HF Contesting for Beginners

HF Contesting for Beginners

Taking part in an amateur radio contest on the HF bands means you are taking part in a competitive sport with thousands of like-minded people around the globe from the comfort of your own home. It is a test of your operating abilities, your knowledge of propagation, and the efficiency of your station. Most of all it's great fun.

Contesting is one of the fastest growing parts of amateur radio. In the last 10 years, participation in some of the biggest HF contests has increased by several hundred percent. The biggest worldwide events presently see over 4,000 stations, made up of individuals or teams, entering their logs of contacts for inclusion in the results. In addition to this, up to 40,000 amateurs will be taking part, making contacts and enjoying the opportunity to reach some rare DXCC entities or exotic islands. Whilst most participants take part using their home station equipment, many people love to travel to unusual places just to enter contests from there.

Whilst the quick fire contacts might seem impersonal compared with other contacts you may make, the contesting fraternity is a close knit one. Both on-air and off-air there is great interest shown both before contests to see who will be operating and from where and afterwards exchanging stories and experiences. For the past 90 years contests have been arranged by national amateur radio societies, radio magazines or groups of keen individuals. Although success generally comes from contacting as many other stations as possible in the time allotted, each contest has different rules which require a different strategy for success. There are now hundreds of different events organised each year so there should certainly be something to suit your preferences.

How long are contests?

Contests can be anywhere from 30 minutes to 48 hours long – you have literally sprints to marathons to choose from. Most are held on weekends although some are held on weekday evenings. The 10m to 160m bands are used, but not including 12, 17 and 30m. Some contests use a single band; others use all of the HF bands. In some contests only morse code is used. In others, only speech or datamodes contacts are allowed but other events allow a mixture of modes to be used. The rules might allow all stations to contact everyone else. Others just permit contacts with an area like Scandinavia, the USA or Canada, or anyone in Oceania. Contacts are brief, usually just consisting of an exchange of callsigns, signal reports and a serial number. There’s usually time for a quick thank you before the next contact begins.

Contest Scoring

Some events award more points for contacting stations in certain countries. Most contests have a ‘multiplier' scoring system whereby the score you accumulate from contacting stations is multiplied by the number of different countries, continents or US States you've contacted, to reach the final score. This is where the strategy element of contesting comes in – to do well you not only need to contact lots of other stations but you also need to be operating on the right bands at the right times to contact as many different areas as possible on each of the bands the contest runs on. Contest logs are submitted to adjudicators for cross checking and logging mistakes will be penalised with a loss of points. A focus on accuracy is as important as one on speed. Finally, the results will be published, usually on the Internet, for everyone to see.

Many people think that huge antennas and high power amplifiers are needed to enjoy contesting. Whilst they may help they give no guarantee of success and the majority of contesters will be using simple dipoles and verticals and 100 watts or less. Contest winners will rarely get more than a certificate to mark their achievements but seeing your callsign in the number one position in the results listings is the main reward. Many contests give awards to each participating country and with so many events in the calendar, it is not too difficult to become ‘number 1' in your home country. Aiming for this in one of the quieter contests could be an ideal first target.

So what do we need to start contesting?

Decide if you want to operate by yourself or maybe with friends. Watching and learning from an experienced team will reap rewards. Do you plan to operate from home, from a club station or elsewhere? There are many contest calendars on the Internet which list the full rules including the dates and times, the bands and modes to use and what information to exchange over the air. Then simply get stuck in and start making contacts. Some events you’ll want to try again and again whilst aiming to improve upon last year’s score of course!

For more information, visit http://www.contesting.com and follow the links in the “New to Contesting?” section.

For more information about Icom Amateur radio products visit the Amateur radio section of our website.

Local Produce | Local Food | Farmers' Markets | Farm Shops | Veg Box Schemes | Pick Your Own Farms | Motorhome hire in Scotland | Pet Friendly Motorhome hire in Scotland | Motorhome Hire in Scotland | Motorhome Touring Treasures in Scotland | Motorhome Cycling Holidays | Motorhome Repairs in Scotland