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I got into Amateur Radio for emergency preparation and to allow me to expand my electronics hobby. My needs are being met, but I'm wondering if I'm missing out on increasing my skills by avoiding contesting which, in and of itself, doesn't particularly interest me.

What will I learn in contesting that isn't as easily or quickly mastered if I don't participate in contesting?

In what other ways would contesting benefit me?

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There are quite a few key things that can be learned by doing a contest. Here's a few key skills.

  1. Learn to copy messages exactly.
  2. Improved recognition of faint signals.
  3. Ability to communicate in adverse situations. If a contest isn't an adverse situation, I don't know what is!
  4. Contesting often promotes mobile or portable communication, which is often useful in emergencies.
  5. One can learn a lot about propagation. For instance, I learned during the Sweepstakes Contest that if I wanted to make a contact with Alaska, I needed to do it in the afternoon hours.
  6. Learning one's equipment. The importance of fully knowing one's equipment cannot be overstated!
  7. Endurance. Quite frankly, talking on the radio can be quite difficult to do for long periods of time. I've been able to increase the amount of time that I can spend behind the radio from about an hour initially to 5-6 hours via contesting, which improves my skills.
  8. Improved recognition of weak signals. I learned how to get a signal out of the noise via contests.

There are a bunch of other benefits as well, such as team building, getting to know your neighbors, getting WAS and DX done, etc. But those don't fully fit into the emergency preparedness category.

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@PearsonArtPhoto has a good list started. I've been getting into contesting lately and I would elaborate on No. 7 to say that for good scores, you need to plan your operating time carefully and then have your butt in the chair the whole time you plan to operate.

Some contests run for, say 48 hours, but you can only operate 36 hours, or something like that, it varies. This is where planning comes in:

  • How much operating time can I get away with and stay married? (YMMV)
  • How do I break up my operating time to maximize my score, take advantages of openings, etc.
  • Given those answers, arrange sleep and food so when I am at the radio, I am fresh and not distracted.
  • If you don't talk for a living, consider your voice. I don't and I didn't and I went hoarse my first few contests. My wife came up with a nice tea that stretches my voice, but I decided a voice keyer was needed to extend my time.

Continuing on that list:

  1. You learn the limitations of your equipment. With experience you can tell which pileups you can just skip and how loud (S meter wise) a signal has to be for you to have a good chance of getting him to come back to you.

  2. If you do any running, you will learn to pull call signs out of a pileup and that helps with copying information in adverse conditions.

Also expanding on both the previous answers, you will learn your radio better. I always end up pushing a button I don't mean to in the heat of battle and then have to diagnose things on the fly. And to tease out those weak signals without (in my case) any fancy DSP, you learn some more of those knobs to eliminate adjacent signals as much as possible.

Lot s of folks hate contesting and say those QSOs with their ritual "59" RSTs don't count for much. In some ways I agree, but it's just a different facet of the hobby. Instead of a quality contact, it's about quantity and, as we've tried to show here, uses some different skills or the same skills in different ways.

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In the ARRL 10m contest that's going on this weekend, I learned a lot about my new radio. (point number 6 above)

I got myself a radio with some nice DSP options with features to reduce interference and make signals more copyable. I took yesterday and today to learn these features through activities such as enhancing a weak signal out of the noise level so I can copy it, blocking nearby signals (sideband from a signal on 28303 made copying a signal on 28305 "interesting" so I used a combination of features to make it go away, and basically ensuring that there were no features on my rig I didn't understand at least basically how to use them.

I've had no practice with split operation on my rig yet, but that'll come during another big international contesting week.

Even if you don't participate in the contest (I never do) making contacts is encouraged. If you choose not to make contacts, listening and making your rig do what you want with the received signal.

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