[SECC] ARRL Sweepstakes Contest Overview & Tips

Ted Bryant W4NZ at comcast.net
Fri Oct 22 11:20:06 PDT 2010

"...though the “work once per band” rule..."  -  this must be an oversight
as I'm sure most of you are well aware that in SS the rule is work each
station ONLY ONCE regardless of the frequency band.

73 es GL in SS,
Ted W4NZ

  -----Original Message-----
  From: secc-bounces at contesting.com [mailto:secc-bounces at contesting.com]On
Behalf Of Ralph K1ZZI
  Sent: Friday, October 22, 2010 1:44 PM
  To: secc at contesting.com
  Subject: [SECC] ARRL Sweepstakes Contest Overview & Tips

  This is an informative article written by John, K3TN on ARRL Sweepstakes
Contesting.    A good read for all experience levels and some excellent tips
to help get you started!!
  73, Ralph K1ZZI
  The ARRL Sweepstakes has its roots in “The January Contest” announced in
December 1929 QST. It was originally structured as a message handling
contest for hams in Canada and the US (which at the time included Cuba, the
Philippines and “Porto Rico”) and ran for two solid weeks in January. A
successful two way exchange of a minimum ten word message would result in
two points for each station. The number of message points would be
multiplied by the number of ARRL sections at the time (68) for the final
score. A key rule was “Participating stations will be limited for the
purposes of the contest to sending but one test message to each station
worked; that is, further messages can be transmitted but will not add to the
contest score of either station.” Thus was born the dreaded “work stations
once per band” rule.

  While a lot about the contest has stayed the same over the years, much has
also changed. Sweepstakes was moved to November in 1932; a separate phone
contest was added in 1941; and operating time was limited to 24 hours along
the way. However, for the past half-century not much has changed, other than
the ARRL section list gradually expanding to its current level of 80.

  Description and Rules Summary
  The ARRL Sweepstakes consists of two contests, one for phone and one for
CW, that are open to US and Canadian hams only. A summary of the important

  Contest Period:
  CW: First full weekend in November
  Phone: Third full weekend in November
  Operating Period – 24 of the 30 hours from 2100Z Saturday to 0300Z Sunday
  Exchange – Serial Number; Precedence; Your Call; Check; Section
  Where: Precedence = Q (5 watts output or less), A (under 150w), B (above
150w), U (Single Op Unlimited), M (Multiop), or S (school station)

  Check = last two digits of the first year of license of the operator or

  Section – ARRL/RAC section location of the station. List of standard
section abbreviations is here

  Duplicate Contacts – stations can only be worked once per band.

  The full rules can be found here. For any given year substitute the
current year for “2009” in that URL.

  Like any contest, selecting the best strategy for Sweepstakes depends on
your goals. You can play to win in one of many categories or in your
section, just help out your local club’s score, try to fill in the states
you need for 5BWAS or just try to see how quickly you can make a Clean
Sweep. As long as your strategy matches your goal, you are bound to have
  Whatever your goal is, scoring more points is always more fun. Maximizing
score per hour means the most fun per unit time invested. Look here for some
great operating tips on maximizing your SS score.

  Station design is always an important starting point. Sweepstakes is a
very “little gun” friendly contest and doesn’t require huge antenna farms
Since SS is a domestic contest, low antennas in many cases are preferable.
N6BV has some excellent pointers on optimizing your antenna choices for SS –
click here. In low sunspot years, forty and eighty meters are the “money
bands” in Sweepstakes, with 20 meters being the usual workhorse. Near
sunspot peaks, 15 and 10 meters provide wide open spaces for more QSOs.
  Sweepstakes doesn’t have any unique demands on other aspects of station
design, though the “work once per band” rule does give a lot of benefit to
having a second radio. Run rates on Sunday often slow down to glacial speed
(especially CW SS), and having a second radio to search and pounce between
automated CQs brings in a lot of extra QSOs.

  If you aren’t planning an extensive effort, you can still get paper forms
here and log by hand. However, logging contests real time on a computer is
just so much more efficient – and green. Just about every popular contest
logging program supports SS – check Contest logging software. If you aren’t
going to use a computer to send CW, the long exchange in SS means at least
using a memory keyer with an incrementing serial number capability, to
maintain your sanity.

