Beginners Guide to RTTY Contesting

RTTY WaterfallAlthough PSK31 is more popular than ever there still seems to be a preference for RTTY when it comes to contests. This is down to speed, ease of use and the resilience of the mode.

It’s also a mode worth getting familiar with because a lot of DXPeditions and special event stations run RTTY.

In the recent CQ WPC RTTY contest i did some casual operating and within 4 hours i’d made 80 contacts while operating 50w into my home made attic dipole. I’ve found the mode to be less popular outside of contests and this is where PSK31 very much seems to be the  mode of choice.

Why Operate?

You’ll find lots of interesting call signs during any contest and this is also true for RTTY contests, countries that often aren’t heard will appear, DXPeditions will be running, club stations, contest groups and even operators with their own shorter contest call signs are found.

This is one of the joys of operating in a contest, especially if you’re a “little pistol” station and aren’t realistically “in it to win it”, the rarer stations also don’t seem to attract the huge pileups seen outside of contests, because everyone has to make as many contacts as possible and can’t afford to spend the time to try and crack a pile up. Towards the latter stages of a contest there can be rich pickings, because most other stations will have already had QSOs with the DX, so you’ll have even more of a chance of getting through first time. The DX will also be happy to work you too because you’re another point during a slow part of the contest!

Average Contest QSO

The aim of a contest QSO is to be as minimal as possible yet accurate at the same time, while everyone has their preference the typical contest RTTY QSO follows a similar structure. Below we run through this with some explanation:

CQ TEST M0JCQ

  • I’m calling CQ

M0JCQ de TM3T TM3T TM3T 

  • TM3T replies to my CQ call

TM3T 599 145 145 TM3T 

  • I reply to TM3T with a signal report of 599 (everyone sends this report during a contest), i also send my serial number twice for the QSO (this number is unique to each QSO)

M0JCQ TU 599 034 034 M0JCQ

  • TM3T confirms receipt of my report with TU (thank you) and sends his report and serial number

TM3T QSL CFM (034) de M0JCQ QRZ?

  • I confirm receipt of of his report by sending QSL, i also send CFM (confirm) with his supplied serial number, this isn’t essential but ensures you copied the correct details (he’ll let you know if the serial is wrong), i then send de M0JCQ QRZ? Which makes it clear which operator is asking for new callers.

 

You’ll probably encounter these two during a QSO as well:

NR? NR?

  • If a station doesn’t receive your report and serial they will send NR? (ro reply). This is where i resend my last message and more often than not it’s received the second time around. Quite often if they don’t receive it a second time they will go back to calling CQ. You can try a third time after the CQ call and you may even rescue another couple of points

AGN AGN

  • As above – this means please send again

Serial Numbers in Fldigi

The serial numbers can be generated automatically in Fldigi using macros. First of all we need to look at the contest settings in Fldigi:

Fldigi contest settings

Go to Configure > Contest to get to these settings. In the Serial number section we’ve told Fldigi to start the contest count from 0 and use three digits, based on this the first serial generated will be 001.

Here’s the macro i use to send the report and serial number:

<TX>
<CALL> TU 599 <INCR><CNTR> <CNTR> de <MYCALL>
<RX>

<INCR> increments the serial number count by one, <CNTR> sends the serial number for the QSO.

Conclusion

Contesting is a personal thing and for me i’m realistic and know that my setup of 50w to an attic dipole is not going to give me a chance to win a contest, unless of course i choose a niche category (QRP, single band etc..). So for me the enjoyment comes out of contacting as many stations as i can and working interesting stations.

Contesting also offers the chance to collect some more rare DXCC. Some people wrongly assume there’s no reason to enter a contest as a small station but by being realistic and setting your own targets you can have a lot of fun in doing so.

Give it a go the next time the lower part of a band is overrun a RTTY contest!

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