Operating Procedure de W3IY
I have noticed, in the last several contests, that many VHF es above operators are losing several dB of communications effectiveness by not following efficient operating procedures. Not that I'm an expert, but I thought I would try to write down a few thoughts on the subject. Operating VHF can be very challenging since there are always weak signals flying around the threshold of the receiver noise. Microwave operating is similarly challenged, perhaps even more so, since there are a lot of guys who are really trying their best to maximize there ability to work dx with low power.
It is commonly accepted that a valid QSO consists of an exchange of call signs, some information, and some confirmation of receipt by both parties of the QSO. On VHF & above, the information consists of 4-digit grid squares. For a valid QSO, you have to copy his call, his grid, and "rogers" or "QSL". It's nice to exchange 73s, but it's not a requirement. Here's my thoughts on how to make a valid QSO with a weak station, without wasting unnecessary time and bandwidth..
Answering a CQ.
1. When calling a station you have heard calling CQ, just give your call sign using easy-to-understand phonetics. It will be understood that you are calling the guy who just finished calling CQ, although officially, you should give both his call and your call. If there is alot of QRM on the frequency, it may be required to give both calls, but you are better off just planting your call in the other guy's ears, for maximum efficiency, and best probability of success. It's usually best not to stick your call in there until you have the other guy's complete call. If you do, you may get tied up requesting his call again and again in a big pileup, as the big station just continues working new stations. Often times, during a contest, I will tune across a big-gun station running other stations, and I won't yet have his call. I usually inject my call anyways, but it's a little risky, since I need his call to log him, and I don't want to move on to another frequency until I have completed the logging. Sometimes, I just wait on frequency until I hear the other call, and them move on.
2. When the other guy hears you, he will then repeat your call sign, and give his grid square.
3. When you copy his grid square, reply with "roger", and then inject your grid square. I usually repeat this info twice. Don't add unnecessary chatter.
4. Listen for confirmation of his receipt of your information ("rogers" or "QSL"). If you don't hear it, keep repeating "roger" and your grid. Always inject "roger" or "QSL", after you copy his grid. You may have to do this many times, when working weak dx stations with QSB fades. If the other operator is good, he will keep sending his grid square information until he hears you send "rogers". No one should send "rogers" at all until they have copied the other guy's grid square information.
5. When you copy "rogers" or "QSL", you are done, and have completed the QSO.
6. Optionally, you can try to send "73", but it is often not a good idea, if the other station is busy running lots of QSOs on the frequency. You will just be generating additional QRM for someone else.
This procedure works well on phone or on CW.
Here's an example of how to do things best, if you are the one calling CQ.
1. Call CQ. I like doing it this way CQ W3IY CQ W3IY CQ W3IY Whiskey 3 Italy Yankee. If the band is dead, you may need to make it longer, like a classic 3 X 3 CQ. This one goes like this...CQ CQ CQ de W3IY W3IY W3IY CQ CQ CQ de W3IY W3IY W3IY CQ CQ CQ de W3IY W3IY W3IY K. In my opinion, the previous format works better on VHF where there are often rapid fades. It's nice to get both the CQ and the call within a small time period.
2. When you copy a station calling you, send his call sign, followed by your grid square. You don't need to re-send your call, as the other guy already has this, in all likelihood.
3. Listen for his grid. When you copy it, send "roger" or "QSL" followed by your grid.
4. Keep sending your information, until you hear "rogers" or "QSL".
5. When you hear the other station say "roger", or "QSL", the QSO is complete, but it's nice to send "QSL" or "rogers" for the other station to copy.
There are a lot of variations on these schemes, as you can imagine. Mother nature makes propagation such that you will frequently only part of the information. The cardinal rule, is don't send rogers until you have copied everything. It's OK to request a retransmission of the other stations call or grid, but keep it short and understandable. For example..."your grid, your grid, your grid? over over"...or "your call, your call, your call? over over". If things are really moving fast, and you are running a pileup (isn't this what we all want?), don't say unnecessary words. Rag chewing is not a good idea in this situation, as you may drive some serious contesters away. They don't want to wait for mindless chatter, if the band is hopping. Most importantly, speak clearly, and use common phoenitcs. Sometimes, it helps to speak slowly. or to send CW slowly. I always try to send the basic information 2 times in a row, to increase the probability that it will be received. When conditions are poor, I also like to end all transmissions with "over-over". This can help the other guy to time his response better, when he's not hearing me too well.
There are many subtleties associated with effective contesting. Being quick really helps, when there are many stations to work, and an unpredictable band opening may come to a sudden end, at any second. If you are fast and efficient, you will attract more stations to your pileup. This is the best situation you can hope for, creating your very own pileup. It makes it easy to run lots of stations quickly, and the more of them that come to you, the more attention you will attract. Many times, I have attracted DX by using the other station to alert stations in his area. When they hear him working me, they also find me. I find that it sometimes helps, when trying to break into someone else's pileup, to delay my call slightly. This often will allow all the big signals (which have all called immediately) to subside, and my call competes with less noise at the other end. Timing is very important, when the other guy is hearing 15 stations at once. Of course, sometimes, the other station is too quick on the trigger, and fails to listen for me, for that extra 100 milliseconds. The best way to crack a pileup is to have a good station with big power and big antennas, but you can add a few dB my being smart.
In summary, here's the best way to work stations in a weak-signal environment...
1, When you copy both calls, send calls and grid, only.
2. If he hears both calls and your grid, he sends "rogers" and his grid, only.
3. If he get's your grid and your "rogers", he sends "rogers", only.
4. When both stations have copied "rogers", the QSO is complete.
5. Optionally, send 73 to let the other guy know you are done.
Maximizing your potential, as a rover.
It's important to be familiar with the VHF & above bands, and get to know who's on, and from where. You should do some research by viewing past contest results, and have some idea of who to look for...especially in rare grids. The more you operate, the easier this will become. Eventually, you will have a large database stored in your brain, and callsigns will come rolling out of your head when you copy a few letters.
Know where to point your antennas. It's important to be aware of the high-population centers, and spend the necessary time working stations in these areas. Don't be afraid to rotate your antenna, and research some new directions, however. It's easy to get lazy in my area, and spend too much time looking to the NE. Doing this can really cost you, though, when some exotic station in a grid to the W comes on freq, and only stays on the band for a short time. It's usually best to call in the popular directions first, and when you have worked most of the expected stations, start turning the antenna in say-15 degree increments in alternate directions. Cover the entire compass, except for known black-holes, like the ocean (recent maritime mobile activity has surfaced, however, from W1LP...he usually posts his operating times on the email reflectors, so be aware!!).
I find that calling CQ on 2 meters is the most effective technique. In the old days of the early 1980's. we used to find lots of random activity on 432 & 1296 by calling CQ, but this seems to be less productive, nowadays. The most-accepted technique seems to have become find guys on 2m, and then run the bands. This works well, and really helps you to accumulate lots of high-point microwave QSOs in a shorter time period, than it would require to call CQ on microwaves. Knowing where to point, and who is there is very effective! Most microwave stations have come to accept the fact that they should start out on 2m looking for activity. Here, again, knowing who's out there, and what bands they have is very valuable. Don't be afraid to ask the other station if he has other bands. New guys are always pleasantly surprising us by adding new bands to their radio-arsonal.
Don't forget that higher bands means higher points-per-QSO...work these guys on the higher bands first, before getting sucked into the 6-meter low-point game.
No go out there and work some stations!! ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
GL es 73, de W3IY/R