VHF Contesting School — What bands and frequencies to use

    The bread and butter band of any VHF/UHF contest is 2 meters.   A very close 2nd is 6 meters.   Farther behind is 70cm, and 4th would be 1.25 meters. 

    With 2 and 6 meters being most popular, that’s why I’m so gung-ho about getting new folks involved.   If you’re reading this email, you almost undoubtedly have 2 and/or 6 meters.   So you can contest, even without any experience.   Don’t worry about someone who has 3, or 4 or more bands and big antennas.   Everyone has to start somewhere.

     First off, this is important:  No contesting on repeaters.  Also, no contesting on the national 2 meter simplex calling channel of 146.520.   You also avoid 146.505 and 146.535, to give room for 146.520.
     Now you know where NOT to contest.   You also don’t use FM mode in the SSB/CW portion of the bands, and vice versa.    Remember that SSB uses horizontally polarized antennas, and FM vertical.   It is OK to answer someone using the opposite polarity.   If you can hear ’em, work ’em. 
     Here’s info on each band:
   ** 2 meters: **  SSB call freq. is 144.200.  Tune between roughly 144.150-144.250 for contest activity.   Don’t hog 144.200, but certainly feel free to use or monitor it.   Especially in a contest, it’s good amateur practice to keep contacts short on the call freq.    Don’t use FM on 144.  
        On FM, lots of hams use 146.550 simplex to call.   146.580 is the 2nd choice.   Again, if it seems busy, don’t be afraid to spread out.  In more sparsely populated areas, you’re probably best off having everyone meet on 146.550,  and 146.580 can be used if you need elbow room.  If those get too crowded, also go to 146.490, down to as low as 146.400.   Use only FM on 146 or 147 simplex.    Simplex frequencies are only between 146.400-146.580 and 147.420-147.570.   Stay within these limits.   Don’t want to hit any repeater inputs, and remember to leave 146.520 alone.  

  ** 6 meters: **  SSB call freq. is 50.125.  On 6, you can only go up from 50.125.  Don’t do domestic contesting between 50.110 and 50.125.   It’s reserved for the DX window.   If, for some reason, you hear a Mexican, Puerto Rican or Caribbean station there, go right ahead and work them.  And then congratulate yourself on stumbling into your first DX on 6 meters!  
     You may hear some guys contest in the DX window anyway.  Don’t hassle anyone about it — just know that you work USA only on 50.125 and above.   Up to about 50.170-50.200. 
     Action can spread out above 50.200 if it truly gets hectic with a good band opening.   Pray for this.  🙂   Use only SSB or CW from 50.100-50.300.   There are beacons below 50.080, and you may hear them.    Don’t op in that area from 50.000-50.080, leave it alone for the beacons. 
    A great source of 6m info is at www.smirk.org.   The 6m bandplan, plus the reasoning behind it is at this link:  http://www.smirk.org/opaids.html

     6 meter FM call freq. is 52.525.  I’ve never done much here, but I know some do. 
     If you’ve got a 6 meter rig that is FM only, then put this in play for the contest, same as you would with 146.55 FM.

    If 6 meters opens up with sporadic E skip, then you’re going to have some REAL FUN.  Stations may suddenly come in from Florida, Texas, New York, anywhere.   Then you need to spread out because in a big E skip opening during a contest, activity can go up to 50.300.   While this is rare during winter, it is common during summer, and it’s a ball!   I know guys also enjoy sporadic Es on 52 MHz FM; I’ve just always been an SSB guys on 6.   It’s all good.
     I always keep a rig tuned in the background to 6 meters during any contest.   50.125 is probably best if you’re just monitoring.  Once 50.125 comes alive with skip, you want to spread out, up the band, and find a place to call CQ.   Or do search and pounce, if that’s your style.
     E skip can happen “THAT” suddenly.  In 6 years of contesting I’ve had many times where 6 was open for hours on end during the summer.   You can work 70, 80, 100 grid squares and 20, 30 states in an afternoon and evening.   That alone is a good reason to start VHF contesting.   If you’ve never given 6 a chance, you’re missing out.   Even marginal antennas work lots of DX in strong E skip openings.   Talking single loops, dipoles, sometimes even mobile whips.   You’d be amazed.  

