Tag Archives: contest

Combining “QRP Hours” contest with WWFF activation at Mundoonen Nature Reserve

After a failed activation of this reserve a few weeks earlier I wanted to get some contacts for this reserve into the log.  The QRP Club’s QRP Hours contest on 22nd October 2017 seemed like a nice opportunity.

I set out from Yass about 45 minutes before the contest start as I had a good idea of where I would operate.  On site I found I had to be satisfied with a sloping site and I put up the usual linked dipole with all links connected, giving 40m operation.  I decided to use the MTR3B CW transceiver for the CW section of the event and use the FT817 for the SSB section.

The MTR3B transceiver’s principal characteristic is its compact size and low power usage in particular on receive mode where it is about 40 milliamps, about 1/10th of the FT817.

Radio, battery, logging tablet and paddle
The MTR3B (blue), its battery (yellow), the log (red cased Lenovo tablet) and the paddle (American Morse DCP, on leg) as used in the CW section of the event

 

However the inability to conveniently and rapidly browse across the band looking for other stations calling CQ is a limitation for contesting I had not really considered before.  Nevertheless I persisted with it to try and find a way to use it best.  I had not yet used the Direct Frequency Entry function and I really needed that, so I could jump back to a starting frequency.  Also I had not recorded anything in any of the text memories.  So during the contest I opened the LNR website and read the instructions for storing text into one of the memories.  The obvious thing to have recorded for quick playback is the CQ call.  So at least I achieved that during this event!

During the CW section I made 5 contacts but of those only one was within VK2 and that was with Mike VK2IG, who with partner Helen VK2FENG was portable in another WWFF nature reserve, not far away from me, but far enough to sound distant.  No AGC or even AF gain control on the MTR3 – I have a volume control in the ear buds lead. Other contacts were with VK3, 4 and 5.   There was no “normal” NVIS propagation.  Very pleased to have worked Warren VK3BYD/5 somewhere in the middle of South Australia, and Grant VK4JAZ who was operating from home in Brisbane.  QRP is a combination of frustration and achievements.

After a half hour or so, I got a reminder that I was operating in a nature reserve, in the form of a sudden downpour of rain that became hail for about 10 minutes.  Fortunately I had suspected rain was imminent and had erected the “sun shelter” shortly after the start of the event.  But the slope of the operating location meant icy rainwater was running downhill and under my seat, a small foam sleeve sold for protecting computer tablets and small laptops.  Before long the whole site was wet and cold and my clothing was drenched from the waist down.

The SSB section commenced at 0600 UTC (5pm local) and after working Helen VK2FENG nearby, Laurie VK5LJ and a few more, I ran out of potential contacts.

At that point, a lull in the rain seemed to have arrived so I decided packing up and leaving would be prudent.

Half an hour later I was enjoying a very welcome warm shower at home.

Fortunately my log is not important for the QRP Hours contest other than a check log, as I am the contest manager.  I’m glad I was able to add a contact to a few other logs and in the process I did activate the WWFF park, though with insufficient contacts to qualify for any activation points.  That’s ok, this park is near to my home and I will return, hopefully in dry weather.

CW Open contest September 5th

I was listening on 14 MHz CW section on a Sunday morning around daybreak, trying to hear US SOTA activators who had been spotted on SOTAWATCH.ORG.  Hearing nothing I tuned down the band to see whether there were any signals from anywhere.  Propagation had been drastically affected by solar flares and magnetic storms, so the usual conditions had not been enjoyed for some weeks.

Finding some good strong signals from US callsigns handing out contest numbers I wondered what contest they were in.  The CQ call was CQ CWO.  The exchange appeared to be a sequence number and the operator’s name.   I didn’t say “OK google” and ask a complicated question – must try that some time – but I did open up the contest calendar and look for a matching contest.  Sure enough the CW Operators Club was running one of their events, the CW Open.  Interesting format, three x four-hour time sessions.  So I tried answering some CQs, got heard and logged a few contacts.  My contacts were brief and most of the calls I made were heard. 

After making a dozen contacts in the event, the rising sun was clearly closing down propagation at my end and signals from several of the east coast US operators had dropped from s8-9 earlier down to s3-4.  So that was the end of the actual operating.

