21 Things to Do: Participate in a contest

21 Things to Do After Getting Your Amateur Radio LicenseHuman beings are competitive by nature, and since amateur radio operators are human, they find ways to compete with one another. Almost every weekend—and some weekdays, too—there’s some kind of amateur radio contest. They are a lot of fun, and all classes of amateur radio operators can participate.

Most contests have some kind of theme. For example, nearly every state has what’s called a QSO party. During a state’s QSO party, stations outside the state get points for contacting as many stations in as many counties inside the state, while stations in the state get points for contacting stations outside the state as well as inside the state.  There are also QRP contests, where all stations must operate with low power and DX contests, where the goal is to work stations outside your own country.

Most of these contests take place on the HF bands, but even as a Technician you can participate in these contests if you know Morse Code. If you haven’t yet cracked the code, you can still participate in the contests that take place on the 10m band and above. Another way to participate is to be one of the operators in a multi-operator setup. As long as one of the operators with a General Class or Extra Class license acts as the control operator, you can operate in those portions of the bands where you don’t have privileges.

I prefer operating in the smaller contests, such as the state QSO parties, to operating in the big contests, such as the CQ Worldwide DX contest or the ARRL Sweepstakes. There are a lot fewer stations competing and the bands are a lot less crowded. Sometimes with even a modest effort, you can earn an award. It’s also easier to compete in a smaller contest with a modest station—like the one I have—than it is to compete with the big guns in the major contests.

One way to get started might with the ARRL’s Rookie Roundup. This contest was designed to get newcomers involved in contesting. It takes place three times per year in April, August, and December, and lasts for six hours. Rookies score points for all their contacts, while “old timers” only score points by contacting “rookies.”

I hope you’ll give contesting a try. They’re a lot of fun and a big part of the amateur radio hobby.


  • National Contesting Journal (http://www.ncjweb.com/). The National Contest Journal is published six times per year (Jan/Feb, Mar/Apr, May/Jun, Jul/Aug, Sep/Oct and Nov/Dec) and is dedicated to covering the competitive contesting aspects of amateur radio. Each issue is loaded with information of interest to contesters (and DXers, too!); from casual observer to hardcore competitor, from little pistol to big gun.
  • WA7BNM Contest Calendar (http://www.hornucopia.com/contestcal/). This site provides detailed information about amateur radio contests throughout the world, including their scheduled dates/times, rules summaries, log submission information and links to the official rules as published by the contest sponsors.


  1. Dave, N8SBE says:

    One big plus of DX contesting is that it gets you lots of countries in a hurry. By just participating a few hours in the last few CQ- and ARRL-sponsored contests, I’ve already reached the required 100 contact total for my DXCC award. So far, 41 of them have been confirmed via the ARRL’s Logbook of the World. This is pretty heady stuff for someone that has been licensed for over 40 years, and never collected more than a dozen or so DX QSL cards in all that time.

    Also, state QSO parties (especially your own state) are fun. I just received a print-yourself PDF certificate from the Florida QSO Party folks for working all 15 special event 1×1 stations, whose single-letter suffix callsigns spelled out F-L-O-R-I-D-A Q-S-O P-A-R-T-Y. Cool ideas like that add an extra dimension to the typical contest fare.

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