Wednesday, August 12, 2015

CW Contests for new CW operators ..--..

WARNING:  CW Contests Require Arcane Knowledge

Before participating in last night's NAQCC Sprint I had previously stumbled into responding to a CQ that was for a contest last week.  The calling station was patient with me and was looking for specific information which he tried to repeatedly coach out of me.  It was frustrating not knowing how I was supposed to reply.

CW contests occur frequently on the HF bands so as a new CW operator you're very likely to accidentally respond to a caller in a contest.  A CW contestor uses an extra couple of letters thrown into the CQ to identify the call as being for a contest.  Sometimes stations may send "CQ TEST" which I would think means they are testing something but apparently that is shorthand for a contest.  I've done web searches on CW contests but it's not clear to me if they are organized or described in any one place for the HF bands or have information for total newbies.  I also haven't found if there's a standard formula for interacting with a contest or if they are each unique.

I became a member of the North American QRP Club a couple of weeks ago, at AA4XX's suggestion, to get on the mailing list to learn about QRP CW operations.  I received an email saying there'd be a "Sprint" contest that evening so I thought I'd give it a try.

I went to the website  where it described the contest protocol as follows:
Send "CQ NA your_call"; then respond with "RST state abbreviation and NAQCC#".  
That seemed simple enough even for me.

The Sprint Begins

A thunderstorm with big scary lightning delayed my getting on the air, but once the storm cleared I turned on the KX3, re-connected the antenna and began listening.  Keep in mind that the contest is for QRP  (low power) stations so the signals are weak, fade in and out and are generally hard for my less skilled CW ear to copy.  I turned up the volume and listened through the static crashes of lightning from the recently departed storm.  Stations seemed to be sending different information than what the website indicated but it turned out it was just in a shorthand format that I was unaccustomed to hearing.

scribbled listener log
As I kept listening I could make out a general pattern used by the contestants.  Maybe the following will help some other new CW operator who's trying to figure out what's going on:

The calling station sends:
The responding station doesn't go through the niceties of calling station "DE" their station they simply send their call a couple of times:
The calling station then responds with a shorthand report and info required for the contest.  No To/From nonsense or even the RST abbreviation.  Just an "X" (I assume is shorthand for here's your xmitted RST) the state repeated and the number.  I thought stations were sending an"X" but after listening to other contests I think I was mis-copying a "TU" as an "X".  So I believe it should be a "TU" which I think means "Thank You".  
I didn't hear anyone repeat their club number which seems strange because that was the hardest thing for me to copy and it's required in the submitted log for the contest.  The response is ended with BK (back to you):
 X TU 5NN 5NN NC NC 7935 BK
The responding station returns something in kind.  Sometimes they'll spare a nicety such as "GE" (for good evening).  One of the calling stations also included the operators name of the responding station although I'll assume that was an automated macro that would look up the station OP name because there was no way he had time to look it up given the speed of the response. The QSO is ended using the QRP response:
TNX 72 K
And that's it.  None of the typical exchanges in the CW QSOs I've listened to, not even the station's call at the end of the transmission which I thought was an FCC requirement.


So for any other new CW operators out there tying to figure out what they are supposed to respond with in a contest hopefully this helps.  Submitting logs for the contest is also a bit arcane but at least the NAQCC web page gives very clear instructions on how to do that.

I'm not really a competitive type person so I don't foresee getting the bug to be a competitive contestor but I do see the value in participating to increase your copy and sending skills so I'll keep giving these sprints a try.  I appreciate NAQCC sponsoring them.

Lower your power, and raise your expectations.

73s and 72s (not enuf pwr for 73)

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