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With a QRP station built, set up and ready to go, the next stage is to consider the best way to operate the station. Using QRP power, it is not as easy to compete with stations using hundreds of watts, so operating skills are key.
QRP operating is an ideal way to hone your skills - making the most of your station and using it to gain the best from the QRP equipment that you have to hand.
When operating QRP you must know your station and what it is capable of, how to use it to its best, and also using intellect in your operating skills to secure the contacts you want.
Key QRP operating techniques & skills
Although QRP follows the normal operating procedures for amateur radio, it does require that operating skills are honed and that ingenuity and good techniques are employed to gain the most and best contacts.
- Know your station: One of the first requirements is to know your station. Know how it operates so you understand what you are doing and so you can respond quickly and also use it to its best. Knowing its limitations, knowing the technology used so that it can be used in the best way all makes sure that the best use can be made of the equipment.
Practice obviously helps, but having an understanding of some fo the basic performance issues can essential - even down to how to get the transmitter on the same frequency as the receiver if separates are being used. Checking that the transmitter is being monitored on the right side of the receiver image if a direct conversion set is used. All these and many other little attributes ca help make the operation of the station much more effective.
- Optimise the antenna: It goes without saying, that reducing the power level to the accepted QRP levels will make it harder to be heard. However the antenna is the area where some of this handicap can be reduced. Making sure the antenna is operating to its best will ensure that the most is made of the available power.
Ensuring that the antenna is as high as possible; especially the radiating portion of the antenna. Most of the radiation occurs at the portions of the antenna where the current is at its maximum. Ensuring these sections of the antenna are as high as possible will make a difference. For a centre fed half-wave dipole, this will be at the centre, and for this reason the inverted V dipole works well.
Also ensure that any coax that is used does not introduce any noticeable loss helps. In many cases at HF, coax loss is likely to be low unless long lengths are used, or if the coax is old and has deteriorated.
All these points and more can ensure that the most use is made of the power that is generated.
- CW or phone: Although it is possible to use both CW (Morse) and Phone (SSB), I have always found CW to be far more effective. It is possible to gain many more contacts using QRP on CW than SSB.
Not only is it possible to use much simpler equipment for CW, but it is also much easier to operate this at lower signal strength levels. Also as the equipment for CW is simpler, it is much easier to build if this is one of the aims.
- Call other stations: Calling other stations rather than calling CQ works is one of the major operating approaches that should virtually always be used. Calling other stations works far, far better - unless you have a huge antenna that can pack a great signal with others, then it is much better to listen, pick the right station to call, and then try tog et through. Even this won't always be easy but it works much better.
Normally other stations respond to CQ calls when the signals are strong and there is some compelling reason to call. If a weak station is calling CQ, then very few others will stop and call. By selecting a staton to call, the chances of a response are much higher. Anyone calling CQ with a QRP station is likely to have to make a very large number of CQ calls before there is a response.
- Listen: One of the key concepts in successful QRP operating is to listen. By listening it is possible to select the right station to call and then pick the right moment.
Listening also enables you to get a "feel" for the conditions. Some propagation conditions will mean it is harder work to get through than others. This may not be scientifically reasoned, but it seems to be the way things work out.
- Select the right moment : One of the key skills for any QRP operator is to select the right moment to call - being quick to start to transmit, but not calling all the time and causing nuisance. Often jumping in just after the end of a contact or just at the end of a CQ call can help.
- Understand radio propagation & current conditions: When operating QRP, it pays to know the different characteristics of the different bands and also under what conditions contacts are best made. Sometimes it appears easier to make contacts than others. Learning about propagation, and then getting a feel for the conditions and how they can be best used will enable a far grater level of success.
- Use QRP frequencies: Special QRP frequencies are allowed on the HF bands for QRP operation for both CW and SSB. Operating around these frequencies will mean that other QRP operators are likely to be listening. Remember these frequencies are centres of activity so activity takes place on and around these frequencies.
As many QRP operators use crystal controlled transmitters, they may not be on exactly the QRP frequency. In any case it is not wise for everyone to be on exactly the same frequency as interference would result. Moving off slightly can may mean that a particular interfering station may no longer be a problem.
- Practice Morse: In view of the advantages offered by Morse / CW, it is well worth becoming proficient in the use of CW. Using CW for QRP operating will bring many more contacts than using SSB or most other modes.
Although Morse / CW can seem a bit daunting at first, it does not take too long to to get up to speed and become a proficient operator. Fortunately most QRP operators do not send too fast - many of them tend to use hand keys rather than automatic keyers and this makes using CW much easier, especially for those who may be newcomers.
- Knowing the procedures: It helps to know not only the standard operating procedures that need to be used, but also possibly the way in which a particular station or operating works. Knowing this helps anticipate what they may want to hear, or when they will listen, etc.
Operating QRP gives some really stimulating challenges. With many QRP operators also choosing to make their own equipment, it provides an interesting element fo the hobby which fascinates many people.
It can take a little while to learn some of the finer skills of QRP, low power amateur radio operating, but the best ways are always to listen and practice. In this way one's skills will steadily improve.