[CQ-Contest] Use of CW decoders in contests - a contrarian opinion

Ed Muns w0yk at msn.com
Sat May 29 14:20:08 PDT 2010

John, W2ID, wrote:
> Just to play devil's advocate on this issue:
> Let's say I'm a Single Op Unassisted entrant, and I have an 
> SO2R station, and I am currently running on 20M, and a friend 
> comes over and sits down at my second radio and starts tuning 
> around on 15M and finding stations that I haven't worked on 
> 15M yet, and he zerobeats them, and types their call into the 
> log on a second computer, and points a finger at me when it's 
> the appropriate time for me to hit the F4 key to send my call 
> and make the qso.  Is that still Unassisted, or is that Assisted?
> That seems to me like Assisted.
> It also doesn't seem too terribly different from having a 
> display hooked up to my second radio that is showing me what 
> CW is currently being received, in lieu of having my friend 
> doing the copying for me. 

Some of us feel these are two very different things.  In your first case,
the other human "starts tuning around on 15M and finding stations that I
haven't worked".  A CW decoder, just like a standard RTTY decoder, is not
tuning around.  It is sitting on one frequency where the operator has tuned
the radio.  This is what distinguishes CW Skimmer from a simple CW decoder.
CW Skimmer is instantly tuning the entire band by virtue of parallel
decoding the entire band.

It is the "tuning around and finding stations to work" skill that some
people are arguing should remain in the Single-Op Unassisted category.

> Bottom line: If you are single op with only one VFO, the 
> machine decoder is a crutch to "help" you copy code you 
> otherwise couldn't copy due to lack of CW skill.  Fair 
> enough, I suppose. But if you are using a decoder to copy 
> code on a VFO other than the one you are listening to, then I 
> don't see a substantial difference between that and using a 
> spotter/spotting network/skimmer to hand you callsigns and 
> frequencies.

Again, the key issue is about the operator skill to tune around and find
stations to work in the Single-Op Unassisted category.  That's why CW
decoders of a single frequency that the operator has tuned, is OK.  By
comparison, it is not OK to use spotting capability or Skimmers that decode
all frequencies on the band to effectively do the tuning for the operator.

> I am all for doing EVERYTHING possible to increase participation. 
> But I am also all for doing everything possible to keep a 
> level playing field.
> IMHO, given two great ops who are equally skilled at SO2R, 
> the op using a machine decoder on the second radio will have 
> a definite advantage over the op using one half of his CPU 
> (brain) as the decoder on the second radio.

Actually, it is more likely to be just the opposite.  The "great op" using a
(single frequency) CW decoder on the second radio will be at a DISadvantage
because a "great op" CW decoder is often better than a machine CW decoder.

Ed - W0YK

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