Ham Radio Contests and Contest Calendar

An overview or summary of amateur radio / ham radio contests and a contest calendar of some of the more popular contests.

Contests & contesting includes:
Contesting + calendar     Hints & tips    

Amateur radio contests and contesting are an important feature in the activities of many radio hams. Contests and contesting add a further dimension to amateur radio operating, proving new challenges and interest to the hobby. Some radio hams even run their calendar by when the contests occur.

Amateur radio contests come in many forms and take place on many frequencies. Some ham radio contests may take place only on the HF bands, or possibly a single HF band, while others may be focused on the VHF, UHF or microwave frequencies. The contests may also have different aims. This will naturally depend upon the frequencies used and their radio propagation characteristics. Some ham radio contests may focus on contacting as many countries as possible, whereas other amateur radio contests may look at contacting as many areas within a country as possible. For each different contest it is necessary to look at the rules to check the aims of the contests.

What is certain is that when a ham radio contest is underway, then the level of activity increases. For some contests, the bands come alive with activity in a way that does not happen at any other time. For others there may be a more modest increase in activity. It all depends upon the size and popularity of the contest.

Advantages of ham radio contesting

Ham radio contests and contesting can provide many advantages for the individual operator. It can also be great fun to participate in a large station set up specifically to enter a contest. However for most people, contest activity will be confined to dabbling in the contest and enjoying the additional activity created on the bands.

Some of the benefits and advantages of participating in a contest are summarized below:

  • Additional activity on the bands:   The added activity on the bands created by the contest provides an opportunity to make more contacts. On the UHF and microwave bands where activity levels are low, this can provide an opportunity to activate the station on these bands. On the HF bands where contests may provoke huge increases in the activity levels it is often possible to make hundreds, or even thousands of contacts in a day.
  • Chance to make contacts with new countries, islands, etc:   Often stations are set up in rare countries or on rare islands especially for the contest. Also stations in these sought after areas may become active for the contest. This provides the opportunity to make contact with these stations and increase the score of the number of countries contacted, etc. Often it is easier to make contact with these stations than at other times because there are more rare stations on the air, contacts are faster, and the level of competition is less.
  • Provides a new operating challenge:   Participating in a contest, tests your operating skills. Those with their skills more finely tuned will be able to perform better. As a result these challenges provide a challenge in operating and pitting your wits against the other stations who may enter the contest and submit logs.
  • Provides an opportunity to review and overhaul the station:   When people are going to participate in a ham radio contest, they often use it as an opportunity to overhaul the station and ensure it is working to it best. It may be that adding a better antenna may provide a improvement, or some new equipment may be useful. By adding these for the contest, the benefits can be used afterwards. Also the ham radio contest may provide a good time to ensure that everything is working properly. The station can be checked to ensure it is operating efficiently and any repairs or changes can be made beforehand.
  • Provides an opportunity to enhance your profile and the profile of your station:   Although many people just enjoy participating on contests and do not submit entries, many do. Results are often published in the magazines and the winning stations will then be seen and noted by many others. One obviously has to make sure that before submitting any entries that the results will be suitably competitive and look impressive when published. Checking the results of the previous year's contest can provide a useful benchmark.

Ham radio contest basics

Ham radio contests can take many forms, and when looking to participate in one, if only to enjoy the additional contacts that can be made, it is necessary to study the rules and find out how the contest is set up.

During a ham radio contest it is normal that specialized serial numbers are exchanged in addition to the basic report. At least it is necessary to know the format of the numbers so that the correct serial number can be given when any contacts are made.

Radio stations participating in a ham radio contest are in a hurry to make as many contacts as possible. They will not want to waste time explaining the basics of the contest to people.

The main points to note are:

  • What is the reporting / serial number system used.
  • Are stations from a given area to make contacts with stations from another given area. In this case, for example if the aim is for European stations to contact other stations outside Europe, and you are in Europe, then don't to contact European stations.
  • What bands and frequencies are to be used.
  • What are the times and dates of the ham radio contest.

Contest DX'peditions

One of the benefits of a ham radio contest is that many groups organise DX'peditions to activate rare and interesting places on the globe, especially for the HF band contests.

While many DX'peditions are organised throughout the year especially those to the particularly rare locations, many DX'peditions are organised to coincide with a particular amateur radio contest. By operating from a rare location it is possible to attract significantly higher levels of contacts as more people will want to contact stations in areas they may not have contacted before. Also points multiplier systems mean that contacting a new country or area will add further levels of points to stations, making an station in a new area worth contacting.