To submit my log for this event, I needed a log in the now standard Cabrillo format, which resembles a text file in a standardised format.  As an aside, I am puzzled by the use of this format for contest log entires.  An XML format would be much more flexible and would be simpler to produce from the logging software, given that most logging software also outputs an ADIF format for import into your station log.  (Could also ask why ADIF is such an odd thing when XML would also have done the job much better…)

So back to the CWO website where they list a dozen or so potential software packages that will produce the necessary Cabrillo format output and also an ADIF file for my station log.   I downloaded several programs and used one, GenLog, written by W3KM, to type my log using the “after contest” mode.  Although the software provided for options to select date formats to match the preferences in the computer the output format seemed to get totally confused by my DD/MM/YY format and the Cabrillo file contained dates in the format YYYY/DD/MM instead of YYYY/MM/DD.  My first upload attempt failed with the upload robot producing error messages about date formats.  I stopped trying to tame the contest logger and simply edited the file useing Notepad++, making the dates all the right format and taking care not to leave gaps in the data lines.   The next upload attempt was all OK, the robot was happy, so now I wait until the logs are processed and find out whether any other vk2 ops submitted logs.  

The nice thing about those contests is the by far the majority of the operators are very competent, know how to handle QRM and mulitple callers, and are glad to have another entry in their log.  The CW contesters are a good bunch of people.   This was a bit of fun, taking advantage of a surprise bit of propagation to the East Coast and Central US on 14 MHz.  

RD contest 2015

The exchange in the RD contest is a signal report in standard RS(T) format, followed by a 3 digit number indicating the number of years the operator has been licenced.  This year it was 50 for me so I thought that was a good excuse to operate in the RD.

I decided to use CW only and use the IC703 at 5 watts output.  This put me into the QRP/CW category.

The bands were ok for east coast contacts on 40m and 80m.  I didn’t hear any VK6 on CW which was unusual.  I did hear one on 20m but conditions were poor there and I was unable to make any contacts.

Total contact count was 100 on the RD logger screen but 99 in the summary – perhaps I confused it at some point when I backed out a contact that didn’t get completed.

IMGP1677s IMGP1679s IMGP1681s IMGP1682s IMGP1683s

VHF/UHF Field day (contests) scoring proposal

After discussion for several months a proposal has been published for revision of the scoring rules for Australian/WIA-sponsored VHF/UHF Field Day contests.

The proposal is here:  vk1da.net/vhffielddayrules.html

A survey of active VHF/UHF amateurs seeking views on the proposal and other aspects of these events is here:  vk1da.net/survey/index.php

The proposal was developed by a group of interested radio amateurs, primarily Colin VK5DK and myself but in consultation with a number of others.

CW contesting

If you have heard the intense activity at the CW end of the bands during contests, you might wonder how you could join in.

Assuming you have learned morse code and have used it already for ordinary contacts, how different are contests?  In some ways they are easier – no need to chat about the weather, your rig or antenna, or even your name.  To operate in almost any CW contest it is possible to figure out from listening to contacts under way what the exchange is and whether contacts are international, internal to certain countries but if you are in doubt about the rules look them up on sites such as the WIA contest page (for WIA sponsored contests within VK), or for international contests, the ARRL contest page or http://www.contesting.com/.

Once you know enough about the rules, how do you join in? Do you just call CQ TEST on an “empty” frequency? I’d suggest in most cases it is best to start out by finding someone who is either calling cq or is working a number of stations in a “run”.  In that case you will call that station using only your own callsign, sent once only.  If you get a QRZ? you either call again once, or if you think there is QRM or your signal will be weak, give your call twice. Using full break-in can be helpful because it lets you hear the other stations calling and most importantly it lets you hear your target answering another station.  You can’t do anything about that – in many contests VK is a long way from the centre of the activity so you have to put up with not being heard every time.  Particularly in Europe, but also within Asian or US contests there is a lot of QRM and a lot of very strong signals to compete with.  You have to persist and you have to be clever in your choice of frequency and your timing.

Here are some more detailed tips.

