The September edition of the North American CW Sprint, sponsored by National Contest Journal (NCJ), is this weekend. The often-frantic 4-hour event gets under way on Sunday, September 13, at 0000 UTC (Saturday, September 12 in North American time zones). CW Sprints take place twice a year, in September and February; RTTY Sprints are in March and September.
“The CW Sprint can seem intimidating, particularly the first couple of times with its loud signals and high-code speed, but there are some secrets to getting the hang of things,” said veteran contester and contest manager Ward Silver, N0AX. A unique feature of the CW Sprint is the QSY rule, which rewards operating agility as much as signal strength. Big gun stations can’t sit on a single frequency racking up contacts, and more modest stations can make that work in their favor. “Participation in the year’s CW contests has been on the upswing as people are staying home due to the pandemic,” Silver added, noting that the September contest offers some solid practice ahead of the various fall contests, especially ARRL November Sweepstakes.
Silver notes that band conditions during the September Sprint are an incentive for operators to put more emphasis on 20 meters than in the February Sprint, since sunset is much later in September. “We will also be just a week from the equinox, a time when conditions are usually pretty good on 20 and 40 meters,” he pointed out. Eighty meters will be less noisy than in mid-summer, and if the thunderstorms take a day off, we can expect coast-to-coast activity.”
Silver urged Sprint veterans to encourage fellow hams and club members to give it a try. “Teams are fun, too, especially for new contesters and contest club members,” he noted. For the Sprint and for other NCJ-sponsored events, teams are self-organized — and often humorously named — groups of operators who compile individual scores under a single entity. Teams do not have to be associated with formal clubs.
The QSY rule can be daunting for newcomers. In short, a station calling CQ on a new, clear frequency may work one responding station on that frequency and then must move at least 5 kHz before calling CQ again, and at least 1 kHz before initiating another contact, either by calling CQ or by responding to another station. The responding station inherits the initial frequency.
The exchange is both call signs, a consecutive serial number, name, and state/province/DX. Listening stations can tell which station in a contact to call by listening to call sign placement in the exchange, as Silver describes in “Conversation: Having Fun in the North American CW Sprint,” in the September 2 issue of the ARRL Contest Update.
Sprint newcomers may also want to read the article, “Sprints: the Indy 500 of Radiosport,” by Jim George, N3BB, in the February 2019 issue of QST. The online article, “The Sprint Survival Web Page,” by Tree Tyree, N6TR, is a helpful tutorial on the ins and outs of the NCJ Sprint.