New to Contesting?

It’s Fun! It’s Easy!

Be sure to enter the Florida QSO Party – TARS Club Contest. It will be fun. It will be easy. Even if you have never entered a contest before.

We have chosen the Florida QSO Party because it is an easy contest to participate in. You don’t have to work DX because the object is to work as many states as possible. You can operate on 40, 20, 15 or 10 meters.

The contest is both Saturday and Sunday, so you can operate during the day either day or Saturday evening and choose your band. There are two time periods: Noon to 10 pm Saturday and 8 am to 6 pm Sunday. 20, 15 and 10 meters should be open during the daylight hours and after dark there is 40 and maybe 20.

New to Contesting?

Does it sound interesting, but you have never entered a contest? Never fear. It is easy. Read on. I’ll guide you through it, step by step.

The Contact

The first thing you have to do is make a contact. (I will talk SSB here although the ideas are similar for CW and digital.) There are two ways of making contacts: “running” and “search and pounce.” Running is simply sitting on an open frequency and calling CQ. It is the most efficient because the other stations come to you. However, you need to have experience in handling a pile-up if many stations want to contact you. More on that later. So, for most contests, you might start out with search and pounce (S&P) which is just searching for someone else calling CQ. When you find them, just give your callsign once, using standard phonetics, and listen to see if they come back to you. If not, try again.

The Exchange

The main thing about a contest is the exchange. After the other station has come back to you and probably given his exchange, you should give your exchange. Read the rules to see what the exchange is for the contest you are participating in. It will usually be something like signal strength and state or RS and a one-up serial number. So you would say “five-nine Florida” or “five-nine zero-three-seven.” And you are done (unless you need to do a repeat). I usually say QSL or Thank You before saying Five-Nine Florida. (Note: Signal strength for contests and DXpeditions is always 5-9, even if you can barely hear them. Most software even automatically enters 59.)

Log the Contact

Now you log the contact and move on to the next one. We will talk about contest loggers later.

It is Really That Simple

  1. Find a station calling CQ: “CQ Contest CQ Contest This is Whiskey 2 Alpha Bravo Charlie Calling CQ Contest
  2. Call him: “Kilo 4 Sierra Bravo Zulu
  3. He answers: “Kilo 4 Sierra Bravo Zulu You are five nine New York
  4. You give your exchange: “QSL You are five nine Florida”
  5. He QSLs: “Kilo 4 Sierra Bravo Zulu, Thank You. This is Whiskey 2 Alpha Bravo Charlie QRZ?
  6. Log the contact!

But Wait!

This is the Florida QSO Party. Everyone is going to want to work YOU. You can’t effectively use S&P when you are the fox and they are the hounds. They will be using the S&P technique that I just described. You almost have to RUN. So let’s see how that is done. Don’t fear… It is also easy. Matter of fact, you just sit there and wait for them to come to you. (You can still do a little S&P if you want other Florida contacts.)

Calling CQ

First you need to find an open frequency. (This sometimes is the hardest part). You want as many contacts as possible, so even if you are an Extra Class, find a frequency in the General Class band so that you aren’t excluding anyone. For the Florida QSO Party, I recommend 20 or 15 meters. 10 meters is also a possibility if it is open, but your contacts will be mostly in the West. If it is in the evening on Saturday, you can use either 40 or possibly 20. It is standard to choose a frequency ending in a multiple of .25; e.g., 14284.00, 14284.25, 14284.50, 14284.75, etc. You may have to search to find an open frequency with no one nearby. Once you do, say, “Is this frequency in use?” and pause. When you find an open frequency, hold on to it. Don’t pause for too long in between CQs or QSOs. Any longer than 30 seconds and you are likely to lose the frequency in a busy contest.

Please note the Mobile Frequency Windows in the rules. These are frequencies that they request we leave free for Florida hams who are operating mobile during the contest. Some of them are trying to activate as many counties as they can during the weekend.

For the Florida QSO Party, you simply call, “CQ Florida QSO Party” a couple of times and give your callsign phonetically. Pause a little, then call again until someone calls you. If things get hot, you may only have to say it once and give your call twice before waiting. Sometimes, it is good practice to add a CQ at the end for someone who is just tuning by: “CQ Florida QSO Party. This is Kilo 4 Sierra Bravo Zulu, Kilo 4 Sierra Bravo Zulu calling CQ the Florida QSO Party.” Some people replace the last CQ with “Q-R-Zed” (QRZ = who is calling me?) instead.

The Contact

When you hear someone give their callsign on your frequency, simply give them the contest exchange: signal report and your county. So, if you live in Leon County, you would say, “Kilo Delta 7 Hotel Tango Whiskey, you are Five-Nine Leon.” (Everyone is 59, even if you can barely hear them and it took six tries to get their callsign right). The counties have three character abbreviations: Leon – LEO, Jefferson – JEF, Gadsden – GAD, Wakulla – WAK for use in their contest loggers. (Check for others). Some people give only the abbreviation (“L-E-O”), others give both (“L-E-O, that’s Leon County”). Do what feels comfortable to you.

They should come back with a signal report and their state, just like I demonstrated in the S&P example.

When they have finished giving their exchange, you need to say thank your or QSL and move on to the next contact. This is usually done by using QRZ, pronounced “Q-R-Zed.” So you might say, “Thank you for Arizona. This is Kilo 4 Sierra Bravo Zulu, Q-R-Zed the Florida QSO Party.” Hopefully, you will have someone else already waiting to work you. This is called a pile-up. If you don’t, then call CQ.


Most contests have a scoring algorithm that involves “multipliers.” Yes, you want a lot of contacts, but you also want a lot of multipliers to multiply those contacts by. In the case of the Florida QSO Party, the multipliers are states. You want to get as many states as possible because 400 Qs X 15 states = 6000 points, but only 200 Qs X 40 states = 8000 points. In some contests, you can get two multipliers by working the same station on different bands, so always read the rules for the contest that you are participating in.

Contest Logging Software

Your regular electronic logbook or digital decoder may have a contest feature. Most that do have limited features, but may be sufficient for your use.

The top two contest logging packages are N1MM and the N3FJP. N1MM is the most frequently used, mostly because it supports RTTY by running MMTTY internally. Also, it is free, while the others require a fee. N3FJP has more features. Other popular contest logging software include WriteLog and Win-Test. All contest logging software focuses on fast entry of contacts. They all produce the Cabrillo logs required for log submission as well as ADIF files that can be imported into your regular electronic log.

N1MM Logger

N3FJP Logs

WriteLog for Windows


The End

Once the contest is over, use your contest logging software to produce a Cabrillo log and email it to the address given in the contest rules. You should get an email within minutes from the big contests confirming the receipt of your log or telling you about any errors you may have made. A contest robot reviews your log immediately. You may resubmit your log as often as necessary to correct any errors.

Then sit back and wait. The big contests take months before they publish the results.

For the Florida QSO Party – TARS Club Contest, email the same Cabrillo log to K4SBZ, You will get an email verifying your submission. Results of the contest will be announced at the June TARS meeting.

Still Confused?

If you have more questions, please contact Stan, K4SBZ, at K4SBZ,