  1. Do lots of listening to contest operators to learn what is done.
  2. Initially it helps to have a pre-written sheet of standard exchanges visible so you can send from the sheet instead of trying to do it out of your head.
  3. It is usual to send only your own callsign when answering a CQ
  4. Use break-in techniques rather than “callsign de callsign” at each end of your transmission. So after receivingVk1DA 599234 599234 BK
    You reply R UR 559056 559056 BK
    the reply will be R TU and possibly a pause, in which you can reply TU
    after which the station you worked will call CQ or QRZ? and as he/she “owns” the frequency, you now QSY and look for another station to call.
  5. In a quiet or slow event there is time to send 73 and stuff but don’t bother in a dx event.
  6. If signals are strong, twice is enough for calls or numbers. Change to suit the situation. Watch for clues that you are not being copied well – the station you call gets your call wrong, or asks for repeats using AGN or just plain ?
  7. The simplest reply requesting a repeat of a number or call is NR AGN PSE  or for a callsign, QRZ?.
    For callsigns it sometimes works to send VK5? BK  but there is always someone who is not a VK5 and is convinced you want them to call again, making it tough for the real VK5 to make the contact.
  8. You need a cw filter – SSB bandwidth is too wide for a cw contest
  9. Send no faster than the station you are calling.
  10. If called by a station at a slower speed, slow down to his speed.
  11. Send no faster than the speed you can copy. (hint: practice)
  12. If you are operating at 15 wpm and callers persist in calling you at 25 or higher, use QRZ? or a CQ to convince them to remember their manners. A lot of contesters use computers or computer keyboards but this is no excuse for poor on-air procedure.
  13. Send no faster than you can send accurately
  14. You will hear stations sending callsigns at one speed but sending the exchange like 59905 or even part of it, at twice the speed.  As if that saves them any real time! The number of milliseconds saved by sending that at 40 wpm but running everything else at 25 is so small, it isn’t worth it.  I don’t recommend this practice.
  15. QRP stations and beginners at cw contesting are always better off using the “search & pounce” technique than trying to set up a run, where you sit on a frequency and have dozens or hundreds of contacts with the rest of the world calling you, unless you have outstanding signals and the right conditions.  Or unless you ARE the DX.
  16. In a pileup for a wanted station try to call on a freq between other callers. This means knowing your exact tx freq as heard by the other op. This is what a separate receiver and transmitter used to be so valuable for.  Modern rigs match your tx frequency with the sidetone so turning BK off momentarily and tapping a dit or two will let you hear your effective tx frequency.  Less modern radios have a sidetone that is nothing like the frequency offset of your radio.  You need to use a monitor receiver or another receiver and practice getting the frequency offset right.
  17. If the dx is operating split, listen for whoever he is working and what the pack is doing. If they are all on 7015.125 you need to be 200-400 hz off the pack either up or down in frequency.  This takes planning and experimentation, so you may think this will waste time, but since calling endlessly on the same frequency as 100 others won’t work at all, it is better to let a few contacts go by while you tune in to the way the wanted station is operating, where he is listening and getting your transmit frequency right before calling.
  18. Logging is usually by computer now but if you are using a key to send you will be moving your hand between keyboard and key. If logging on paper it is a smart move to learn to send with one hand and log with the other. I never learned this well enough for a contest but I still log two contacts per minute in a good contest.  Very few vk contests run at this pace for more than the first 15 minutes.
  19. Your antenna is the most important part of your station in contests.

The pc based program MorseRunner is good contest practice with some fun options. The vk contests don’t use that cipher format but it still gives you practice at copying callsigns with qrm, qrm and an occasional lid calling cw on top of your contact. All good fun. And if you google “morse runner” you find others have not only used it but added other software to interact with it.  A useful comment noted on one site: run it slightly faster than your comfortable speed. If you ever want to increase your speed you have to be scrambling, not comfortable.

No doubt this list can be expanded forever but I hope it’s of use.

QRP Hours contest – after the event

As planned I operated in this relaxed event tonight, for a couple of hours.

I decided to use my IC703, partly because it has a CW filter and I know how useful that is even in a quiet cw contest.  (I should get one for my FT817).  The other advantage the IC703 has over the FT817 is that it has a speech compressor which improves the average power output on SSB.  But as a test and a self imposed handicap I decided to cut the IC703 power level down from its nominal 10 watts to 2 watts for this event.

First an hour on CW, where I made 11 contacts.  As you can tell this is not a hard paced, highly pressured event.

Then an hour on SSB where I made 17 contacts, a few more than I did last year.  I recognised some of the callsigns from last year and also made contacts with friends such as  Mike VK2IG, Murray VK1MDP, Waldis VK1WJ and Peter Vk3YE.

I don’t think running 2 watts instead of 5 or 10 made any difference to the number of contacts made.  While 10 watts is 5 times higher, which translates to 7 decibels, 80m generally provides good propagation and there is more than enough “head room” in the available signal levels for QRP signals to be easily readable.  80m can be a noisy band on SSB especially late at night.  There was some electrical storm noise but it wasn’t too bad.  Another time those 7db might have been quite important.

A few interstate stations gave me good signal strength reports so the old 80m dipole at 6 metres above ground was doing its usual job.

The low dipole isn’t any use for dx though.  I have heard some US and JA signals on the CW end of the band but even the strong ones rarely even return a QRZ? to my call.  Have to get a decent vertical going on that band to work dx.

QRP Hours Contest 14 April 2012

Reminder that the QRP Hours contest is on 14 April 2012. Rules are in AR for April 2012.

Here is a link to the rules on the QRP club site.
http://www.vkqrpclub.org/qrp_hours_contest_2012.php

Summary:
1000 UTC to 1059: CW section 3500-3530 khz

1100 to 1200 UTC: SSB 3550-3590

QRP stations can work any station whether QRP or not.

Exchange is signal report plus serial number starting at 001. No repeat contacts.

QRP = output power no more than 10 watts.

Participation of higher power stations is appreciated as it warms up a contest to have more in it giving contacts.