G0SKA’s Contesting tips
Contesting can be fun but it is not for everyone. However, it is a useful way of checking your station’s performance as contests generate good levels of activity, especially on the VHF/UHF bands. Most stations will want to work you to get the points. It is also a good way of sharpening up your operating technique. You also get (hopefully) a lot of contacts in a short time with the emphasis on speed and accuracy.
2. WEAK STATION
If you have a weak station – eg use low power/ poor location/ a vertical on VHF SSB where most stations use horizontal yagis, it is usually better to tune for and call other stations ie “Search and Pounce” or “S & P”, rather than calling CQ Contest – ie “Running” a frequency. When tuning the band keep an ear out for the weaker stations as these are likely to be further away and score you more points, though completing a QSO is likely to be more challenging..
3. STRONGER STATIONS
If you are strong enough to run a frequency, set up a bit before the contest starts and call CQ to establish your frequency even if nobody comes back. Some bands get very busy once it starts and it can be difficult to find a clear spot.
4. A AND B VFOs
Use your A and B VFOs. If you are running, set up your run frequency on VFO A and use VFO B for tuning around. If you find a wanted station while searching but it is too weak or busy, revert to VFO A and call while waiting for the wanted station to come free. That way you use your time more efficiently and also hold your run frequency. An unused freq will often be usurped by another station so don’t leave it free for too long..
Ideally use a yagi with a rotator. If so, you will find it is quicker to tune around the band than rotate the antenna to the opposite direction. So, while your antenna is pointing in a particular direction it is worth tuning up and down for stations. Tuning low to high is easiest on USB.
I am a dyed in the wool paper logger, but for contesting, computer logging has huge advantages. For VHF using a PC a good prog is MINOS written by Mike Goodey G0GJV, who is a Bracknell member and a member of our joint contest group Triple B. If you have an Apple Mac, then Skookumlogger is excellent – both are free!! The Logging prog puts in date, time, Freq, 59 each way, your serial number and if in your database their locator, so often you just input their call and serial number. – Less scope for errors. A huge benefit of computer logging is that it flags up duplicates. Without it once you have 40 plus QSOs it becomes difficult to remember if you have worked someone. The logging program may also show you a tally of the squares you have worked. With the best setups your rig talks to the logging program enabling you to control some functions from the computer, but dont worry if not as you can set the logger to a phantom rig. Also at the end of the contest it is quick and easy to upload your log in cabrillo form to the contest admin. My logging errors (shown as UBNs in your results email) reduced hugely once I started to use Skookumlogger.
7. DX CLUSTERS
These are useful for spotting DX stations and give you the frequency and often locator as well as callsign and time of upload. I use DX Summit. I keep it open and periodically flick between the logging prog and DX Summitt. I then write down the wanted call (s) and their freq on a scrap pad. When my antenna is pointing in the right directioon I will tune for them to see if audible (often not!). I may also spot a call if I call them on their freq as a favour.
This is an internet chatroom designed for contesters to set up skeds with other contesters. All the leading stations use it as it is permitted in many contests. I have joined it but do not regularly use it. Just put ON4KST into a search engine.
9. AIRCRAFT SCATTER
Some of the leading stations use various programs such as “Airscout” to check on aircraft flying between their QTH and the wanted station which may give rise to enhanced propagation in that direction. This information is often used in conjunction with ON4KST so you will see messages (or meeps) such as “aircraft in 5 mins”.
If your home QTH is poor, consider going portable to a high point away from housing. Many of the top stations just operate portable. Trevor achieved great success from a spot near Stokenchurch in the Chilterns. One of the leading stations G1YBB uses only 10 watts but from a point 800M asl! His score usually beats most legal limit stations.
11. LOCATOR SQUARES
If you compete in the RSGB Activity contests you will know that you get 500 points for each new big locator square (eg IO91/IO93/ JO01 etc.) . It is useful to have a locator map in front of you if you have a rotated beam. My own map has compass points from IO91 to indicate the required direction for all UK and near continent squares. This may not be needed if you use the rotator facility in the logging program as this will show those squares plus the actual direction that your beam is pointing. For this you need an interface between your rotator controller and computer. Trevor’s set up uses this.
Keep these short and stick to the needed information – call, report, serial, locator plus their name if you know it, 73s/goodluck etc. Nothing else unless they are a good friend!
13. BEAM HEADINGS
Try listening round on all beam headings near the start to assess if there is any good propagation in a particular direction. I once completely missed a good opening to Scandinavia because I never beamed north east at all. Normally the only stations north east are in JO02! Some of the bigger stations always start the contest by beaming towards the continent.
14. LISTEN LISTEN LISTEN
Best way is to learn is to listen to a contest and learn from the stations with high serial numbers eg G4ASR (IO81), G1YBB (IO82), G4FZN (IO94), GD8EXI (IO74), G4CLA (IO92), etc.
By and large the usual contesters are a friendly bunch and you will get to know a lot of the names and voices even before they say their callsigns. Some of the regulars stick near to a favourite freq eg. G1YBB (IO82) on 144.210 and g3xdy (JO02) on 144.205.
16. IMPROVING YOUR STATION
In due course it is natural to want to improve your station by eg more power (Linear amp), higher gain antenna, taller mast, lower loss coax, faster rotator, mast head pre-amp, better receiver – eg good HF rig plus high spec (expensive) transvertor for VHF/UHF, etc. You need to assess the potential improvement in dBs for both rx and tx compared with the cost (if you are a stingy so and so like me)!
17. VOICE KEYER
If you have a strong enough station to run a frequency then a voice keyer which sends your CQ contest calls is very useful. The IC7300 and other rigs have one built in but you can buy an external unit for older rigs. The keyer gives you time to check the cluster, move the beam or drink your tea as well as saving your vocal chords. I use long calls at the start of a contest and much shorter ones in the last half hour or so.
18. TRIPLE B
If you enter a log please put in Triple B as your club/contest group. If your station is located more than 35 Kms from Bracknell please let me know as we come in the category of local clubs.*
* Editor’s note: RSGB rules require all stations in a local contest groups like Triple B to either have their QTH or place of operation within 35km from a “Virtual Meeting Place”.