Advice on entering your very first contest

George emailed us from Australia:  “I have not participated in a contest as yet.  I am very interested in participating this year in the Oceania contest. Where do I start?”  Good question, George! 

First, please browse around this website for background information about the contest, particularly the rules.

Calling other people and making contest QSOs

At the contest start time (08:00 UTC on October 1st this year for the phone weekend) you should hear Oceania stations on whatever bands are open (80, 40 or 20m I guess) calling “CQ contest”.  You may also hear DX stations calling “CQ Oceania” or “CQ contest” too.  Call any one of them, briefly, and they will have a quick contact with you. They will send your callsign then a report (probably 59, regardless!) then a QSO serial number, usually 3 digits and incrementing by 1 with each completed QSO.  You send them their report and your QSO number starting with 001 for your first contest QSO.  Make sure to log their callsign, report and serial number, along with the date, time and band or frequency ... and that’s it! 

The whole process should take less than a minute per QSO … then you both move swiftly on to the next one and so on until the end (08:00z on October 2nd).  If you have the interest and stamina, you can operate all 24 hours … but most entrants do the odd hour or three, and some manage maybe 20 hours or so with sleep breaks when the bands are mostly dead (which may not be in the middle of our night, by the way: lunchtimes tend to be quiet on the bands in Oceania).

Note: stations in Oceania can work the whole world, including Oceania and DX stations, for points.  DX stations only score points for working Oceania, so active Oceania stations are very popular!

Calling CQ

When you are comfortable with the process, you could try finding a clear frequency on which to call “CQ contest” (that can be difficult if the band is busy!  Look for a space and check that it is clear by asking before you start CQing).  Provided the band is open and you have a good enough signal for people to hear, contesters will soon start calling you.  Most will send their callsign just once, then listen for you to respond. If you don’t respond quickly enough, they will give their call again and listen. 

You will feel under pressure to hurry along … but it’s most important to pass and log the information correctly, so don’t be afraid to check and confirm calls and serial numbers, or ask for repeats.  It is much better to take a moment to get things right than to have mistakes in your log, which may cost both you and the person you contacted the points.

Improving your score

Everyone, including old hands, can learn new tricks and make little changes to do even better in the next contest.  There are three key aspects to focus on:

  1. The station: a competitive station is not necessarily huge and expensive but you need to invest time and effort into making the best of your situation.  That means being able to radiate a decent signal and hear DX, ideally on every contest band (160, 80, 40, 20, 15 and 10m).  While the radio, especially the receiver, is quite important (it needs to be sensitive, selective and have good strong-signal performance to cope with big signals from local contesters), the antenna is absolutely critical. Gain and directivity are useful implying the value of beams, at least on the high bands, but efficiency, low angle radiation and low-loss feeders are essential to be competitive.  If that’s all too much for you, focus instead on a single band.  There are categories or sections in the contest designed to suit various kinds of station, from SWLs and QRPers through modest average barefoot ham setups, right up to the mega-multi-operator stations with monoband beams, amplifiers and dedicated teams of experienced contesters.  Automation such as computer logging and computer rig control (so the log automatically records the correct band from the radio if you QSY, and maybe it selects the right antennas), plus DXcluster access (so spotted stations - especially new multipliers -  appear on your wanted list or band map), makes operating more efficient, once you have it set up and working nicely (not easy!).   Even the station layout is important, so pay attention to basics such as a comfortable chair and headphones with all you need in easy reach. 
  2. The operator: you need to be well-rested, comfortable and in the right frame of mind to do well in a contest which means preparing yourself physically and mentally in the days or weeks before the start.  Spend as much time as you can on the air, at least monitoring the bands to get to know propagation: when are the best times for DX on the different bands?  Which is the best way to beam?  Have a play in other contests to get the hang of operating and try out your station automation. This is the time to get jobs out of the way, sort out the computer logging and station, maintain your antennas, double-check the rules, get plenty of sleep and gradually get ‘in the zone’ ready for the off.  Contest winners usually make a flying start.  At the start of the contest, every station they hear is ‘a new one’ so QSO rates are high, and that creates a real buzz.  The adrenaline pumps as the score racks up rapidly and they get into the rhythm.  Contest winners are persistent, too.  They keep going full-on for as long as they possibly can, dealing with any lulls in propagation or activity, tiredness, technical issues and other setbacks, focusing on making the best of whatever comes up.  The difference between a podium finish or below may only be a few QSOs and perhaps a single multiplier, and it often comes down to experience and a positive attitude. As a newcomer to contesting, it is not realistic to expect to win (although it does happen!) but you can certainly practice and hone your technique, check out the station and most of all have fun participating, however it turns out for you.  There’s more to life than winning and every contest is a learning experience.
  3. Multipliers: according to the rules, your score is multiplied for every new prefix you log on each band.  So the first VK1, VK2 and VK3 stations you work on 20m are worth 3 multipliers, plus another 3 if you also work VK1, 2 and 3 on, say, 40m. This means that anyone with rare or unique prefixes, especially Oceania DXpedition stations, is in high demand.  It also means that ordinary Oceania calls are in high demand at the start of the contest (when almost all QSOs are ‘new ones’) and during brief openings (e.g. on 160, 80, 15 and 10m).  Especially towards the end of the contest, any active Oceania stations tend to be spotted on DXcluster generating a flurry of interest from DX stations who may not have been contesting.  It’s cool to be called by hams in Europe or the Americas using modest stations, or novices and QRPers, for their first ever taste of real DX.  To win the contest, you need to make an extra effort to find and contact new prefixes, including the rare ones ... but you also need to make plenty of QSOs to rack up the QSO points that will be multiplied, so it’s a balancing act. Do you persist in calling a rare station busy with a massive pileup, or wander away to make ordinary QSOs and come back maybe 10 minutes later for another go?  You never know, CQing or tuning around and listening carefully you may come across some genuine DX that hasn’t been spotted. Hunting down and working lots of multipliers turns mediocre into excellent scores in the contest.