     **1.25 meters.**  I like calling this band 222 or 223.   I know plenty of guys who have FM equipment for 223.   I know this because I make the most FM contacts in a contest (remember, I’m primarily SSB when contesting) on either 146 or 223.   I will call CQ Contest occasionally on 223.5 FM, just in case someone’s listening.   I suggest you do the same.
    222 SSB call frequency is 222.100.   Problem with beginners and 222 SSB is that it’s hard to find rigs with SSB capability for 222.  So while 222 is a great band with better propagation than 144, it’s a bit of an orphan.  Nobody in the USA makes a commercially available rig for 222 SSB.  You have to find a vintage Yaesu FT-736R or 726R, (plus make sure the 736R or 726R you are looking at has the optional 222 band module) or you have to use an IF rig with a transverter.  Which is beyond beginning contesting.
   If anyone is interested in getting on 222 SSB, ask me or any other experienced contester for help.  It’s a great band.  (EDIT — January 2009.   We now are getting some nationwide activity on 222 Tuesdays, which are every Tuesday evening.   Not a contest; just a general activity night where you get on, call CQ, try to make contacts on/near 222.100 SSB/CW or 223.500 FM simplex.  It’s for everyone, everywhere.  Spread the word.)   

   ** 70 centimeters.**  I call this band 432 (SSB) or 440 (FM).   Because gear for 432 SSB is commercially available (it’s often included on the newer HF rigs, along with 6 and 2) this band is more popular than 222 in contests.
    On 70cm SSB 432.100 is the call frequency.  You may bump into activity between 432.070 and 432.130 with SSB.  You may also hear some activity on or near the 446.00 FM Simplex call frequency.  My 446.000 FM is poor, but I do know a few contest Q’s get made there.   70cm is really a nice band.   One advantage is it’s often a good predictor of enhanced conditions.    I’m not a propagation expert, but my understanding is that when the band is improving like it often does in the evening or early morning, the higher bands like 1296, 900 or 432 MHz will improve before the lower bands do.    The trick (as always — sigh) is finding someone to work.  
     I know I’ve gabbed a few times with guys 100-200 miles away on 432, and in the course of a half hour or so, their signals can go from S1-S2, up to S9 or higher, as the band improves.   It’s not as dramatic as Eskip on 6, but it is a lot of fun when you can tell it’s happening.     So definitely use 432 or 440 in a contest, and by all means, try to promote more activity on it during day-to-day use.      

      I would say 100% of contesters have 2 meters, 80-90% also have 6, about 20-30% have 222 or 223, and about 30-50% have 432.    Yagis for higher bands have smaller footprints, and sharper beamwidths.    Accurate pointing becomes very important.   I’ve heard guys who wondered if their 432 was broken, when all of  a sudden someone pointed their way.    For what it’s worth, there isn’t much day-to-day activity on 432 at all.   It comes alive during contests, and band openings, mostly.  
     There are some 432 nets scattered across the USA.    The northeast, undoubtedly.   I know North Carolina just celebrated a 30th anniversary.   Google W4DEX for that one.    Rocky Mountain VHF out of Denver area has 432.100 activity every Wed. night.   In a large area of the Midwest, you want to listen for N4PZ out of EN52gb, just west of Rockford, IL, at 8pm central on Monday nights.   Very big 432 station, and he usually stirs up 8-15 guys.  
      Some guys are attracted to almost exclusively the higher or microwave bands, and if you are leaning this way, let me know and I can steer you in the right direction.    Talking about bands above 432 MHz is beyond the beginner level. 

      For beginners, these are the 4 bands you need to concern yourself with for any VHF/UHF contest.  Even if you have only 2 meters, go right ahead and contest!  Spread the word with your buddies.   It’s no fun unless it’s active. 

     The next article is going to give some valuable tips on how to put this info to practical use.  In other words, how actual contesters do things in a contest.

One Response to “VHF Contesting School — What bands and frequencies to use”

  1. JD Says:

    Nice bunch of articles Todd. I’m going to have to put a link up on the front the Bandit website, so folks can go directly to it. Way too m uch good content to go unnoticed. Thanks for the huge effort to help folks along and motivate the rest of us.
    73 JD/N0IRS