[CQ-Contest] CW Pile-up Handling

John Laney k4bai at att.net
Tue Aug 28 17:44:18 EDT 2012

I haven't seen a pile up yet that I couldn't handle if my signal is loud 
enough. Reducing your transmit power is counterproductive.  You must be 
strong enough to be heard if you are to manage the pile up.

I have had many years (45 plus) of contesting from the Caribbean and 
from multi ops in the US.  I would have though the biggest pileups would 
have been from PJ4 shortly after it achieved new country status.  But it 
seems the worst were on Sunday afternoons in CQ WW CW from 8P9Z.

In prior years, I used Kenwood radios (TS440, TS450, TS850S) from 
8P9HT/8P9Z, J77J, and NQ4I.  If there wasn't a lot of QRM, the CW 
sounded real good in Kenwood radios (better than in Yaesu or Icom 
generally), but a big pileup resulted in one big bubble of sound and it 
was almost impossible to get a letter out of it.  With Yaesu radios, 
FT1000, FT1000D, FT1000MP, Mark V, FT5000, etc. it happens almost never. 
  Some of the earlier ones require an AGC mod to avoid the problem.  I 
haven't yet experienced any such constant undecipherable CW pileup noise 
with Elecraft radios either.  Nor with Icom radios.  (I should note that 
I have no experience with Kenwood radios newer than the TS850S.)

But, I learned to deal with those pileups even with the old Kenwood 
radios.  I don't know who to give credit for the suggestion, but it 
works.  In fact, I did the QSY to another frequency on the same band a 
few times from 8P9.  But then, I found out that the way to handle those 
pileups is to turn down the RF gain and turn up the AF gain.  Work the 
loudest stations, which is all you will hear at first, and then 
gradually increase the RF gain until you are back to your normal 
setting.  Worked every time with no need to QSY.  (And certainly, no 
need to stop signing my call.  That can be very counterproductive.)

A few other suggestions.  If you are to maintain control of a CW pileup, 
you must be very quick and responsive.  Go back to a call or a part of a 
call quickly.  You must have a paddle handy and use it when you don't 
have the call or a portion of it correct in the logging program.  Have 
the speed of the keyer synchronized with the speed of the computer 
keying most of the time.  If you wait until you get a call mostly 
correct in the logging program and hit your F key for the call and 
exchange, both the station you intend to answer and many others will 
often start calling again.  You will "double" with that station and you 
and the other station will be covered by QRM.  You will have lost 
control of the pileup and it will take some effort to re-establish control.

Another very strong suggestion is to always, where possible, use full 
QSK.  That way, you hear what is happening on your frequency and you can 
stop transmitting immediately and avoid the "double."  You will hear 
immediately when some interloper starts up on your frequency and you can 
react as may be appropriate.

I say this realizing that many places where I operate high power the 
amps do not have QSK capability and at one other, the amps generally 
have the ability, but the owner won't permit full QSK in order to reduce 
relay failures.  But, when you have control over the situation and the 
money to buy good amps and repair them when necessary, you need full 
power full QSK in order to control your pileup frequency.

Your mileage may vary, of course, but this works for me.

73, John, K4BAI etc.

More information about the CQ-Contest mailing list