taking into account the restrictions mentioned. So, propagation wise, the contest was fair, not outstanding but generally good. 20m was a big disappointment as there was not much in the way of unusual stations, with the vast majority being from Europe. At least 10 and 15m were better, although not as good as they have been recently.

Here is the breakdown of the 2014 CQWW WPX Phone Contest:

Unique Callsigns per Band

Band

Total

WPX

160m

0

0

80m

0

0

40m

54

54

20m

118

105

15m

142

134

10m

170

157

Total

427

366

 

 

 

DXCC

Band

Total

 

160m

0

 

80m

0

 

40m

27

 

20m

40

 

15m

57

 

10m

64

 

Total

97

 

 

 

 

Total QSO's:

484

 

Band

Calls

G

EU

DX

POINTS

WPX

160m

0

0

0

0

0

0

80m

0

0

0

0

0

0

40m

54

2

45

7

134

54

20m

118

0

100

18

154

105

15m

142

1

95

46

234

134

10m

170

2

64

104

378

157

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total

484

5

304

175

900

366

Score: 900*366 = 329400 points

CQWW WPX CW Contest

The CW leg of the WPX contest takes part on the last weekend of May so is a couple of months later than the SSB leg. This means that the propagation tends to be quite different to the Phone leg

I operated for a few hours on Saturday morning and then for some time during Sunday but conditions were not good for the majority of the contest, thanks to a geomagnetic storm forcing the K-index up to 5, which is a pretty disturbed level. However there was a good amount of sporadic E on 10m which provided a good amount of QSO’s. I had changed my antenna for this contest (see Here for details) and of course I had my doubts as to whether it was working as there were few signals about when I initially started but a quick check on the active loop set my mind at rest as that wasn’t picking up much either! There was a distinct lack of USA/VE stations audible during this contest and the ones that were heard were not as strong as usual. Despite some rather inclement conditions I did manage to put 702 in the log (I stopped at 2130UTC, so missed the last 2.5 hours where  another 100-150 could have probably been added. Country count was quite a bit down on the SSB leg, although most individual band countries were higher for this contest, and of course there were the 40 countries on 10m this time - March is just to early in the year for real sporadic E openings.

Here is the breakdown of the 2010 CQWW WPX CW Contest:

Unique Callsigns per Band

Band

Total

WPX

160m

29

26

80m

65

57

40m

125

106

20m

260

216

15m

126

107

10m

94

83

Total

545

363

 

 

 

DXCC

Band

Total

 

160m

16

 

80m

26

 

40m

41

 

20m

60

 

15m

47

 

10m

40

 

Total

74

 

 

 

 

Total QSO's:

702

 

CQWW Phone Contest

The CQWW contests are my favourites, the CW leg being my #1 contest of the year. I don’t often do much in SSB contests but as I had some time this year i thought I would see what I could do in this one. Conditions were pretty good, even 10m opened for a while. 15m was the star performer as I almost achieved DXCC on that band in the 12 or so hours I was able to operate. This was by far my best performance in an SSB contest and the DXCC total ranks as one of the highest, or even the highest, I have ever had for a single contest. My QSO total was not as high as some previous contest (where I had well over 1000 QSO’s) but I am still very pleased with the outcome. I have to admit the DX cluster did offer me a few new ones, and I returned the favour by spotting quite a few stations myself.

Here is the breakdown of the CQWW Phone contest 2010:

Unique Callsigns per Band

Band

Total

 

160m

36

 

80m

71

 

40m

110

 

20m

268

 

15m

282

 

10m

36

 

Total

679

 

 

 

 

DXCC

Band

Total

 

160m

23

 

80m

33

 

40m

48

 

20m

83

 

15m

96

 

10m

19

 

Total

122

 

 

 

 

Total QSO's:

806

 

CQ Zones:

37

 

For the first time, I used the logger to keep score and I was quite surprised by the results. Here are the scores. One thing that shows is that the QSO total is only 801, which means that 5 were either outside the mode sub band (as defined in the logger) - this I presume was ones that were rather low on 20m, or possibly dupes that I did not see. I am pleased with the score of over half a million points and it gives me a target to aim for in the CW leg in November.