All this means that ham radio contests can be good hunting grounds for stations wanting to chase operating awards as there are likely to be a number of DX'peditions active.

Major HF ham radio contests calendar

It is not possible to provide a calendar of the ham radio contests for VHF and above as these contests tend to be relatively local as a result of the nature of the propagation. However it is possible to provide a generalised HF ham radio contest calendar giving basic details of the major HF contests and the dates on which they occur.

Contest Date Details
CQ-Worked PrefiXes (WPX)(RTTY) Second full W/E February Stations contact as many stations as possible. Extra points given for new callsign prefixes contacted.
ARRL DX Contest (CW) Third Full W/E February Worldwide stations contact those in USA / Canada.
ARRL DX Contest (SSB) First full W/E March Worldwide stations contact those in USA / Canada.
CQ-Worked PrefiXes (WPX)(SSB) Last full W/E March Stations contact as many stations as possible. Extra points given for new callsign prefixes contacted.
CQ-Worked PrefiXes (WPX) (CW) Last Full W/E May Stations contact as many stations as possible. Extra points given for new callsign prefixes contacted.
All Asia DX (CW) Third full W/E June Worldwide stations contact stations in Asia.
IARU-HF Championship (SSB / CW) Second full W/E July Contact as many stations as possible. Extra points given for new countries contacted.
Island On The Air (SSB/CW) Last full W/E July Contact as many stations as possible. Extra points given for contacting island stations.
Worked All Europe-DX (CW) Second full W/E August Stations outside Europe to contact European stations.
All Asia (SSB) First full W/E September Contact stations in Asia.
Worked All Europe-DX (SSB 2nd full W/E September. Stations outside Europe to contact European stations.
CQ-WorldWide (RTTY) Fourth full W/E September Contact as many stations in as many countries as possible.
CQ-WorldWide (SSB) Last full W/E October Contact as many stations in as many countries as possible.
Worked All Europe-DX (RTTY) Second full W/E November Stations outside Europe to contact European stations.
CQ-WorldWide (CW) Last full W/E November Contact as many stations in as many countries as possible.

Major HF ham radio contests calendar

W/E = weekend.

Ham radio contest contacts

During a contest, the emphasis of a contact is on speed and accuracy. Time spent on repeating data that is not copied is wasted and can result in other contacts being lost. It is therefore necessary to echo the way the other station is making his contacts in format to ensure that he knows exactly what is going on and he can copy your callsign and report accurately.

Although the contacts may vary from one contest to another and one station to another, a typical contact that might be expected in an HF band contest is shown below:

Typical HF band amateur radio contest contact:

CQ contest CQ contest CQ contest, this is G3YWX, Golf three Yankee Whisky Xray, G3YWX, Golf three Yankee Whisky Xray, listening for a call.

G3YWX, this is G3QAB, Golf three Quebec Alpha Bravo, copy?

G3QAB, your report is 59 001, copy?

G3YWX, G3QAB. Roger, you are 59 010. Do you copy?

G3QAB, G3YWX. Roger, 73 and good luck in the contest. This is G3YWX, Golf three Yankee Whisky Xray, QRZ contest.

The table above shows a typical example of a contact that might be made in a ham radio contest. In this example the report given is followed by a serial number, e.g. for the 59 001 or 59 010 given in the example, the 001 and 010 are the serial numbers given. These are only examples and the serial number or contact information may take one of a variety of forms dependent upon the actual contest. Common serial information given is the contact serial number, zone in which station is located, etc . . .

It is essential for the contact to be valid that the callisgn, report and serial number are successfully communicated. If not then the contact is invalid, and any checking undertaken if results are submitted will check these parameter wherever possible to ensure they are correct.

Contesting Summary

Ham radio contesting and amateur radio contests can provide a large amount of enjoyment and they can also provide new challenges within the hobby or amateur radio. For many, contest operation will consist of joining into a contest and making a number of contacts possibly with new countries, islands or areas, and enjoying the chase of contacting stations through the crowded conditions of a contest. To others the enjoyment is in setting up a contest station with the aim of submitting an entry and competing to win the contest or a section of it. Whatever your interest, contests can provide another dimension and can be very interesting ham radio activities in which to participate.

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