Dos and Don'ts in HF Contesting                         

These items are not in order of importance - please consider each one carefully.

This is the condensed advice of HF contesters who have been contesting for a total of 200 years.

January 2016 - we will soon add some extra advice for newcomers to contesting, but most of the advice below applies to both newcomers and experienced contesters.

Advice Rationale

1.        Learn something from every contest -           make notes.

Make an effort to learn and remember something from every contest that you enter. Make notes of what went right and what went wrong, then refer to them the following year and don't make the same mistakes again.

2.       Try to make at least one improvement before every contest.

If you just repeat what you have done previously, (operating/equipment/antennas, etc) then you will just achieve the same results in the next contest. A good operator might achieve a reasonable score with a mediocre station, but a poorer operator will not necessarily achieve a good score with a good station.

3.        Do everything quickly.

 If you operate slowly or give extra un-necessary information, you are wasting your time (hence losing QSOs and reducing your final score) AND wasting everyone else’s time. Transmit as fast as is consistent with maintaining a pile up.

4.       Log everything accurately.

Don’t guess – check before logging every QSO. You could lose a vital multiplier AND cause the other (innocent) station to lose points or a mult.

5.       Choose what contest and section you enter carefully.

Unless your station has effective monoband antennas for all the contest bands and SO2R capabilities, you are unlikely to do well in all-band contests.  There is no such thing as a 'level playing field' in contesting - someone will always have a bigger station or better location.

6.       Never question a Dupe – just work them without any comments.

There are many reasons why a station calling you may be a Dupe – these reasons do not matter – just work and  log them again

7.       Never use more words than the minimum required.

Saves your time AND everyone else’s time.  The only thing the other station is interested in is a callsign and the exchange.

8.       Never repeat your callsign in the exchange.

Timewasting - anyone who has called you should know what your callsign is. Conversely if you are calling a station that is running, never give their callsign.

9.       On SSB, just use letters instead of phonetics - especially under loud signal conditions.

Almost everyone will recognise their own callsign spoken without phonetics. This saves a lot of time on SSB.  (For some non-English speakers you may still need to use phonetics)

10.   Do not give your callsign too often.

Do not ID after every QSO (a total waste of time) UNLESS there is no pile-up.  Vary how often you ID depending on the depth of the pile-up, but remember that Unassisted stations may be waiting impatiently for you to ID. They will probably only wait for a few QSOs before saying 'QRZ' or 'your call?' etc.

11.   Be loud.

Loud is good – being loud allows you to hold a frequency with less stress and also allows you to break a cluster-driven pile-up more quickly.

12.    On SSB - make sure your signal quality is not thin and under-compressed, or over-compressed.  On CW - make sure your keying is click-free, etc.

Do some tests – is your signal loud, narrow but clearly readable?

13.    On CW – do not slow down to match a caller’s speed.

If someone calls you at a slower speed in the pile-up, it should not be necessary to slow down to match their calling speed.  Click here for the detailed rationale.

14.    Make an audio recording of every contest.

Some contest organisers now require audio recording of the whole contest. Apart from that, you can listen to parts of the contest and take note of how you were operating

15.    Don’t waste too much time with ‘frequency  fights’.


Some you will win, some you will lose. No matter how good your station and antennas are, propagation may make someone else stronger at times. Don’t give up too easily, but keep an eye on the ratemeter.

16.   Check Propagation with software.

 Band opening can be short - try not to miss openings.  Check for skewed paths and/or unexpected band openings.

17.    Learn how to correctly configure and use your contest logging software.

 During a contest when you are under some stress is not the time to learn the commands and features of your logging software.  Check that the SCP and .cty files are up to date.

18.    On SSB, use a DVK or .wav files  On CW, use software generated keying.

These reduce stress and tiredness, especially in long contests. On CW, software generated CW helps prevent Sent Serial Number errors, especially when S&P.

19.    Know how to configure and operate your transceiver.

Under contest conditions you need to know the optimum settings for all the menu parameters and controls on your radio for maximising readability of received signals.

20.    Balance ‘rate’ against ‘mults’.


In many contests the ‘mult is king’ but you can also say 'rate is king' - in other words you need a balance of number of QSOs against number of mults – to give the maximum final score.

21.    Stay in the seat.

If it is a 24-hour contest, operate for the whole 24 hours, etc. Even slow hours are contributing to your final score - just keep going (your rivals might not!) Minimise distractions.

22.   Consider the social aspects of contesting.

Let your family and friends know in advance your contest plans – they will hopefully be supportive and know that you should ideally be left in peace for contest weekends.

23.   Actively look for multipliers to work.

If you are a vanilla G or DL or whatever, don't expect rare mults to come to you. When
running Unassisted, use VFO-B between CQs/working stations to find mults.
When Assisted, learn which keyboard shortcuts in your contest logging software take you to the
next mult up or down from your CQ frequency on the Band Map. Ideally, do not QSY to a new band until you have cleared your current band of all mults.

24.    Make high points scoring QSOs.

QSOs with other continents are worth more points in most contests (e.g. in CQ WW, Eu = 1pt, USA = 3pts)  so although the QSO rate may be slower (or not), you are making QSOs which will give a significantly higher final points total.

25.   Contesting is not an 'instant gratification' aspect of our hobby.
Results need to be worked for - usually over a number of years. This means you have to be self-motivated and determined.
26.    Be active in as many contests as possible throughout the year, not just the big events. There are HF contests almost every weekend, which are valuable training grounds for you to improve your skills, equipment and antennas.
27.   Set yourself a target in every contest. Rather than expecting to win or be in a certain position, focus more on beating your previous personal best. Eventually you will win!
28.    You have to be thick-skinned in the contesting world Both on-air during a contest and on any contesting reflectors, contesters are highly competitive and opinionated - don't let this put you off contesting. Don't take anything personally - we all want increased participation and competition.
29.    When calling a running station, send your callsign *once* only - quickly On CW, a running station will usually start replying to you immediately after you complete sending your first callsign - if they are not using QSK, they will not hear your (unwanted) second callsign, so will have to repeat the reply to you - wasting their time and your time.  On SSB, running stations usually reply in a similar speedy way.
30.    Look around your shack - what is the *one* item that will improve your contest scores, easily and at no cost? YOU!  Yes, yagis, amplifiers and technology make things easier, but if you improve your motivation and skills, your scores will improve.
31.   Operate Unassisted as often as possible. Many of the top contesters started off as Short Wave Listeners, so learned early on to tune around looking for Mults or new stations. Don't assume that every station you need is always spotted on the DX Cluster, because they are not.
32.    Do not listen to all the advice you are given. There are a lot of so called 'experts' out there, who may give you poor advice or show you examples of operating that you should not copy. Better to listen to some of the online audio recordings or videos of top contesters in action.
33.  Read and understand the Rules *before* entering a contest. Some contests have exchanges which are self-evident e.g. serial number, but some others may have exchanges that you need to check on the contest website. It is not unusual to have 2 or more HF contests running simultaneously over a weekend, with differing exchanges. Check the Rules for other important information e.g. the log submission deadline for our UKEICC DX contests is 2 hours after the end of the contest.


Contributors :   GM3WOJ, GM3POI, GW4BLE, G4MKP, GM0NAI, GW0ETF