Ham radio contesting is an exciting element of amateur or ham radio. Participating in contests can be rewarding and it also presents many new operating challenges and an opportunity to pit your wits against thousands of other ham radio operators and groups around the globe.
Contesting requires the best of any ham radio operation and any ham radio station. If the best is to be made of a ham radio contest, then the station should be operating at its best, and all the know-how and skill of the person operating the station needs to be employed to make sure every last contact can be made.
In order to be able to make the best of any ham radio contest there are many hints and tips which can be followed to help enhance your scores. Where you are new to ham radio contesting, or whether you are a new hand, it is possible there is something on the hints and tips below that will be of interest and help in any ham radio contesting that you may do.
Top ham radio contesting tips
There are many things that can be done to prepare for a ham radio contest. Ten of the top hints and tips can be found below:
- Check the contest details and times, etc: before setting out o participating in a contest, it is essential to check out the basic facts. Obviously one of the first is to check the times. With different time zones around the globe, don't assume they will start at midnight local time.
it is also essential to check out other essential facts such as the serial numbers that need to be given. These change from contest to contest, so don't assume that they always consist of the contact serial number. However even if the details are not to hand it is often relatively easy to find out what the serial number consists of.
Also, if you are entering the contest, find out what the top scores were for previous years, then you will know what scores to aim for to have a credible entry. Also find out any special requirements for submitting the entry and where to send it.
- Check out your equipment beforehand: When operating in a contest, the competition to make contacts is very fierce. While it is a good opportunity to make contacts with many more stations than normal and many from new countries, it is wise to check over all the equipment and make sure it is all operating to its best. These preparations may also be the opportunity to install a new antenna, or make other improvements. But don't leave things too late as any problems encountered could result in loosing some or all of the time in the contest. It is best to install any new equipment well before the contest and have time to make any final alterations of get to know how to use it and how it performs to its best.
One particular area to check is the antenna system.
- Antenna corrosion - as antennas are left outside they are subject to the rigours of the weather and corrosion will set in. Check that all joints on the antenna are electrically sound, and also that the antenna itself is mechanically satisfactory.
- Check antenna connections - corrosion can easily bring about poor connections to the antenna. This will considerably reduce the performance. These need to be checked regularly.Check feeder performance - again feeders are subject to the weather. Any moisture entering the feeder will degrade its performance and cause the loss to rise. While a good VSWR may indicate all is well with the antenna this may not be the case as any power reflected by the antenna will be attenuated and this will result in a low VSWR that may be taken to indicate all is well - but this is not the case. Use antenna measurement equipment to check the loss.
- Be prepared for propagation changes and listen for what is happening: Knowing how propagation changes can be a key factor in planning not only what times to e around and not sleeping, but also what bands will produce the best results. There are many magazines and websites that provide propagation predictions and these should be studied just prior to the contest. Live statistics of the ionosphere conditions can also be used during the contest. Knowing the bands, knowing how the propagation predictions may affect their properties and knowing when to operate and where paths are likely to be open and at what times gives stations a real edge over many others. Listening on the bands before the contest can be a real help.
- Remember to rotate your antenna periodically: Another ham radio contest tip is to ensure you rotate your beam (if your antenna is rotatable) periodically. Propagation both at HF and VHF will change with time, and it is necessary to ensure that your beam is rotated to keep up with any changes. Even at VHF where changes may not be as marked, changing the beam heading will reveal a new set of stations who would have previously been too weak to contact.
- Equipment skills: A further amateur radio contest hint is to be familiar with your equipment. Speed is of the essence in any contest, and when things start to get muddled, the only way out is to take a break to catch up. It is therefore essential to be able to operate all the equipment swiftly and efficiently. Examples include:
- Transceiver - know all the controls, especially how to change things like incremental tuning on transmit and receive, etc.. Make sure you can change settings quickly.
- Morse key - with keyers / Morse keyboards being used almost exclusively for Morse, CW make sure you can use them efficiently.
- General keyboard skills - logging programmes are essential for serious contest entries. Again they also provide many other facilities that interface directly with the transceiver. Touch typing is therefore a real advantage along with knowing how to use the programme efficiently.
- Try alternative modes: Many contests are multimode contests. This gives the opportunity when the contact rate falls to change the mode. Often Morse will provide contacts when going is more difficult so a change like this can be beneficial.
- Investigate good strategies from previous contests: If you have taken part in contests in previous years, it is worth looking at what strategies paid off? What gave the best number of points? Did changing bands to give new countries / areas provide more points, or did sticking with the more popular bands and contacting more run of the mill stations give the best results? It is worth taking a look at previous contests in general and also at the particular contest in question as different strategies will work better for different contests.
- Join a contesting group: It always pays to learn from the experience of others. Joining a contesting group can help in a number of ways. One is to discuss how others approach contesting and learn what approaches work best. Another advantage is that a contest group may well enter a contest with a multi-operator entry. Participating in a contest with others will bring first hand knowledge of how to approach contesting.
- Interface your radio to a computer: Although many people will want to operate a radio themselves, but connecting the radio to a computer the full power of much of the software available for logging, radio control and the like can be gained. This will pay real dividends in a ham radio contest environment where efficient operating and speed are of the essence.
Contesting is a fascinating element of ham radio operating. It provides many real challenges in terms of operating skill, technical knowledge and the ability to set up radio stations that operate to their best. To achieve the best results, hints and tips of ham radio contesting can be very useful. These tips may be common knowledge to many, but to others they may help provide that small edge that makes all the difference in a ham radio contest.