  Operating Time
  There are all kinds of theories on strategies for selecting the optimal
operating time periods for SS, but like all contests more hours in the chair
will always translate to more points. In general, if you are going to put
more than 12 hours or so into SS being on from the start for the first 8-10
hours is key to getting that QSO total up. If you can only put in a few
hours, calling CQ on Sunday afternoon will bring some nice high run rates
since you will be fresh meat to all the stations putting in full time
efforts. If your goal is to maximize points for your club, a common strategy
is to operate from one station on Saturday and then from another station
(with that station’s call) on Sunday – basically combining both of the above
  Common wisdom in Sweepstakes is to let the multipliers come to you –
unless your goal is to just get a Clean Sweep, the best strategy is to
maximize QSOs. For a 100,000 point SS effort, a multiplier is worth about 8
QSOs - spending more than 10 or 15 minutes to get that elusive section will
basically lower your score. But if you just want that Clean Sweep mug,
knowing propagation paths from your location is the secret sauce: what
times/bands will give you the short hops to nearby sections and which will
provide openings to the Pacific or quasi-polar distant sections. Barring
entering the unlimited category and using packet spotting, working the rare
sections that don’t have a lot of operators is pretty much just luck of the

  As in any contest, maximizing score means running (calling CQ) as much as
possible, and SS is one of the easier contests for the average station to
find and hold a CQ frequency. However, if you did a lot of running on
Saturday, searching and pouncing on Sunday to find those “Sunday drivers”
will be important.

  Sweepstakes Etiquette
  Sweepstakes is a contest that attracts the full spectrum of hams: top
operators at big stations looking to win, serious contesters looking to beat
last year's score or come in ahead of their buddies, club members just
looking to help the club score, and first time contesters just trying this
thing out. Just like in a marathon running race, that means there are
competitors at a wide level of capabilities. To deal with that there are
some norms of “etiquette” that have evolved to let everyone have the most
possible amount of fun. These are not hard and fast rules, just common norms
that have evolved over the years. You won’t be disqualified by going against
any of these norms, but by following them you will definitely save a lot of
whining on CQ-CONTEST after SS is over.
  There many areas where standard contest etiquette applies, but there are
also some specific norms for SS:

      a.. The exchange in Sweepstakes is complicated on purpose –
Sweepstakes tradition comes from traffic handling - this is what makes SS
fun and different. Learn the exchange before the contest and get comfortable
sending and receiving it in the expected order. There are basically three
scenarios to be comfortable with:
      1.. The CQ Scenario: You will either be calling CQ or answering CQs
and following a standard protocol will make everything go faster and more

      K3TN: CQ SS K3TN K3TN SS
      W8ABC: W8ABC
      K3TN: W8ABC 123 B K3TN 69 MDC
      W8ABC: 55 A W8ABC 74 OH
      K3TN: TU K3TN SS

      Remember, SS is one of those contests where you do not have to send
RS(T). When you send the exchange the first time, no need to send anything
twice – send it once and let the other station ask for a fill if needed.
Also, there is no need to send “NR” at the start of your exchange when
replying to a CQ, though some feel it helps the receiving station get ready
to copy the exchange.

      Note: Sweepstakes does not require that the station answering the CQ
send back the CQers call. It is not a bad idea to do so if you think there
is any doubt who you (W8ABC above) are responding to, such as on a crowded
band where multiple CQers are “sharing” a frequency. In that case, W8ABC
would reply “K3TN 55 A W8ABC 74 OH”

      2.. The Fill scenario: Contests are about speed and accuracy, so
before you hit enter in the log you want to make sure you have the info
right. Good operators will always ask for a repeat or “fill” if they missed
part of the exchange or aren’t 100% certain they copied it right. The
generally accepted ways to ask for fills are:

      CK? – Please send the Check (last two digits of the first year you
were licensed) again
      NR? – Please send the serial number again.
      PREC? – Please send the Precedence (A, B, M, U, S, Q) again.
      SEC? – Please send your Section again.
      CL? – Please repeat your call?
      AGN or ? – Please resend the entire exchange again.

      It is only really necessary to send the entire exchange if the station
sends AGN or ? but many operators aren’t familiar with the abbreviations for
Check and Precedence and so on.

