Hey coach… I heard that contests are a problem for SOTA activators, and I shouldn’t activate on a contest weekend. Is that true?

Not really true. Number one – There’s a contest almost every weekend. You can’t avoid them. Number two – Only the really big contests could be a problem. So let’s talk about what to do about the really big contests.

  • One option is to retreat to the WARC bands. Contesting isn’t done on WARC bands. SOTA isn’t a contest. (It is an “awards program.”) So you can use 17 meters or, if you can do CW, you can use 30 meters.
  • One option is to get in there and compete with the contest. Find yourself an unused frequency and go to town as a typical activation.
  • If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Participate in the contest. Many contests want you to exchange call sign, signal report, and sequence number. If you don’t generally do contests, that means you’ll say something like, “W1ABC you are number 1 and you are 599” for your first contest QSO, and then, “W2XYZ you are number 2 and you are 599” for your second QSO. Some contests want you to state your county and the other guy will give you his state. (These are called “QSO parties.”) The gentlemanly thing to do when you get home is to record your QSOs on the contest site, in addition to the SOTAdata site. It isn’t hard – really. Just listen to what the other contesters are doing, and imitate them.
  • Change modes. Most contests use CW one weekend and SSB another weekend. Whichever mode they are using, you use another.
  • Do a VHF activation. Get on your HT and raise contacts on 146.52.

The one thing you can’t avoid about a contact is that some of your regular chasers will be busy with the contest and they won’t be chasing. So don’t expect a million QSOs if you’re competing with Sweepstakes. Oh… and if you activate on the day after a big contest, some of your chasers will be sleeping after contesting for 24 hours straight, so your QSO count will be down.

Contests can add to the difficulty factor. In my first 40 activations, I had one activation where I had to work really hard to make 4 QSOs, and I eventually joined the contest to make my 4th. I’ve had activations where I’ve been working my chasers and a contester started calling CQ on top of me. Other than that, contests haven’t been a big problem.

Note: The contester who called on top of me may have been rude, but he might not have heard me. Remember that I’m running 12 watts and he was probably running a kilowatt. If he’s running a kilowatt into a puny antenna, he could be an alligator (with a big mouth and little ears).