Band

QSO

G

EU

POINTS

DXCC

CQ ZONES

160m

36

3

33

36

23

5

80m

71

3

63

81

33

6

40m

110

1

98

132

48

10

20m

267

2

166

465

83

24

15m

281

2

127

589

96

29

10m

36

4

19

62

19

7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total

801

15

506

1365

302

81

Score: 1365*383 = 522795 points

CQWW CW Contest 2010

Well that was quite a contest this year! I had arranged to get a good amount of time on air over the weekend to maximize my chances, but I still missed out on some greyline popagation as there was just no way I could be on the radio at that time (that is the trouble with having young children - they do require love and attention, contest or not!). All bands were open to some extent, although the 10m openings were not great and I didn’t hear anywhere near as much as the continental Europeans. However the USA was a nice bonus. As usual 20m and 15m were the stars of the show. I discovered that the difference in logged QSO’s to those reported in the Contest stats is due to duplicates. Even with the logging program alerting me to dupes, I still managed to log some (10 in all for this contest) - I have removed those from the log. The Kermadec Island expedition was very active during the contest but was not really audible here, except for a brief while on 20m. I ‘almost’ heard it on 80m - I could make out a station replying to calls but it just was not strong enough to read anything, no matter how hard I tried! This was without doubt my best contest ever. Not only did I log the most QSO’s (1398 - how gutted am I that I didn’t get to 1400 - my log showed 1408, but there were those 10 darn dupes which I hadn’t reckoned on), I also logged the most DXCC ever - 141 and made DXCC on 20 and 15m. Also my score was well over 1 1/4 Million points. Interestingly I logged 900 QSO’s on the first day, in 107 DXCC - the first time I have ever logged 100 countries in a single day.

Here is the breakdown of the CQWW CW contest 2010:

Unique Callsigns per Band

Band

Total

 

160m

125

 

80m

220

 

40m

243

 

20m

440

 

15m

312

 

10m

58

 

Total

1038

 

 

 

 

DXCC

Band

Total

 

160m

42

 

80m

62

 

40m

74

 

20m

109

 

15m

105

 

10m

28

 

Total

141

 

 

 

 

Total QSO's:

1398

 

CQ Zones:

37

 

Here is the score breakdown for the CQWW 2010 CW leg:

Band

QSO

G

EU

POINTS

DXCC

CQ ZONES

160m

125

3

105

159

42

11

80m

220

10

161

330

62

16

40m

243

2

165

397

74

23

20m

440

6

235

842

109

30

15m

312

6

137

654

105

28

10m

58

4

33

106

28

11

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total

1398

31

836

2488

420

119

Score: 2488*539 = 1341032 points

CQWW CW Contest 2011

For a change this year, I decided to concentrate on a single band  - namely 10m. Now I have never done a contest as a single band (except for the ones that are single band only, of course) so this was a bit of a learning curve. I was blown away with the conditions on 10m this year, they have been as good as I can ever remember. This was mainly the reason for trying a single band this year, that and time constraints meant that my time would be limited. The Saturday of the contest was amazing! Stations from all over the world were finding their way into my log - in fact, within less than 4 hours of operating, I had logged 100 countries! Of course that kind of pace can’t carry on as there are only a certain number of countries active, and propagation may not allow reception of certain areas. Last year I made 58 QSO’s on 10m, this year I made over 10 times that amount. Sunday’s conditions were not as good as Saturdays, for instance I didn’t log any Zone 3’s (West Coast USA area) on the Sunday, but on Saturday I had loads in the log. Sadly missing were Zones 1 and 2 (plus a couple of others) - Zone 1 was just not open here before we lost the band at night (it shut around 1800z, just as KL7’s were starting to appear on the DX Cluster) and I did not see anyone even spot a Zone 2 on 10m, let alone log one. All in all, I am extremely pleased with the results - 151 DXCC is a personal record for me in any contest.

