QRP is Great, But…

Making that contact on flea-power and that bit of wet-string sure is rewarding – especially when you had been calling for an hour.  After this, you decide to venture up the band to the QRP Centre of Activity and put out some “CQ” calls.  A QSO or 2 later you are suddenly trampled-on by a very loud station sending CQ TEST.  This can only mean one thing: Another 24 (or 48) hours of contesting and your weekend of QRP has been ruined and/or relegated to the WARC bands.

This post came about as a result of a comment I heard on Essex Ham’s Monday Night GB3DA net last week.  A participant mentioned that they were “trampled-on by a contest station” – Not a particularly pleasant scenario and it’s happened to all of us whether it be CW, Digital or a Voice mode.  It’s an age-old grumble, but there are a couple of angles to this, and, using my renowned diplomacy skills, I’ll attempt to present them in a balanced way – and perhaps help you the next time somebody from the Kilowatt Club parks-up on your frequency…

Ruddy Contests – in many hobbies there is a competetive element: See who can go the farthest, lift the heaviest weight, get the best time for a set distance etc.  Amateur Radio isn’t much different.  The regular contests are designed get people communicating – albeit with the most basic of exchanges.  Contesters have as much right to use the airwaves as you do to talk about your tomato plants – and neither party sees the sense in each other’s efforts.  It’s a far greater issue for those who work during the week and only get time for some radio at the weekend – if there’s a contest on and conditions are fair to good, it means that Mr/Mrs Weekend Hamature is going to have to find somewhere else to play…

WARC Bands – 30m, 17m and 12m are contest-free and can be utilized for a decent QSO.  30m (CW/Data only) is ideal for close-Continental during the day and a great band for the CW/QRP /P op who wants to work a reasonable distance and have a nice “chat”.  17m, when it’s open, offers propagation to Asia in the morning and the USA from lunchtime.  From the UK, expect to work Greece, Italy and central Europe during the day.  It’s worth pointing-out that some contests take advantage of the higher-bands during the day for better/further contacts so that can leave 40m available for that inter-G chin-wag.

I Was Here First – Yes, you probably were and if you’re running QRP and you get swatted by a bigger stations then it’s your own damn fault!  But, in all seriousness, if you operate QRP then you run the risk of many stations not hearing you (or your QSO partner) – and that means them not hearing your response to their “QRL?” request.  Assuming they sent one, of course.  There are QRP sections of the band, but…

…that brings me onto operating procedures and common-courtesy/sense: I have every sympathy for those who are bullied off a frequency either via bad operating or when it’s clear that you are being heard.  The station with the most Watts usually wins that one, I’m afraid.  There is something you can do about it – if it’s a contester then it may be a good idea to look-up the details of the contest they are operating in and see if there is anything in the rules about observing the band-plans. There usually is and if you (and others) submit reports of poor operating, signal quality etc then the contest adjudicators can do something about it – either via a penalty or, preferably, disqualifying their entry.

Sure, CW contests often creep into and over the PSK, JT65 and RTTY segments of the band.  RTTY contesters splatter all over 14.100MHz and the SSB lot are all over 40m when you’re trying to have all-important “pills and prostate” discussion with the ARSE-ARS Net.

QRP IS Fun – I like a bit of it, too.  If it I didn’t, I wouldn’t have spent the best part of £1000 on a KX3 – using the lowest amount of power possible to get my signal from A to B, that’s quite rewarding.  Of course, I find 100-watts rather useful at times – and quite necessary if I happen to be engaged in a bun-fight for my next DXCC entity.

What can you do with QRP?  A fair bit, given the time, effort and the odd bit of luck.  One practice I really can’t stand is using /QRP as a suffix or incessantly calling “QRP QRP” during a pile-up.  Why, if you’re confident that the other station will hear your plea for special consideration, can you not just give your Callsign legally normally and make the QSO in the normal way?  There’s nothing wrong with asking specifically for QRP (or portable) operators but using it as a suffix is pointless.  QRP belongs in the “Notes” section of a station’s logbook, not the “Callsign” part!

The map below shows QSOs (CW, Data, Voice) from my logbook where the power was 15-watts or less.  I’d usually regard 10-watts as the QRP limit but, on JT65, I set the radio to 15w and the audio drive usually pushes about 10-12w out of the radio – and it makes the map more interesting.  JT65 is one of those modes that people either love for its DX ability or get bored of because the rigid QSO format isn’t very “chatty”.  For me, I’ll have a listen from time-to-time but I’m not a regular – However, the fact that I have an operating mode that works several dB below the noise-floor is certainly appreciated.

M0PZT QRP QSOs [July 2016]

It’s a fairly populated map – and you can’t see much of Europe for all the flags, so here’s a version zoomed into EU – Although these QSOs were made with different radios, aerials and home/portable locations – the aerials were always simple wires or verticals: At home it’s a Doublet or Dipole just 15ft up.  For Portable it’s usually an Inverted-V.  No beams, and certainly no more than 15-watts of RF.

M0PZT QRP QSOs Europe - up to July 2016

So – QRP or QRO?  I don’t care which, I only care that I can hear you 🙂