The ARRL 10 Meter Contest is the perfect opportunity for those new to HF to get some fun experience. It is ideally suited to those with Technician licenses because it is the only HF band for which Technicians have phone privileges. The contest also allows contacts between ALL stations, DX as well as US, and for US stations their state is a multiplier. Being from Nebraska, a fairly rare state, is great for us because stations all over the US and world will want to contact you! What could be more fun?
If you have only been licensed in for the past 5 years or so, you may think 10 Meters is a pretty quiet and boring band. Now that Sunspot Cycle 24 is finally ramping up, however, nothing could be further from the truth. As I write this, at 2:00 in the afternoon local time on October 30, 2011, this is what is happening right now on 10 Meters:
As you can see, stations in the United States are "Working the World" on 10 Meters! These plot lines represent the contacts reported by US stations via the DX Packet Cluster system for the 20 minute period from about 2:00 to 2:20 PM local time (map from DX Monitor by VE3SUN).
Even if you aren't particularly interested in contesting, if you are interested in HF operating and contacting distant stations (DXing), working all states (WAS), or just having an exciting time on the radio, the ARRL 10 Meter Contest is something you should definitely put on your calendar!
10 Meters also provides a fairly even playing field. At certain times of the day, propagation on 10 Meters favors the central US, often giving us S9+ signals into Europe, Asia or the Pacific (even with low power and simple antennas) while all the big stations on the US East and West Coasts are struggling to be heard!
Operating During the Contest
The previous sections on contest operating certainly apply to the 10 Meter Contest, but to help you along, here are some more specific guidelines.
In the ARRL 10 Meter Contest, the required exchange varies with a station's location. In the US, all stations give a signal report and their state. That means you would normally say "59 Nebraska" or "59 November Echo" (NE in phonetics). For contacts with other US states, you would expect to receive a similar report: "59 Georgia" or whatever state they are in. If your contact is with a Canadian or Mexican station, they would send you the signal report and their province or state: "59 Ontario" or "59 Colima (COL) for example (practice standard phonetics for this contest!) DX stations, those from outside of the US, Canada or Mexico, will send your signal report and a sequential number, such as "59 1035" (meaning that you are their 1035th contact in the contest). Their country (which is a multiplier) is designated by their call sign prefix, not by telling you as part of the exchange. If you are planning on sending in your log to the ARRL for the contest, you must copy the exchanges correctly and list the country and other info (see the official rules)! If you are just having fun working a few stations and giving them a Nebraska multiplier but you aren't planning to send in your contest log, then it isn't as important for you to copy the number, state or province, but try to anyway...it's good practice.
You can certainly log your contacts on paper, but computer logging makes the process much easier. A computer logging program will keep track of you contacts and provide you with lots of information. It keeps tracks of you contacts so you won't try to work the same station twice (a "dupe" worth no points); it keeps track of your multipliers so you don't have to figure out what country someone is in (there are too many prefix variations for even us old-time DXers to keep memorized!); it automatically calculates your score, tells you where to point your antenna (if you have a beam), shows a band map of contacts and potential contacts, and much more. DX Packet Cluster is also available through contest logging programs, but be aware that using it will put you in the "assisted" category in most contests.
A computer logging program allows you to concentrate on the contact, copy the exchange and find a new station to call without ever picking up a pencil. For the serious contester, I highly recommend N1MM Logger, a free and very full-featured contest logging program. N3FJP also provides very nice logging programs for specific contests for a small share-ware fee. This is a fully competent program which may be a good choice for a beginner.
Official Contest Rules from the ARRL: http://www.arrl.org/10-meter