Here is the score breakdown for the CQWW 2011 CW leg:

Band

QSO

G

EU

POINTS

DXCC

CQ ZONES

10m

558

13

212

1242

151

36

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total

558

13

212

1242

151

36

Score: 1242*187 = 232254 points

 

Quite how I am going to beat that next year remains to be seen, but as the sun is becoming more active conditions on the higher bands should improve. Looking at my year on year scores I can easily see when the Solar Maximum was just by the overall higher band totals. All the preparation for this contest was worth it. I had spent quite a considerable amount of time sorting the antenna system and reducing noise wherever possible. Without the use of my two antennas and the noise canceler, I would have really struggled on some bands. Also using the DSP filters on the IC756pro helped a great deal. I had my filters set in the following way, ‘Wide’ - 500Hz, for quick checking of the less crowded bands; ‘Normal’ - 250Hz, this seems a good bandwidth for general contesting as the high speed stuff doesn’t get lost but there is still room to separate most signals; and lastly, ‘Narrow’ - 100Hz, I used this for the real tricky ones buried under QRM, the downside is that higher speed ones (40 wpm plus) become very difficult to read at such narrow bandwidths.

CQWW CW Contest 2012

Despite the forecast of Solar storms and possible Au, the bands were in pretty decent shape. This year I only had about 1 days operating (about 10-12 hours in total, I should think) so my score is down on the 2010 event. What was most noticeable for me was that I didn’t really get to give the lower bands a hammering. 40m was in fine form when  I got on there, early morning it was wide open to West Coast USA, with some good signals coming in from zone 3. 10m was very good, as was 15. 20m always comes up with the goods, no matter what part of the solar cycle we are at - this year was no exception. I had my filter set to 150Hz and used that all the time. To help lift weak signals, I used the Datong FL2 audio filter, centered on 800Hz (my side tone freq) and with the bandwidth just off minimum. This combination was good enough to hear the really weak ones. I was hoping to try a bit of ‘SO2R’, but didn’t manage it. SO2R is a contest category and it stands for Single Operator, 2 Receivers. In reality I would have been classed as a ‘multi-multi’ station as I was using the DX cluster to help me find some unusual ones. SO2R requires a good amount of manual and mental dexterity. Sadly, for me, I can only do one thing at a time. The SDR-IQ was to be used as a spotter receiver, so I could see if I could hear a particular station of interest (that had been spotted on the cluster) on a different band, while the main receiver was being used  to work up, or down, a band at a time. Because I was not transmitting, there was never enough spare time to use the spotting RX! The principle works well for general dxing though.

Here is the score breakdown for the CQWW 2012 CW leg:

Band

QSO

G

EU

POINTS

DXCC

CQ ZONES

160m

52

3

46

58

26

6

80m

16

0

15

18

13

5

40m

102

5

47

212

34

9

20m

225

6

147

369

66

25

15m

175

3

79

367

87

27

10m

131

4

73

243

65

22

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total

701

21

407

1267

291

94

Score: 1267*385 = 487795 points

CQWW Phone Contest 2013

This is the first contest I have spent any time on since moving to my new QTH. I have a disadvantage at the moment in that I am using indoor antennas - basically just a 2 band dipole (15 and 10m) and a random length dipole for noise pickup - all mounted in my attic. I have been very surprised by how well those dipoles have worked. Anything from 14MHz up wards is OK, but 30, 40, 80 and 160m are a pretty much lost cause - far too much noise and not enough signal pickup. Even my MFJ 1026 can’t get me out of that hole! Still, hopefully, an outside antenna will make an appearance sometime in the future. Also, I used the SDR-IQ as the receiver for this contest (utilizing more than one active VFO so I could check DX on other frequencies). It’s a great way to contest and amazing to see just how many stations are actually active.

So, to the contest - conditions were superb, long openings on 10m provided some great dx and some of the less common zones. 15 and 20m were good but I was having too much fun on 10! I did try 40m and picked up a few, even managed a JA, which was quite a surprise as I didn’t think anything outside of Eu would make it through the local noise (plasma TV, grr).

