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[VHFcontesting] Where should we focus first on our station?

To: waisean@gmail.com, VHF Contesting Reflector <vhfcontesting@contesting.com>
Subject: [VHFcontesting] Where should we focus first on our station?
From: James Duffey <jamesduffey@comcast.net>
Date: Wed, 3 Feb 2016 20:15:53 -0700
List-post: <vhfcontesting@contesting.com">mailto:vhfcontesting@contesting.com>
Sean - Congratulations on your Limited Multi effort! It is not bad for January.

You seem to be mainly pursuing hardware solutions. That is OK, but some simple 
operating techniques can help as well as new and different hardware at less 

Be on when the contest starts. Activity is never higher. 

You realize that CW is important, so be sure to have that capability next time 
around. With a 10dB to 20dB advantage over SSB, it really pays off. If you call 
a station and get no answer, often they can make out your CW when you call 
again. If you hear some weak stations on SSB that you can’t make out, call on 
CW, often you can make the QSO that way. With the recent influx of HF operators 
to 6M, listening in the 50.90 to 50.100 CW portion of the band will often yield 
QSOes that are not available in the SSB portion of the band. Related to this, I 
keep PDF files of all my rigs on my cell phone so I can refer to them during 
the contest if I have problems with the rig. This may have helped when you were 
trying to figure out how to send CW with the mic buttons. 

Pass stations from band to band. It sounds like you did this, but there are 
some ways to make this more efficient. Pass to 432 first. That way if you lose 
track of each other station you will make the high point QSOes first. Then to 
222MHz if they have it, and then to 50MHz and two, depending on where you 
started. Make it a point to work everyone on frequency before you QSY if you 
can. Be prepared to QSY multiple stations at once. Tell people to meet you back 
on two if you lose each other. Know who has what bands. A logging program can 
help with this.

Use a logging program. It really helps in a lot of ways. You can track who you 
have worked on which bands. Try not to let a station go until you have worked 
them on all possible band combinations. The logging program can key the rig 
with both voice and CW. That will reduce fatigue. RoverLog, N1MM+, and VHFlog 
are all good programs with slightly different features.  Interfacing the rig to 
the logging program will prevent mistakes in not logging the correct band. If 
you have two operating positions, it is possible to network two different 
computers at two different operating positions. This helps in passing stations 
from one band to another. N1MM+ can be used in conjunction with the cluster to 
generate band maps of needed QSOes and mults. Plus, with a logging program, 
there are no problems trying to read that other guy’s hand writing when you 
prepare the log for submittal. 

Use assistance. Follow the rovers on APRS and your favorite clusters. Look for 
6M openings on DXMAPs. Trade information with other ops on the air. It is 
straight forward to set up logging programs to identify who is on what band 
from a cluster. Some rovers will text when they get to a new grid, try to get 
on their text list or twitter. If a rover will give you a cell phone number you 
can text or call the rover. But try not to abuse this as rovers get pretty 
busy. Helmet fires are common among rover operators. 

Keep track of the rovers in your area and try to work them on all of the band 
combinations they have. Most rovers put out schedules of when they will be 
where. Print this out and post it by your station. When you work a rover, ask 
them when they will be in the next grid. About that time, point in that 
direction and call CQ. That way, the rover will hear you when they get to the 
new grid and you will get into his log early and not have to worry about 
working him before he leaves the grid. Plus, you may work other stations in 
that direction while waiting for the rover to show up. Offer to buy your 
friendly local rover a beer when you see him. 

Know who will be on the air from your area and what bands they will be on. As 
propagation changes throughout the day, if you can’t work them when you try, 
try again later. If there is local VHF group or e-mail reflector, join it. When 
you go to a hamfest or swap meet, seek out other VHF operators. Ask their 
advice. Tell them your plans. Return the favor when people ask you for advice. 
Try to go to one of the major VHF conferences and network with other VHF ops 
once every few years. Offer to give a talk on VHF contesting to your local 
club. May is a good time as it is just before the Es season. Know who you can 
work easily and who you will struggle to work. Radio Mobile online is good for 
that as is the section on VHF propagation in the ARRL Antenna Book. You may be 
surprised at who you can work that you think you can’t and who you can’t work 
that you think you can. 

