Contesting seems to be an activity radio amateurs either love or hate. Its easy to sympathise with the criticism that contesting seems to take place very frequently and mostly at weekends, always just when you fancy rag-chewing, or a little dx-ing. The bands are clogged up with stations shoulder to shoulder, making operating very difficult indeed.
But just before you agree and click on another site, read on. Have you ever wondered why so many amateurs get involved in contesting? There must be something in it.
Whilst some contests are entered by single operators, many are team events, requiring group activities which begin along the same lines as running a special event station, but present a different and potentially greater challenge at a competitive level. There is still all the setting up and dismantling, and the operating and logging, and backup is still required, but the discipline has to be tighter, and the planning and execution more rigorous if the contest is to be a success.
With special events the operator probably has the toughest job. In my experience few people really want to take it on, because there often isnt much to say that the recipient truly wants to hear. The chances are you will soon be repeating the same information as in the last qso, which the recipient heard anyway, and he probably only wants to make the contact, wish you well with your station and receive a nice glossy qsl card in due course. Those few who are more genuinely interested in your station are inclined to ask awkward questions, invariably leaving the operator wishing he had done his homework rather more thoroughly! As a result, operators have usually had enough after two hours, and look around for another (somewhat reluctant) operator to take over the mic! If nobody is available, well what the heck? Someone eventually relents. Thats my experience, anyway. The pleasure gained from operating under such conditions is the honour of being at the helm and the buzz one occasionally gets from being able to handle different volumes of traffic effectively and without getting tongue-tied or in a pickle as we all have done from time to time!
The logger if one is really needed has the comparatively comfortable job of giving support to the operator and neatly writing up the log at leisure. His most useful asset is the ability to hear details that the operator does not hear. I have never fathomed out how I can somehow hear things better when I am the logger.
Now contesting is different. The object is to win a trophy, or at least do better than you did before. So there is an incentive for everyone, and that has got to be a good thing. The operator now has the easiest job, as he only has to impart and receive specific information, and sometimes tune the frequency dial. This gives him the opportunity to pay back the logger, who usually cannot keep up. Ironically, it is now usually the logger who cant take in the callsigns - he will almost certainly be using a computer log, and that makes a difference. Breaking off is no longer an option, and so the other radio amateurs have jobs to do most of the time. The success of the station depends on a back-up team, searching for unworked stations and sometimes listening for band openings which they report back to the operator. And after a while, everyone changes places, including the guy whose turn it is to have a complete rest. On the spot decisions have to be made. Do you stick on one frequency calling CQ Contest repeatedly, or do you risk losing your hard-earned spot on the band and go visiting? Do you change band?
Plenty of planning and preparation is necessary, depending on the nature and length of the contest. Portable stations may require backup generators, and lighting and heating at night. Catering and sanitation need to be considered. Then there is all the radio equipment and computer(s), which need to be configured in such a way as to maximise the efficiency of the station. All this equipment requires space, so what does one use for a shack? Is a caravan really big enough, or is a large tent needed?
To summarise then, contests offer the potential for groups to develop their skills and work more closely as a team with a common incentive. There are many different contests throughout the year, offering variation on the same theme.
More about Contests
Contests vary in length, format, mode and frequency bands. So planning depends on the exact contest rules.
Generally, duplicating a contact wastes time, and scoring incorrectly incurs penalties. Thankfully contest-logging programs take care of both these issues and also give immediate information to assist decision making. At the end of the contest the program quickly summates the points, summarises the data and converts it into the right format for adjudication. The file can be emailed to the adjudicator within minutes. The alternative paper log system does not bear thinking about, having myself waded through countless sheets in the past for hours after the contest. That means then that everyone has to know how to operate the logging program before the contest begins! Additionally, some kind of backup is desirable in case the unthinkable happens. SD (Super Duper) by EI5DI is recognised as a good and versatile logging program.
Contests rules generally specify maximum power and permissible equipment, including antenna restrictions. Sometimes there is a choice of section, when the big guns usually opt for beams and 400W. Being too adventurous can have its disadvantages as well as its advantages, and these factors need to be weighed up.
More particularly, the object of a contest is not necessarily just to work as many stations as you can in the time allowed. Sometimes, for example, /P and /M stations count extra points, as do stations in certain areas of the world. Many contests involve MULTIPLIERS, which are awarded for each new country worked on each band. Multipliers can make a big difference to your score, since the total is calculated by multiplying the number of multipliers gained by the points for each contact. So the more stations worked, the more powerful a new multiplier becomes. On the other hand, the time may come when it might be better to sacrifice a few extra points with stations in the same country and start looking elsewhere for new multiplier countries. Such a decision might depend on those in the team busy monitoring other frequencies.
For further information go to http://www.contesting.co.uk/hfcc/information/guide.shtml
The Jan 2005 issue of Radcom lists all the RSGB contests with dates. I will run through the general rules and give a brief description of each one.
A suitable venue for portable work is a prime consideration.
Equipment is important. Apart from computer logging, receiving whilst transmitting poses a problem which I will discuss. The use of VHF Packet Cluster is worth considering. Voice keying might also be worth arranging, as continual Cqing can be very monotonous and tiring.
I have a suggestion to make regarding layout of operators which will streamline operations.