Here is the score breakdown for the CQWW 2013 Phone leg:

Band

QSO

G

EU

POINTS

DXCC

CQ ZONES

160m

0

0

0

0

0

0

80m

0

0

0

0

0

0

40m

34

5

26

42

21

5

20m

124

2

70

228

58

19

15m

160

0

68

344

50

17

10m

293

5

70

739

62

27

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total

611

12

234

1353

191

68

Score: 1353*259 = 350427 points

CQWW CW Contest 2013

Things were transpiring against me in this contest. The main enemy was...Time! There just wasn’t enough free time to get on properly, due to a slight misunderstanding with dates. Second enemy was Plasma TV interference :( This problem plagued me badly on Sunday, particularly on the low bands, mainly due to the proximity of the antenna to the offending TV (mine, I’m ashamed to say). Still, I am pretty pleased with what ended up in the log. Scores were good, all things considered. On 160m I had to set the DSP filter to 50Hz so I could get inside the noise bars from the TV, otherwise there was a strong heterodyne with every signal and that is a recipe for disaster when trying to pick a weak CW signal out from the noise. On the other bands I used 100-150Hz, anything less and it was not possible to copy the high speed contesters (those that are sending at 40wpm+). I need more CW practice as some of the calls I needed to hear a few times before I was 100% sure I had it correct. Must be a combination of too much time spent on digimodes and getting older :) I needed more 3 point QSO’s to bump the points total up as that has kept the score down. Managed to log 111 DXCC over the contest period, so even using my attic dipoles for 10 and 15 (also used them on 20m) plus the Wellbrook loop on 40, 80 and 160 I was able to get amongst it and fish out DX from all over the world.

Conditions seemed to be rather good. For the first time, I was able to use My SDR-IQ together with MixW (my preferred contest software - It does what I need it to, it’s not the best but I get on with it and it is simple to use). I finally discovered that I could get the CAT control to work if I set it to the generic ‘Kenwood’ setting. It then saw my virtual com port and the SDR-IQ connected to it (via SDR-Console V2). This made life so much simpler. a simple point and click to change frequency (great for the DX Cluster - find a call that you need, click and there you are, spot on frequency & ready to pounce). Maybe by next year’s contest I will have my OCF dipole up outside.

Band

QSO

G

EU

POINTS

DXCC

CQ ZONES

160m

47

03

43

49

21

4

80m

12

1

10

14

9

4

40m

88

0

65

134

38

11

20m

42

0

25

76

22

10

15m

161

1

76

331

87

25

10m

154

5

99

256

59

19

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total

504

10

318

860

236

73

Score: 860*309 = 265740 points

Unique Callsigns per Band

Band

Total

 

160m

47

 

80m

12

 

40m

88

 

20m

42

 

15m

161

 

10m

154

 

Total

439

 

 

 

 

DXCC

Band

Total

 

160m

21

 

80m

9

 

40m

38

 

20m

22

 

15m

87

 

10m

59

 

Total

111

 

 

 

 

Total QSO's:

504

 

CQ Zones:

32

 

 

 

EPC DX Contest

The other contest that took my interest was the EPC DX contest, which uses PSK125 only and runs for 24 hours from 1200 Sat to 1200 on the Sunday. The exchange for this one is an incrementing serial number (which is the most common form of exchange). This is a well supported contest despite being fairly new. I put well over 500 stations in the log on 15, 20, 40 and 80m with some good DX being heard. Being a European based club there are more European members than anything else but there was a good showing from Asia and the Americas, even Africa was noted quite a few times. I didn’t log any VK’s or ZL’s in the contest but that is because I was not active at the right times. I enjoyed this contest and on the Sunday morning I tried something that I have not been able to do previously. I used MixW as the contest program as it logs very quickly and shows up duplicate stations in a different colour so it can be seen if a station is needed or not without the need to look up. My main digital mode program is HRD with DM780 but I find that the logging side is very slow and takes upto 20 seconds to add something to the log once the ‘add’ key had been pressed. With MixW it is instantaneous and once the contest is over, I export the log as an ADIF and import into HRD. Sounds a bit long winded but it works for me. Anyway, what I did today was to run 2 instances of MixW - one using the Icom with the  inverted Vee and the USB soundcard. The other instance using the Racal and the Wellbrook loop, with the onboard pc soundcard. I set both radios on the same frequency and then could see at a glance which when a station was being heard on one setup but not the other. The strange thing is that both setups were hearing signals that were not being decoded by the other one. This proves the usefulness of having two (or more) antennas available. Running the two instances of MixW together did not cause any problems and they shared a common log that was updated on both as soon as a station was logged on either system. If I had a marginal copy on a signal, I would leave whichever radio was seeing it best to monitor the signal and I would use the 2nd radio to continue hunting. If I was transmitting, this would be what the call a “SO2R” station - that is “Single Operator, 2 Radio’s”. Mind you having the DX cluster running automatically makes it a multi operator station, and some contests do not allow the use of the dx cluster or other spotting sytems.