Keep your butt in the chair. In the early morning hours when things are dead 
try meteor scatter with WSJT.

Always use phonetics to eliminate confusion. 

Turn the beam. Listen. Tune the band. Call CQ. Repeat. No amount of hardware 
improvement can help as much as this. 

Submit your log at the end of the contest. Study the soapbox write-ups to find 
out what other people’s strategies are. Write your own soapbox entry so other 
people can see what you did. Look at the log checking reports when they come 
out to see if you can find hints in those to improve your contesting. Typos are 
common. So are band entry errors. Both of those can be improved with attention 
to details. 

Practice helps a lot in contesting. Work all the VHF/UHF contests, including 
the sprints. You get better the more you work at it. Don’t stop learning.  

Now to hardware suggestions.

If you don’t use headphones get a good pair and use them at every position. 
They help reduce outside distractions and noise. I think headphones add 6dB to 
the signal to noise ratio over speakers. A headphone mounted boom mic will keep 
your hands free to do other things like logging, checking DX clusters, and 
drinking coffee. Use a foot switch for PTT. You will be surprised at how much 
these things help, and they are inexpensive to implement. 

It is no secret that one of the keys to success in VHF contesting is to be loud 
on two. Be loud on two. Most contacts are initiated on two and then moved to 
other bands. So being loud on two leverages the other bands. From your station 
description, I think you can get the best bang for your buck by going to a 
longer 2M beam, say 15 ft long, and raising it high enough to clear the house 
by 5 ft or more. Alternatively, you can get another M2 7 element Yagi and stack 
it above the one you already have. The trees won’t hurt much until you get to 
432MHz if they are not too close. The easiest and cheapest way to get more 
height is with fence top rail, available from fencing companies, or a Rohn push 
up mast. I am not sure exactly where your location is, but if you are not in a 
high RF environment, and are not experiencing desense or intermod, I don’t 
think a filter will help much. If you are getting interference between bands, 
simple coaxial cable stub filters at both positions are a cost effective way of 
solving that problem.  If you are using short runs of LMR400 you probably don’t 
really need a mast mounted preamp either, at least on two. 50 Watts on 2M is a 
bit light, and used brick amplifiers in the 150 Watt range are pretty 
inexpensive. That will give you 5dB gain, which is significant. Some bricks 
include a preamp, which may or may not help. The 857 is a bit noisy on two and 
a preamp may help, but if you are using LMR400, on 2M at least, you won’t get 
much improvement, if any, by moving it to the antenna. If you are in a noisy 
urban environment, a preamp might not help at all. Be loud on two. In improving 
your contest station, give your first priority to what improves your 
capabilities on two. That includes receiving as well as transmitting. It will 
pay off.

Similarly a brick amp for 432MHz will boost your signal on that band. They 
aren’t as cheap or plentiful as the 144MHz bricks, but they are not 
prohibitively expensive either. A 100 Watt brick will give you a 7dB 
improvement over a bare 857.  With LMR 400, the line loss is increased, so a 
mast mounted preamp may help, but depending on the length of LMR400 you have, a 
mast mounted preamp may not be worth the trouble. 

Lots of SSB/CW ops on 222 can also work FM with the same rig and antenna that 
they use for SSB/CW, so a good way to take advantage of that is to hook a 
horizontally polarized antenna to your handie-talkie. You don’t need to spend a 
bundle on an antenna; WA5VJB’s Cheap Yagis will get you 11dB of gain for less 
than $20. You can build two, one vertical and one horizontal to get those long 
haul FM QSOes with regular FM ops as well. You probably don’t need a preamp on 
those bands either, especially if you stick with FM. In the long run, a 222MHz 
transverter is a good idea. Used 222MHz bricks are harder to find, but worth 
the effort. 222MHz SSB and CW stations are few, so if you get operational on 
222MHz, you will be very popular. 222MHz is a great band.

I hope that this helps, sorry it is so long, but I didn’t have time make it 

Listen for the weak ones. - Duffey KK6MC  


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