Practice, practice

I’ll skip the usual joke about asking for directions to Carnegie Hall, but the advice to practice is just as valid, whether it’s music or ham radio.

With the publication of the 2017 ARRL November Sweepstakes results, I checked the score database and my log checking report to see how badly I was nicked this year. I was pleasantly surprised.

It doesn’t approach the sub-1% error rates of the top contesters, but my score reduction of 1.9% was my smallest ever for Sweepstakes, which of course has a tortured and difficult exchange hearkening back to its origins as a message-handling competition. One has to send and receive a five-part sequence of numbers and abbreviations (six if you count the superfluous and annoying “please copy”), and all must be copied 100% correctly in order to receive credit for the contact.

The fact that I had only muffed four QSOs – two on the check (year first licensed) and two on the serial number, meant that my CW skills – and specifically my Achilles heel, numbers – has improved substantially.

I think I can attribute it to the weekly practice I get from participating in the CW Ops Mini-CWT contests. Three one-hour sessions each Wednesday, at an average speed of 30 wpm, provides a great way to improve your skills copying calls, numbers and names. Admittedly, I have a mental “pre-fill” for many of the regular participants, but will usually work many for whom I need a mental jog or haven’t worked in a long time.

My first few times competing in Sweepstakes saw a quarter of my QSOs tossed out because I didn’t copy everything correctly. I was just thrilled to be making lots of contacts! But in a contest, speed and accuracy work hand in hand – and of the two, accuracy is more important than speed.  You don’t do yourself, or the other guy, any favors by being a sloppy operator. Your log checking reports can be helpful in showing where you need to improve, and getting on the air regularly and practicing is the best way to notch up your skills and satisfaction.