Although I had the dx cluster running, I must admit I only used it once and that was on 160m, where there was a Cyprus station (C4I) that I had not caught while I was tuning through the band. Once I was aware of it, I put the radio on the frequency of the station and listened until I heard it. It was quite a good signal so I must have tuned past a time where they were not transmitting.

 

ARRL DX Contest

The 6-7 March was the SSB leg of the ARRL DX contest. I have operated many times in this contest, although I mainly concentrated on the CW leg so I though I would have a go on the SSB leg for a change. I was fortunate to have quite a bit of time to operate in this contest so I made the most of it! Conditions were up and down, 15m was disappointing as there were only openings to South America and then only a few stations made it through. 10m was completely dead, which is to be expected at this time of year and solar cycle. 20m was in good shape though and there was an extended opening to the West Coast and many W6/W7 stations were logged, some peaking over s9. 40m was interesting and many took advantage of the extended bandwidth now available, although there was some QRM from the remaining broadcast stations (Ethiopia and Eritrea were the two that caused large heterodynes). 80m was fairly quite for me as I didn’t operate past 2200 and spent little time on the band. One interesting thing for me was hearing 12 out of the possible 13 Canadian provinces (the only one missing was VY0 - Nunavut), I logged my first VE8 who put in a good signal on Sunday. Alaska and Hawaii were also welcome additions on 20m and brought the total states heard up to 39 for the weekend. The stats for this contest are:

BAND

DXCC

80m

27

40m

37

20m

55

15m

25

TOTAL

85

VE PROVINCES

80M

1

40M

1

20M

12

15M

1

TOTAL

12

US STATES (INC HI/AK)

80M

6

40M

10

20M

37

15M

9

TOTAL

39

RSGB Commonwealth Contest (Also known as the BERU contest - BERU stands for “British Empire Radio Union”)

I have always enjoyed the BERU contest as it is rather different from the usual weekend contest. It starts at a respectable 1000 UTC and runs for 24 hours. What makes this contest interesting for me, being British, is that only stations that are within the old British Commonwealth are allowed to work each other. This gives us a chance to work some really interesting dx without the usual pile up from the rest of the world. What is surprising is the number of countries that were part of the commonwealth, and therefore can be worked. It is also a great chance to work some of teh more difficult areas on 80m, such as Australia and New Zealand. Even those of us with small antennas stand a good chance.

The BERU contest this year (2010) was the first one I have been active in for a few years and I certainly was not disappointed! The only let down was 10m, simply because it was not open to the UK, or at least to me. I could see spots on the DX cluster from stations in Europe working on 10m but nothing was heard here except for 2 signals and they were not in the contest! 15 was in fine shape and I heard 35 countries on there. 25 doesn’t sound a lot really but they were all commonwealth countries such as Rodrigues Island (3B9), Mauritius (3B8), Nigeria (5N), Malawi (7Q), 5X (Uganda), Zambia (9J), Singapore (9V), South Africa (ZS), India (VU2), Montserrat (VP2M), Australia (VK) and the Falkland Islands (VP8) - amongst others. New Zealand was heard on 80m, 40m and 20m and Australia was heard on 40, 20 and 15m (for some reason I missed it on 80m). Conditions were superb with some really strong signals coming from all over the world. I logged almost 250 QSO’s in this contest and the country break down is shown in the table:

