[VHFcontesting] Insight from the Great White North

James Ewen jewen at shaw.ca
Wed Feb 25 01:11:04 EST 2004

Here's another outsider's view.

First a little background info.

I've been licensed since 1991, and have been almost exclusively on 2 m and
70 cm FM only. I also like playing with packet modes, specifically APRS. I
also spend a lot of time with internet/ham radio convergence technologies.
(Yup, I'm not a REAL ham radio operator in most of your minds.)

I have been introduced to contesting by operating the RAC Winter and RAC
Canada Day contests from a local modest Multi-Op station. (Yup, again not a
REAL contester, as the RAC contests are not the REAL contests)

I started playing in the VHF contests as a "captive" rover. I never knew
what a captive rover was. I simply knew that grid squares allowed me to
contact one of the local VHF contesters multiple times, and I knew that
points were points, and multipliers were multipliers. I only had my lowly
dualband FM rig, but as any contester knows, any contact is better than no
contact. I guess my captive efforts were foiled when another VHF contester
heard me and I gave him points too. Why go out as a captive rover? Simply
because I did not have equipment that would be able to make the 300 mile hop
to the next contester.

In the 2002 VHF QSO Party, I put together a minimal rover station with one
of the ubiquitous FT-100 radios. The 6 m contacts from that contest were my
first, and also my only 6 m contacts so far. Our 2 m and 70 cm contacts were
limited to about 8 VHF contest stations within a couple hundred miles of our
mountaintop perch. We had a lot of fun, we managed to come in second for
rovers in Canada... Okay, we also managed to be last, simply because there
were only 2 rover logs entered in all of Canada. Serendipitously, we managed
to top the list in the Rover 6 meter multiplier category... I don't know
how, but we did.

Am I planning on going out roving again? Yes! It was fun, and I know that I
have no hope of posting a score anywhere near the top 10. I'd be lucky to
get off the bottom. There are not enough stations close enough to work on
any band above 6 meters. The only way I can boost those points is by pack
roving and grid circling. I've laid out a route that will get me through
about 20 grid squares, hitting a number of  4 grid intersections with roads
that allow for the fastest circling possible. All I need to do is find
another person crazy enough to spend $300 for fuel and waste a couple days
of their life getting everything in place and executing the event. If I can
get 2 people in a family, I can double my score again!

I've also figured out how to set a world record with a quick trip to the
North Pole. There are 180 grid squares intersecting there, you know... By
driving in a circle about 2000 feet from the pole, we can move the required
100 feet between squares. This would require an average speed of 20 km/h
over the 24 hours. If my math is right, that gets us 32,400 contacts per
band. We figure it would be easy to take at least 5 bands along.

Is this the intent of the contest? I don't think so, but the rules are the
rules... From what I can see, it doesn't matter what the intent of the rules
is in contesting, but rather the way to get the absolute maximum points
available is to push the rules to the limits. (I am not intimating that the
top scoring contesters are doing this)

I would like to measure my performance against other similar stations on a
level playing field. If other stations are making use of "loopholes" in the
rules to boost their scores, then I would need to do the same to level the
field back out.

If the rules do not restrict grid circling, pack roving, and or captive
roving, I would suggest that there is no way for the contest managers to
eliminate the practice. There is NO way to restrict a practice that does not
break the rules.

I have also excerpted a number of comments from over the last week or so,
and would like to respond to some of them below:

>Here is one reason that we have such a high attrition
>rate for technician class licenses.  If you are
>reading this, you probably operate more than just 2
>meter FM.  Suppose that was all you operated.  How
>long would you stay interested in amateur radio if all
>you could do was get on the local repeater?  Probably
>not as long as many of us have.

People seem to forget that there are many reasons that people get into Ham
Radio. I have been active on 2m and 70 cm for over a decade, and have been
enjoying myself. There are many people like me in the local area. Some
people in this group have gone on to get their HF privileges, but have not
pursued activity on the bands due to various reasons. The VHF repeater
community provides them with the type of activity they enjoy.

>We need to  somehow let these newbies know were
>we are and how to play ssb/cw.  The repeater
>thing only last a few months at best.

It is always good to expose people to all aspects of Amateur Radio, but we
also need to respect that each person has their own favourite mode of

> Going out and doing a tandem rover and grid circling
> is 'fun once'. It's not fun every contest. It's tedious. There are a lot
> different ways to do a rover operation and in my experience most of the
> rovers try something different every time they go out.

I know I couldn't afford to spend all the money on fuel too many times!

> >  Going out and doing a tandem rover and grid circling
> > is 'fun once'. It's not fun every contest. It's tedious.
> Absolutly!  I can't imagine anyone going through that much trouble, just
> score points.

