Monday, May 16, 2011

Amateur Activities

Amateur Activities

Radio Amateurs have a wealth of activities to choose from. What brought you the ham radio in the first place might be your activity of choice but chances are as you spend more time in the hobby you will find new and exciting ways to enhance your skill and increase your enjoyment. Whether it is simply rag chewing (just talking), DXing, operating QRP, or contesting there is something for you.


DXing is making long distance contacts. If you are a 2 meter operator DX to you might be as near as a few hundred miles (or less) while and HF operator when chasing DX is looking for countries outside of his or her own. Generally though DXing is considered an HF activity.

To DX you will need an outdoor antenna and a rig capable of putting out 100 watts. Although it is possible to use less power (the author has worked over 100 countries with only 5 watts) 100 is more effective. A directional antenna is useful but even a vertical or dipole and be effective. The author has worked over 200 countries using a vertical antenna and 100 watts on SSB.

To work DX successfully is help to listen for stations calling CQ. Pay attention to the style of operation used by the DX station and operate accordingly. If he is simply making one contact after another then don't try to engage him in a conversation when it is your turn. That will just cause frustration for everyone else. Using a DX cluster can also help you identify DX stations that you need. A DX cluster is an Internet site or packet station that reports current DX activity on the bands. DXpeditions are also good sources for new countries but be prepared to spend time getting through the pileups of other stations also attempting to call the DX station.

As you make DX contacts you will likely want to collect QSL cards. If you haven't already done so see the section on QSLing. As you collect QSLs from 100 or more countries you should consider the ARRL DXCC award. Check out the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) web site for more information.

Emergency Operation

Unlike DXing you can't just go out there looking for an emergency to operate from. Most amateur radio emergency operating comes in the form of preparation to be ready in the event that an emergency occurs. Amateurs have assisted in emergencies ranging from floods to hurricanes, fires to chemical spills and clearly none of these can be handled adequately without training and preparation.

You can participate in training sessions by joining your local Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) connected with the local Amateur Radio Club or Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services (RACES). These organizations provide training for local emergencies, setup call up trees of amateurs who can be brought into action quickly when an emergency occurs. Usually amateur support is coordinated with local emergency organizations including the police, fire department, Red Cross and others.

ARES and RACES also participate in a number of events that assist in training amateurs for emergency readiness. One of these is a simulated emergency test where all aspects of emergency communication are tested. Another is the local net where amateurs train to be effective net operators. Annually the Field Day contest is popular event that has amateurs operating with emergency power and contacting other amateurs across North American and worldwide.


On many weekends you will find hams engaged in the "sport" of amateur radio. Contesting is one of the activities that has more participants than any other sport in the world. On the last weekend of October you will find thousands of amateur operators making contacts on SSB worldwide to see how many other stations they can reach. The top stations will make thousands of contacts in just 48 hours but even a modest station can quite easily make several hundred contacts. How about getting your DXCC in just one weekend? It is possible.

Contests come in many forms but you will find that most require operating in one mode, either CW, SSB or Rtty. A few, such as QSO Parties, permit both CW and SSB. Some of the most popular contests are:
  • ARRL International DX (SSB and CW versions)
  • ARRL Sweepstakes
  • CQ Worldwide (SSB and CW versions)
  • CQ Worldwide WPX (SSB and CW versions)
  • CQ Worldwide Rtty

QSO Parties are also popular in North America. These are somewhat less demanding than DX contests and can be great fun to operate especially for those who are new at contesting. Many states and provinces have their own QSO Parties. Some of the most popular QSO Parties are:

  • North America QSO Party
  • California QSO Party
  • Pennsylvania QSO Party
  • Ontario QSO Party

Contesting is not as difficult as it might seem although winning your category can be very challenging. To begin you need to be familiar with the contest rules and each one is different. Checkout some of the contest calendar web sites for the rules of a contest that interests you. Pay special attention to the exchange that you will be using in the contest. Then when the contest begins listen to how the other stations operate. When you are ready call a station that is calling CQ contest and when he comes back with your call record his exchange and then give your exchange. It's as simple as that.


QRP actually refers to a power level rather than a specific form of operating. When you operate QRP you are using 5 watts or less of radiated power. So with the handheld at 3 watts you are operating QRP. Usually though QRP is an HF activity.

To operate QRP you have several choices. Use a regular transceiver that you can turn the power down to 5 watts or less. Most transceivers have this capability. Or if you want to be a true QRPer you might buy or build a QRP rig. These rigs are usually only CW or only SSB although there are exceptions. Some are single band as well. QRP rigs can operate at the 1 watt level and even below that at the milliwatt level.

When setting up a QRP station don't forget about the antenna. The better the antenna the better your rig will get out. Although you don't need an antenna capable of running power the more gain in the antenna the more contacts you will make and the better you will be able to hear the other stations especially if they are QRP as well.

There are special activities for QRPers such as QRP-only contests. Some of the major contests also have QRP categories.

Special Events

If you tune across 20 meters on a weekend you are likely to hear special event stations. Although not restricted to 20 meters (then can be on other HF bands and also 2m and 70cm) this is a popular band for a special event. What are these stations? Well they can vary from a lighthouse to a submarine, a school to an anniversary of a town. Some special events commemorate a historical event such as the Boston Tea Party or the opening of the PEI bridge.

Special events are often announced in QST magazine so you will know when to look for them and how to get a QSL card or certificate. Because these are local event operating on a shoestring budget or none at all it is essential to send not only postage but a self addressed envelope. The QST announcement will tell you what envelope size to use. When in doubt allow for an 8 1/2 X 11 certificate.

No comments: