What are contests – how do I take part?

As soon as you get on the air, you are going to hear about contests, either through amateur radio news articles, or even worse, you are trying to get on the air and there is a contest running. Most contests have clearly defined frequencies, usually leaving a reasonable portion for general QSO’s.

Some common contests that we have in Australia are the

And there are many more. We keep some of the more popular ones listed on this website in Calendar format. https://vkhamradio.com/events/category/contests/

So how do you take part. Lets look at one of the contests which is the John Moyle Field day held on the third full weekend in March and is open to operators in HF VHF and UHF band. The best way to find the information is to google “John Moyle Field day”, and this case it provides a page on the wia.org.au website and immediately provides the date for this years competition.

In most cases, they will also provide the contest rules on the web page, or a downloadable PDF.

If you are going to take part in a contest, then I recommend that you read the contest rules and understand each and every rule. For instance, don’t skim pass the necessary exchange of Serial Number, and how it is constructed. Each contest may be different – the Remembrance Day contest exchange is the RS(T) followed by the number of years you have been a licenced ham, so a typical exchange might be 59002 (which would show a RS report of 59, followed by 002 showing you have been licenced for two years). Other contests might use the RS(T) and then a number that increases for each contact you make (e.g. 59001, next contact might be 37002, the next 59003). You need to understand what the requirement is. If you don’t know ask before the contest.

The other part is really learn the rules. Some contests allow you to make the same contact three hours later, others you cannot duplicate contacts.

If you are looking to try for QRP award, then confirm what the maximum output is for each mode.

Finally, and this is a really big one. There is normally a log format requirement that you must be able to support. Sometimes you can submit on a spreadsheet, other times it may require a particular format which your logging program must support, or you will need to convert to send to the organisers. You need to confirm this long before the contest starts and make sure you can meet the requirements. An additional requirement is that there are very strict time frames in which these logs can be submitted.

So it sounds like there is a bit of work to get ready for contest and for your first one, it probably needs a bit of research. The suggestions to get your self prepared to take part in a contest is as follows

  • Locate a Contest that you want to take part in
  • Read the rules thoroughly and understand them – there as small nuances with each one
  • Before you take part in a contest, listen to one first, listen how it is conducted, listen to the advice given to other hams (usually from old timers to first timers). You will learn a lot.
  • Make sure you logging software is functional and that you can provide the format needed by the contest
  • If you feel you are ready to take part in a contest, enter on the basis that you will not be competitive. This will take the stress off, allow you to enjoy taking part, and get used to what contests are all about. Even if you only make 20 contacts over the whole weekend, you have provided 20 contacts for hams that are taking part competitively.
  • Now before you take on that competition, check that all your gear is ready to go, antenna checked etc. The first contest I entered (non-competitively) on HF, I had just finished a rebuild of an antenna, had confirmed SWR, already to go. My first contact, I was talking and could not complete the exchange (Serial) and it was frustrating for me, but frustrating because I had let a fellow ham down as they could not register the contact completely. After a brief check, I finally stepped away from the gear (so not to make the situation worse). I came back an hour later with a clear head. I found that the radio had kicked in the SWR limiter (which I was grateful for). The fault, as the antenna design was using plugs for the radials and in the last check/walk around, I had partially dislodged the radials on one side and with the wind, this threw the SWR out enough for the SWR limiter to kick in. Needless to say I corrected the issue, and actually managed to locate the ham involved and completed the exchange several hours later. So it is good to check your gear well before you start and maybe make a contact or two before the contest starts.

Once you have completed your first contest, you will be looking around for others. The competitions that we have listed above are mainly in Australia usually via the WIA, but there are also international competitions, so look for those as well. You will also find that there are specialised competitions such as Digital Modes, RTTY, CW, SSB, etc.

The only thing we have not discussed from the contests are the Awards. Some contests, the awards are actual plaques provided by a Contest Sponsor, in other contests, it might be a downloadable certificate that you can print, and some have a combination of both. Either way, its enjoyable just taking part.

If you want more details on possible awards that you could look at attaining, have a look at https://www.vk5pas.com/awards.html who has a nice list of awards he has obtained from both Australian and overseas sources. Definitely worth a look if this is a facet you are particularly interested in.


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