I would beg to differ there... How many thousands of dollars are spent on
the megastations? I can get more points per dollar out of gasoline than I
can investing in equipment. It only takes about $20 to double my score by
moving to a new grid square corner. The whole concept of a contest is to
accumulate the most points possible.

> They're the ones competing in the rover category. Rovers have a lot of
> different motivations and I would bet that a winning score isn't on the
> of the list for most of them. Improving their score over the last contest,
> yep. Maybe edging out that guy in the next state? Yeah.

Hmm, how do you better your previous score, or edge out that guy in the next
state without taking scores into play?

>Applying a reasonable time limit before returning to the same grid would
>make grid circling difficult and still allow Jim's scenario to work as

Using a time limit for grid changes is probably the best way to limit grid
circling. Similar to band change time limits in place in some HF contests.

>Absolutly true, Ron...and something that I would support.  Maybe
>"reasonable" is 8-hours?  The casual rover (as I think Jim is describing
>above) could work with that while severely limiting the Grid Circling
>activity that most of us abhor.

I don't believe that 8 hours is reasonable. The time between grid changes
needs only be long enough to make the amount of time spent at the 4 grid
intersection too long to make it worthwhile for the grid circlers... If I
can zip through all the combinations at a 4 grid intersection quickly and
head to the next, I'll attempt it. If I have to spend 2 hours at the 4 grid
square intersection to get all combinations and permutations, I'm not going
to waste my time.

The grid change time would still allow people to work the same grids
multiple times, but make grid circling unappetizing. You could still grid
circle, but your point total would suffer due to the amount of time

I would suggest that something as low as 10 minutes would be enough to make
it unappealing to attempt a grid circling technique.

>I still believe that Grid Circling, Pack Roving and Captive Rovers *are*
>prohibited in the rules, because their operation does not meet the
>objective of the event, which is clearly spelled out:
>"Objective: To work as many amateur stations in as many different 2
>degrees by 1 degree grid squares as possible using authorized
>frequencies above 50 MHz."

Moving between 2 grids is encouraged, which allows each station to be worked
twice. This fulfills the objective. Moving all stations between the two
grids allows even more contacts. You can either encourage roving or
eliminate it... you can't have both.

> If the contest sponsors feel that they can now easily
> detect grid circling and captive rover activity then
> maybe that is the best way to discourage it. Therefore
> the contest sponsor "refereeing" the activity may not
> be nearly as subjective as it would first appear.

As long as the referee is enforcing a rule, and not implementing a
subjective "feeling". Without a rule to back up the referee, there will be
nothing but problems.

As to the matter at hand:

     1) encourage more people to work more other people
     2) encourage QSOs made over longer distances
     3) encourage more people to join in and participate

These are admirable intentions...

Changing Rover scoring rules. Where does a newbie go to find out what the
rules mean? I find it very difficult to determine how to score the contests.
If I ask here, I'll get as many interpretations as I get answers. Everyone
seems to interpret the rules differently.

Which ever way it goes, is there some definitive source we can go to to find
out what the real answer is? Perhaps a simple log showing the scoring
example would suffice.

Captive Roving will need to be clearly defined, and rule put into place that
would restrict the practice. The rule would need to still allow casual
operators that simply happen to work only one station during the contest.
Perhaps something that would not allow more than 2 or 3 contacts to the base
unit without having other stations in the log. This is a tough one to
enforce if not all stations submit logs.

Rover point values: Decreasing the value of a rover contact will not promote
the above three intentions... Perhaps an explanation as to why the point
decrease is needed. If it is to reduce the bloated scores due to grid
circling/pack roving/captive roving, this isn't the way to go.

Reducing bands in June. This appears to be a bad idea since this is the best
time for the bands, and the best time for the contestants to be able to
setup and use the equipment.

New categories. It would be encouraging for new contesters to have a limited
band entry level "rookie" category. Perhaps similar to the BARTG RTTY
contest, if you score in the top 10, you have to move up to the "expert"
level. This would encourage newbies to strive to do the best they can with
limited equipment, and once they get experienced, they get moved into the
big pond.

Currently, this type of competition is happening, but the new competitors
have to mine the data out themselves, and try to figure out where they
stand. It would be encouraging to have the contest sponsor acknowledge the
newcomers, and encourage them to continue in the contesting community. We
welcome new hams and visitors at our local club meetings, why not do the
same in the contesting community. If you make the newbies feel good about
their limited efforts, they may work harder to play with the big boys. If it
takes $10,000 dollars of equipment and 10 years to get noticed, how many
people are going to be encouraged?

The rest of the recommendations are beyond my limited exposure to these

James Ewen

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