BAND

DXCC

80m

16

40m

28

20m

37

15m

35

TOTAL

62

In one of the major contests those figures would not be very impressive but I am pleased with them for this one. I logged VK on 15 occasions with no duplicates (I did log the same VK on more than 1 band though) and ZL was logged 7 times. Oceania was logged 24 times in total, AF was logged 21 times, NAm,  63 times, SAm only 4 times and Eu 91 times. I did come across one case of deliberate QRM, someone was purposely keying strings of dits over C4A each time they began sending. I do not know why but I made sure that I spotted C4A on the dx cluster (with no mention of the QRM) so that it was obvious they were being heard through the QRM (which stopped shortly after the spot appeared). It is unfortunate that deliberate QRM often plagues DXpeditions and sometimes contests but there is little that can be done about it except to use cunning to work around the QRM.

It seems that March is a busy month for contests, how much time I get to operate in them remains to be seen but I will at least try to get an hour or two in most of the bigger ones.

Russian DX Contest (RDXC/CQM) and BARTG Contest

20-21st March was a busy weekend on the radio, there were 2 fairly major contest on that covered 3 modes, SSB, CW and RTTY. I shared my time between all 3 modes. The BARTG (British Amateur Radio Teletype Group) RTTY contest lasted a full 48 hours, midnight to midnight, whereas the Russian DX contest was a 24 hour event from 1200-1200. I was not able to participate at the beginning of either contest and did not do al all night operating session (I usually only do that for the CQWW CW contest in November). That said my total QSO’s was quite astonishing 9for me at least): 1156, split between the three modes: CW: 582, RTTY: 416 and SSB: 156. I have to say that band conditions were not brilliant on 15m at least but 20m provided the bulk of the loggings. Here is a breakdown of the contests (I have not split these up, but RTTY is BARTG and everything else is RDXC. 85 DXCC’s over the weekend was very pleasing. There were some interesting things in these contests, like a string of JA’s all at or around s9 and a VK3 on 40m who took me by surprise as I was only hearing out at 5000km or so - I tuned onto a good solid RTTY signal and sure enough it was a UA9 I think but the reply was even louder and it was VK3TXI, who is nearly 17000Km distant. It’s these little bonuses that make it even more fun. In the RTTY contest I was using a 350Hz twin peak filter (the filter response is peaked on both the mark and space parts of the signal and the rest of the bandwidth is attenuated. This makes a massive difference when trying to find weak RTTY signals hiding between much stronger signals. For CW I used a 200Hz bandwidth filter and my SEM audio filter to peak the 800Hz centre frequency. This again makes a big difference but can also cause problems if you are transmitting in the contest as callers that are just a few 10’s of Hz off your frequency will not be heard. For my type of ‘Search and Pounce’ operation though, it is great.

Here is the breakdown of the 2010 BARTG RTTY and the RDXC/CQ-M contests as heard at G4UCJ:

Unique Callsigns per Band

Band

Total

CW

SSB

RTTY

WPX

160m

22

22

0

0

20

80m

110

78

0

32

84

40m

220

130

27

66

166

20m

554

251

56

259

344

15m

213

93

69

59

157

10m

3

1

3

0

3

Total

972

496

145

373

505

DXCC

Band

Total

CW

SSB

RTTY

 

160m

12

12

0

0

 

80m

27

23

0

14

 

40m

42

32

11

27

 

20m

65

42

24

54

 

17m

5

5

0

0

 

15m

40

16

22

24

 

12m

2

1

0

0

 

10m

3

1

3

0

 

Total

85

53

45

63

 

Total QSO's: 1156

 

 

 

