The primary aim of a contest QSO is to exchange only the essential QSO information (normally callsigns, reports and contest-specific information such as zones number, state or serial number) as efficiently (meaning quickly and yet accurately) as possible. In most contests, anything further (greetings, QTH or station details etc.) is superfluous, slows down the QSO rate and reduces the achievable score.
If you hear a contest in progress and want to join in, look up the contest rules to find out what information to send and whether you are eligible to participate. Check out the contest calendar and links to contest websites at Contest Calendar.
Listen carefully before calling a contest station, ensuring that you have their callsign correct and haven’t already worked them. There are good logging programs that will help eliminate duplicate QSOs that waste valuable time.
Consciously avoid causing interference, for example by transmitting an over modulated signal or CQing on a frequency that is already in use Remember, listen first and listen hard and try calling “QRL?” before operating. Don’t operate ‘split’ unless it is absolutely necessary.
Call a contest station that is CQing at just the right instant, giving your full callsign once. That is usually enough. Most stations leave only a few brief seconds between their CQ calls so it is important to synchronize your call with their listening periods. Good stations get a rhythm going and it will help if you get in tune with that rhythm.
Stand by for a moment if they go back to someone else. You shouldn’t have to wait very long. If they are really busy, make a note of their frequency and spend a few minutes hunting for other stations to work, then come back for another call.
If they send your correct callsign plus a report and contest information, respond with just a report and contest information. However, if they send your callsign incorrectly, hesitate briefly just in case they are working someone else, but if you are certain they are working you, respond by sending just your full callsign again, once or twice but with no report until they get your callsign correctly.
Do your level best to log their callsign and exchange information accurately, and to ensure they have all your information correct (e.g. – repeating the essential information if conditions are marginal). Sometimes several repeats are needed to complete the QSO but this is necessary to claim the points and avoid penalties.
Having met the primary aim, you will both be grateful for the efficient QSO and points. It is polite for the CQ station to send “Thank you“ or “TU” to confirm the QSO has been logged. This reduces unnecessary duplicate QSOs due to not knowing whether the QSO was complete, and is the cue to move on to the next QSO.
Remain courteous at all times, even when you are stressed or tired. If another station encroaches onto the frequency you are using, use your filters, turn your antenna, ask them politely to move a little HF or LF as appropriate and/or shift your frequency a little to reduce mutual interference, or take this as an opportunity to go searching for new QSOs on the same or another band.
Respect other amateurs who are not in the contest, for instance by obeying ‘contest-preferred’ frequencies and avoiding frequencies used by beacons, nets, DXpeditions and other modes. Keep the WARC bands a contest-free safe haven for those who do not enjoy contests.
If you are using a club or another amateur’s station for the contest, be a good guest, for example by being careful with the equipment, tidying up afterwards and not annoying other people in the house.
Fair play. For example, if you are using DX Cluster to find new multipliers, spot multipliers for other contestants too.
Comply fully with the rules of the contest both in letter and in spirit. Don’t even bend them.
Take as much pride in your station and operating techniques as in the contest certificates and plaques hanging on your shack wall. Learn to take advantage of the propagation and make the effort to listen for weak callers.
Most of all, be polite, efficient and friendly and stick to the rules to earn the respect of your fellow amateurs.