Things to avoid

You can work anyone once per band for points in each event.  Second and subsequent contacts with the same station on the same band are called “dupes” (duplicates) and don’t score points. They just waste time and we try to avoid them.  Occasional dupes are OK, though, especially if the previous QSO was incomplete or not properly logged by one or other station for some reason (usually QRM or QSB, or fatigue and human error).  Simply complete and log all your QSOs, dupes and all, and carry on as normal.  Any duplicates are automatically removed when submitted logs are checked by the committee.

Speed is of the essence in contesting: we want to make as many QSOs as we can, as quickly and efficiently as possible, so we tend not to repeat stuff unnecessarily, or exchange superfluous information.  Please don’t get into silly habits such as saying “My number to you is ...” or “Roger roger, good luck in the contest” on every contact.  There’s no need to swap names and QTHs, or tell the other person what equipment you are using - it just wastes time during the contest.  Stick to the bare minimum meaning callsigns, reports and serial numbers.  You can always catch up for a chat after it’s all over, and swap tall tales about your experiences in the contest!

Being called by a non-contester who expects a conventional QSO and doesn’t understand that you are in the contest can be challenging, especially if you are keen on doing well or winning.  Our advice is to be patient.  Politely explain that you are in the Oceania DX contest and just need to quickly exchange reports and serial numbers.  As it is probably their first QSO in the contest, prompt them to give you “serial number 1”.  Tell them you would love to catch up with them after the contest for a chat.   Please don’t be grumpy or rude.  Remember that you too were a non-contester once!

After the contest is over

Rest, catch up with sleep and preferably get ready to repeat the the process on CW during the following weekend, starting 08:00z on October 8th.  If CW is not your thing, you don’t have to operate the CW event as well (each event is scored independently), but it’s a good chance to practice CW and contesting, to work some juicy DX, and most of all it’s fun! 

After the contest, check your log/s and submit an entry before the end of October following the process described in the rules … then wait patiently for the results to be published during 2017.  Meanwhile, reply to the QSL cards you will probably receive, especially the ones with little comments along the lines of “Thanks for my first ever VK on 40m!”.  Perhaps clear a space on the wall and get a frame in which to display your certificate.

By the way, logging and submitting an entry is much easier if you use a computer, especially using dedicated contest logging software such as the N1MM contest logger – but paper logs are OK if you only make a few contacts (less than 50).

More advice

If this is all too confusing, it may help to visit a friendly local contester for advice.  If you can, arrange to sit alongside them in the shack during a contest and you’ll soon pick up the process.  They may even let you have a go on the air and put in a multi-operator entry.  Some clubs enter the contest too, and that’s a great way to get involved and find out how it works.  It’s great fun.  Contesting can be addictive though, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself hooked on the adrenaline rush!

If you have any other questions, please let us know what puzzles you and we’ll do our best to advise.  We hope you will have a go in the OCDX contest and we would very much like to hear back from you afterwards about how you got on.  What did you learn? What would you say to someone else contemplating their first contest?

73 and good luck in the contest!

Wiireless Institute of Australia
New Zealand Amateur Radio Transmitters
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