RSGB IOTA (Islands On The Air) contest

I like the IOTA contest and have entered it once where I did the 24 hour CW section and came 18th in the World, not too bad considering I was using an indoor (attic mounted) half G5RV, bent and twisted around to fit  and a maximum of 30w. I managed 550 QSO’s during that contest (I think that was about 2003). This year I didn’t have that long to operate but managed to get on for a couple of hours here and there. I have to say that band conditions were on the whole pretty poor. I would have liked to have spent longer on 40 and 80m as I think there was potential for some good dx, particularly on 40m. This is the first contest I have tried using the new OCF/Windom antenna. Being a half wave on 40m, it works very well indeed on that band. In fact it works well on most bands, with the exception of 15m, where it works but is way off resonance. It would be possible to tune it for 15m but in doing so I would lose one or more of the other bands. I am prepared to accept the compromise of having reduced performance on 15 because I have full performance on 40, 20 and 10m (no atu required). 80m can be tuned, but I use the OCF as a noise antenna against the Wellbrook loop which is the better antenna for that band.  The Island score is lower than it should be as I have not entered IOTA references for several islands. For the period I operated, I was quite pleased with the overall result.

Here is the breakdown of QSO’s for the 2010 IOTA contest.

Unique Callsigns per Band

Band

Total

CW

SSB

80m

8

8

0

40m

81

72

13

20m

236

165

77

15m

21

21

0

Total

323

247

88

 

 

 

 

DXCC

Band

Total

CW

SSB

80m

5

5

0

40m

33

27

12

20m

60

45

42

15m

11

11

0

Total

68

51

51

IOTA

Band

Total

CW

SSB

40m

20

16

5

20m

47

33

19

15m

3

3

0

Total

60

45

30

 

 

 

 

Total QSO's:

380

267

113

 

Why do I like contests?

Contest operating is a very good way to sharpen your operating skills. Knowing prefixes is also invaluable so it pays to spend time learning what prefixes go with which country - some exotic sounding callsigns could be just a very common country but using one of it’s less used prefix allocations.

Usually I start at the very bottom of the band for a CW contest and work upwards until I hear no more signals, then I work my way back down again by which time there are some new ones about. With SSB it is advisable to start tuning lower than you would expect. In fact during the very largest contests you can hear SSB way down in the CW and digital sub bands, which is pretty much a no go area, but sometimes there are some good stations hiding trying to get away from the main hubbub. With digital, the same applies. they start lower and finish higher than the sub band definitions.

SSB contests are not my favourite as the QRM can be horrendous and you are limited in the ways you can reduce splatter from other stations on nearby frequencies. With CW you can just wind down the bandwidth of the filter until the offending station is removed (unless they are extremely close, within a few 10’s of Hz then it is not really possible but that is pretty rare and even close stations can be separated by ear). With SSB you can reduce the filter bandwidth but if you go much below 1.5kHz it gets difficult to understand as you are chopping off the top and bottom of the signal and leaving very muffled audio - using f IF shift/passband tuning can assist by allowing the filter to attenuate the lower frequencies more than the higher frequencies and ‘shifting’ the response of the filter up in frequency. This can also remove/attenuate stations who are splattering over the low end of the desired signal. It can work on the HF side too, but it is not as effective as you lose vital speech intelligence when you remove too much of the top end.

 

When you are in a contest, remember that not everyone is involved and also there is no excuse for poor operating standards. Everyone has an equal right to be on the band, contester or not. Another thing to remember is to keep to bandplans, even if they are not mandatory in your country. This means not using SSB down in the CW/data sections of the bands and also avoid specific frequencies such as IARU beacon frequencies and digital mode centres of activity. below are some of the more important frequencies that should be avoided during contests unless the contest is one of the various digimode ones. Operating CW on 14070 is likely to win you few friends and will also lessen your QSO rate due to the QRM from PSK31 stations that have their centre of activity there.

Frequencies to avoid when participating in SSB/CW contest:

1835-1840, 3575-3585, 7035-7040, 7070, 14070-14110, 14230-240, 21070-21090, 21150, 28080-090, 28120-28125, 28200-28300. And of course you are not allowed to contest on the WARC bands (10, 18 and 24MHz).

 

COMING SOON:

Links to some of the major contesters sites and exploring the lengths some contesters go to when designing their station to get the absolute best chance of winning.

 

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