You may ask “QRP? What is this all about?”, or better yet as quoted in a 1990’s QST, “Why would anyone except a masochist want to operate with less than 5 W output?” For those who already know, I may not be shedding any great insights to Low Power operation (or your obsession), but this article is really about my first time contesting experience running Low Power or QRP.

On the ARRL website http://www.arrl.org/qrp-low-power-operating Low Power Operation is introduced as: QRP is both a popular technical and operating challenge. Low power transmitters and transceivers are widely popular construction projects — they can be affordable yet challenging to build. With power efficient modes like CW and PSK31, a skilled operator can work the globe! Many operators have qualified for awards like WAS, WAC, and DXCC, with no more than a QRP rig connected to simple wire antennas.

Many contests operate CW and SSB Phone under the same QRP rules of 5W Peak Envelope Power (PEP). This means you have to watch your power out of your radio and make sure you stay within the operating parameters. Some contests have different QRP rules for SSB than CW. It pays to take your time to read and understand the rules prior to operation; you may find exceptions that benefit you.

Five (5) watts PEP out doesn’t mean 5 watts at the antenna. Overlooked breakdowns in efficiency can reduce your transmitted signal. A simple vertical antenna is most likely going to be less efficient in gain and direction than a high-gain Yagi. DB gain counts! Also, before you get to your antenna, transmission line loss is something that will eat away at your precious power. But what if you are in a place where all you have is a vertical or less. Will that reduce the fun of QRP? No, the challenge is in improving your skill.


K6GHA’s Modest Antenna

Think of running QRP like lagging pennies. Anyone can throw a penny at a wall, but it takes skill and constancy to know how to be the one closest and win. QRP requires a lot more operating skill from timing the pileup (as in most contests), patience to work a distant station everyone else is trying to work, and choosing the right time when conditions are best for you to be heard in the crowd.

THE EVENT – Contacting King Henry (KH) Land
Well… the truth? I didn’t know anything about what I have just told you before deciding to run QRP for the Hawaiian QSO Party (HQP) the last weekend in August. Like usual, at the last minute, I decided to try something that would set me out from the rest. I felt I had an edge over the other 49 states being in closer proximity to Hawaii. And besides, thinking of warm water, clean sandy beaches, Kona Coffee, fresh pineapples, and an evening Luau was just a great way to start a contest!

As usual, I began my planning Friday knowing the contest started at 04:00 UTC. And, sporting a nice Hilo Hattie’s Aloha shirt, I showed up to start my run … six hours late! Reminder to self…, get your UTC act together and add another date clock set to UTC in your shack! (Oh, what a lid)! Well after a stumbling start, getting up and running in the contest took only a few minutes to figure out the only band working was 20M. Conditions change throughout the contest, so when one band falls off, you don’t hang around trying to eke out that last contact. Remember you are QRP… LOW POWER. Change frequency and look for better conditions. In fact, when conditions were poor on all bands to Hawaii, I was able to capture some really distant contacts where I could run at full power outside of the contest. Contacts to places like South Africa, French Polynesia, and the Cook Islands. Why was I able to do that? Because my antenna was already pointing in their direction and their signal was overpowering anything from Hawaii! So I knew the skip would prevent me from making any QRP contacts. I was using the down time in conditions in the HQP to pick up some great DX stations I had not logged before.

The contacts to Hawaii were a bit more difficult than I experienced when operating with full power (100w). Your normal 2nd or 3rd time (maybe 4-5 or more) of trying to break a pileup, now with QRP, becomes a test of will and determination, or just bull headedness. Sometimes 15 to 20 calls to break in aren’t enough. I worked one contact (because of rarity) for 30 minutes until the lull in the pileup allowed me to sneak in. Confirmation of my QSO (contact) required multiple iterations of my call sign, signal report and/or state on most contacts. I commend the good ears of the operators at the other end of the signal, most kept with me. I will also respect QRP callers more the next time I am running a frequency. Hint: Say ‘QRP’ when you send your call. You are more likely to get someone who will help you through bad conditions or a rough contact if they know you are running low power.

The highs and lows of any contest are just the same. Capturing an elusive contact, being the first to respond to a call and getting the QSO on the first call, working some great (or strange locations), make it a lot of hard earned fun.

Around midnight my time, I contacted NH6YK who was looking down on lava flows from around 6-7000 feet on the side of a volcano, running off a portable generator.

Tip: Look on the web for Announced Operations for a contest. Those announcements will give you clues on times, frequencies, and special locations for you to listen to get that cool call or location. The Hawaiian Island QSO Party offer up some great contact locations; Military bases, volcanoes, historical parks, and a WWII battle ship are just a few.

Never having a baseline for operating QRP allowed me a confidence only found in ignorance. Using the previous year’s winner of QRP contacts, I set my sights at besting those levels. The good news, after hours of operation I finally did. The bad news…after submitting my log, I won’t find out for a while if it was good enough! The best news, I really learned a lot more than I bargained for, and improved my operating skills to boot! But, I know I couldn’t have done it without the friendly help of the clubs and people of Hawaii. I had a great time working my first QRP contest, and appreciate the great ears and willingness to ‘dig out my signal’ by those stations participating. A few stations including KH7T, KH6BB, and KH6QJ allowed me to make multi-band contacts. However, a special thanks to NK6YK for working the top of the volcano, and the team at KH6LC who made it possible to log contacts on 4 out of 5 SSB bands. Where else do you end a QSO with “ALOHA”! It makes every contact a short trip to paradise.

Till next year, 73 and Mahalo

Don, K6GHA