      K3TN: CQ SS K3TN K3TN SS
      W8ABC: W8ABC
      K3TN: W8ABC 1%& B K3TN 69 MDC
      W8ABC: NR?
      K3TN: 123
      W8ABC: 55 A W8ABC 74 OH
      K3TN: TU K3TN SS

      If there appears to be any confusion, just resend the entire exchange.

      3.. The Dupe Scenario: This is a tricky one. When you are calling CQ
and a station calls you that you have already worked, in most contests it is
just faster to work them a second time. However, the long exchange in SS
changes that equation a bit – many stations choose to not work dupes and
will send “K3TN B4” or “K3TN QSO B4” or “K3TN DUPE.” This may or may not be
the right thing to do, depending on circumstances. N6TR (who manages the
log-checking for SS) has made it clear that a repeat QSO in one log that is
a first QSO in another will not result in a penalty to either op. On the
other hand, a NIL (not-in-log) QSO, where a QSO shown in one log is not even
loosely matched in another log, will result in a fairly significant penalty.
On Saturday evening, when rates are high, it may make sense to say "QSO B4"
and go on to the next station, because if you are not in his log, chances
are good that the station will call you again on Sunday. On Sunday, when
rates are low and "fresh meat" is scarce, it makes sense to insist that the
previous QSO is "not in my log" and say "pse work again". You're really
doing the other station a favor, and not costing either of you much precious
      a.. Send the entire exchange! - don't forget, you must send your
callsign as part of the exchange.
      b.. Cut numbers and leading zeroes: In contests where RST is required,
sending 5NN is universally recognized to mean 599 – just as CW is
universally recognized as an abbreviation for Continuous Wave. However, in
SS using cut numbers in the CK field (6N instead of 69) or even in the
serial number field leads to confusion because of the mix of numbers and
letters in the exchange. Just avoid cut numbers. Similarly, there is no
reason to send leading zeroes – they just increase the chance for confusion.
      c.. Use the standard abbreviations for sections on CW and standard
phonetics on SSB. In Sweepstakes, you are not in “Maryland” or
“Massachusetts,” you are in “Maryland DC (MDC on CW)” or “Eastern Mass (EMA
on CW)" or wherever. You can find the list of standard ARRL sections here.
Similarly, leave the fun phonetics on the shelf for contests – stick with
the ICAO standard phonetics found here.
      d.. Send (or say) the exchange in the standard order: number,
precedence, your call, your check and your section. There's no need to say
"precedence", "check" or "section" if they are in sequence, making it faster
and clearer both for you and for the other station. In general, the fewer
words the better.
      e.. Don’t repeat what you copied back to the CQer. Especially on SSB,
it is tempting to say “Thanks for number 123 B in MDC, you are number 
Just stick to sending your information and everything will move along more
      f.. Send “QRL?” or “?” twice to check if a frequency is in use. The
long SS exchange also means that there will be longer than usual gaps while
a CQer is listening to someone reply. Just sending “dit dit” and then
hitting that CQ key is just rude – do the right thing and check twice. If
you are running stations and don’t respond to QRL? checks, the frequency is
assumed to be up for grabs. A corollary to this principle is

      g.. Just because you own two radios doesn’t mean you own two
frequencies. If you are operating SO2R and don’t respond to a legitimate
“double QRL?” because you were off on the other radio trying to break the
VE8 pileup, that frequency is up for grabs.
      h.. Send CW at the code speed of the other operator, or the fastest
you are comfortable copying – whichever is lower. If you answer someone
CQing at 35 wpm, but are only able to copy 20 wpm, reply at 20 wpm. If you
are sending CQ at 35 wpm and someone responds at 20 wpm, slooow down to
something near the other station’s code speed. Hitting Page Down or twisting
the K1EL knob a bit isn't that hard. Exceptions: on Sunday, everyone slows
down their CQ code speed to attract casual operators. Also, if you hear a
buddy calling CQ at 20 wpm and you know they can copy 35 wpm, call them at
the higher speed. Even more fun: call him or her at 45 wpm and throw in some
cut numbers: "ATN B K3TN 6N MDC" Remember: only do this out of love.
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