Now we read the rules of the contest. Every contest has an online contest page where the rules are available for viewing or printing. You’ll want to confirm the time the contest starts and stops. This is going to be in GMT so you’re going to have figure out the time difference (which right now is four hours from Daylight Savings).
You need to see what the exchange is for each contest. For some it’s 59 or 599 and your zone or name or sometimes there’s no signal report just your name and state or province. Each contest is different and you don’t want to embarrass yourself too much on your first contact.
Some contests allow for time off and some restrict the number of band changes per hour that you can make. And going from one band to another and back counts as three changes so be aware of the rules.
Before you fire up the rig download the latest solar indices and learn how to interpret them. A SFI number of over 100 is considered good. The A index should be under 10 and the K index should be no more than one or two.
(In Photo: Steve from Radio World demonstrated the new Flex 5000 rig at the CCO’s annual general meeting and BBQ held in August each year.
Right now the SFI is 106 which means moderate solar activity but the A index is 42. This is an indicator that a major solar event (in this case a geomagnetic storm) has occurred and you can expect horrible conditions with radio blackouts expected.
The solar activity changes continually all day long so while you can go for pizza during a solar storm check the bands regularly for weird paths with heightened signal strength into faraway places.
During one contest I worked a bunch of stations in Hong Kong (which I never hear) at S9 with the antenna pointed across northern Europe. This long path was producing S9+ signals. I was so suprised that actually asked the second guy I worked to confirm his QTH. He must have thought me mad.
There are new beacons and reverse beacons which can tell you how you’re sounding around the world but DO NOT use the beacons or any other sort of assistance like spotting nets as that will put you in a more competitive class like assisted or multi-multi.
Having said that, it’s pretty neat to run assisted low power single op and have the automatic spotting system populate a band map which you can use to tap on the call sign you want and your rig and software will immediately change frequencies and you’re ready to work the rare one.
NG3K runs an interesting site that features a ton of helpful links. One page holds links to announced contesting operations in exotic locations. He’s the updated list of announced contest operations for the upcoming CQ WW DX SSB test. Check it daily as new stations get added as they announce their intentions.
These lists can help you quickly identify rare sounding call signs and give you target stations to listen for or look for on the spotting nets. Don’t despair when you can’t break the mega pile ups that will happen anytime one of these guys gets on the air. I regularly break big piles up with my 5-watt QRP signal because I call very aggressively and will throw my call in if somebody hesitates or makes a mistake 🙂
Also the pileups will go way down in the midnight hours and especially the early hours before dawn. If you understand propagation and how it affects signals on different bands at different times of the day you’ll know to listen for VKs and ZLs late in the afternoon and in the pre-dawn hours on 40 meters. You’ll know to listen for JAs late in the afternoon and if you have a beam you’ll know to point it around 350 degrees over the North Pole.
Here’s an online map of CQ DX Zones. Better maps can be found online and at CQ Magazine’s site. A lot of the contesting software will allow you to bring up a separate window of multipliers or states or counties that automatically get checked off as you work them. This is important in some state QSO parties as a clean sweep of counties or states is very desirable.
If you’re running in a contest that requires grid squares (most VHF/UHF) then here’s a link to determine grid squares. In southern Ontario we’re in FN03.
Finally if you’re getting bite by the contesting bug then join Contest Club Ontario. This is the largest contest club in Canada and the only one in Ontario. The club offers an internal club competition, sponsors categories in other contests, has an online reflector which is very active and gathers a couple of times of year to meet and greet and learn.