Single Operator Assisted is a relative popular entry category for FRC members. Most of our members have access to the packet cluster, and many choose to be connected during contests.
There are numerous reasons for entering the assisted categories. Some individuals enjoy the category and compete in a serious attempt to win. Many others use packet in hopes of improving their score for the club aggregate competition. Among those trying to improve their club contribution are some that are challenged working one mode or another. Individuals with poor CW skill have used packet to find stations to work. This is risky, since such individuals may have trouble confirming that they have found the spotted station and that the call is correct. Some have combined code readers with packet and made significant contributions to the club score. Most people who have used this technique have eventually gained significant CW skills, so there are additional benefits to the points made. Some of us have difficult understanding calls on SSB, and again packet has been used to help clarify calls. Again there is a high risk of logging errors, and good knowledge of DX calls and active stations can make up for auditory deficiencies. It is important to try to improve as many skills as possible, even if you are using packet as a major source of contacts in your effort. ALWAYS REMEMBER that many packet spots have the call wrong. It is your responsibility to get it right!
Far more individuals are using packet to try to improve on the scores they would usually expect to make. Logic tells us that additional information, such as packet spots, should make for bigger scores. In most cases the top single op entrants exceed the scores of the top assisted entrants. This can be explained to some degree by the fact that most of the best operators, with the best stations prefer to enter the single op class, rather than the assisted class; however, in some cases experienced single ops have done worse when trying the assisted category. It is important to uses packet to supplement your score rather than depend on it for most of your effort.
If you have one radio, you should attempt to run as much as possible, never give up a productive frequency to chase spots. You can use packet to show you where activity is, perhaps aiding in your choice of which band to be on at any given time. When you are not running, packet can direct you to more multipliers, more quickly. Be careful not to get in a pattern where you must wait in a large pileup for each contact. You can chase spots across the band, or do a normal S&P using spots to identify dupes or needed contacts more quickly. Many times the frequency split is announced, so when working 40/80 SSB, you can work stations much more quickly than the unassisted operator can.
For those interested in single op two radio, the assisted class makes this very productively without requiring all the energy and skills needed to operate two radios without packet. The ideal situation is to maintain a run frequency, while picking up spots on the second radio. As your skills increase you will be able to pick up contacts on the second radio without leaving your run frequency for a detectable amount of time. Most contest software now permits quickly dropping your call in on the second radio by interrupting your CQ, when you make the contact or fail to make the contact, you quickly resume your CQ and run. In general, early in a contest it is harder to break the packet pileups. It is usually most effective to only work the easiest stations early in the contest. Operators that are slow, not working their pileup smoothly, will usually cost you your run frequency, if you pursue them very hard. Most SOA participants miss out on really big scores because they fail to make enough QSOs to take advantage of their inflated multipliers. Just a few multipliers will help your score, if they are contacts you would never have made without packet; however, concentrating on multipliers and not QSOs can be quite detrimental to your potential score.
Knowing that there is lots or neat DX on other bands is the chief DISTRACTION caused by packet. Most of us really struggle to work 40 meter long path DX in the morning. Most of the time we have to be running on 20, 15, or 10 shortly after sunrise. Going back to 40 will kill your rate. If you can pick up a few of these mults and still run 150/hr to Europe, that is fine.
However; chasing these mults can be the difference between winning the SOA class (and maybe keeping up with the real Single Ops) and working more multipliers, but making a smaller score. Packet assisted stations should work all of the DXpeditions and multi ops on all the bands. Knowing which DXpeditions are out there (especially FRC DXpeditions which give us points from both ends of the QSO), should let you bide your time and pick them up quickly as the contest progresses. You may want to catch the single op DXpeditioners earlier in the contest, in case they don't get back to a band. I f the op is sharp, grab him quickly and get him in the log. Again, knowing when you can get in and out without wasting your time or losing your run frequency, is the most important skill in making a big SOA score.
When the contest is over you should have all the easy mults on all the bands, it is not important (unless making new band countries for your DXCC is your main goal) to work ANYTHING GOOD. Garden variety stuff can account for a very big multiplier total if it is spread out over all the bands. Your goal should be to make as many contacts as possible with your station and skill level, and supplement it with an extra 10 % multiplier total. Something in this range will make you quite competitive in the SOA class, based on your station capabilities and your personal operating abilities.
To wrap up; your best score will be made when you judiciously supplement your best single op effort with help from packet. First, add multipliers without hurting your rate, either have a fast QSY station and grab easy mults between run QSOs, or use a second station to grab extra mults, interspersed with your run QSOs. Second, remember to work split QSOs (and include the QSX frequency in your spots) on 40/80 SSB. Third, augment your search and pounce with packet spots. Use the display needed QSOs mode on your contest logging software and either chase the freshest spots if you are successful, or perhaps start with the oldest spots. I prefer to tune the band looking for QSOs and knowing what is on as I tune. You can work unspotted things (and spot them), as well as pick up the spots in a more orderly fashion. (you probably will jump right to new mults as they are spotted when in S&P mode, assuming you don't wait too long in the pileups).
In addition to potentially improving your score through spotted information; packet can help keep you interested in the contest. The ability to chat now and then with your fellow participants can help keep you going during slow times. You may or may not like to know how the competition is doing. If you do, many ops will share their score with you, if you tend to become discouraged when you are running behindů.don't ask!
There is no substitute for time at the rig. Getting on and chasing packet spots for a few hours, probably is NOT the most effective way to build up some points for the club. Always try to maximize your QSO total, while working mults rapidly, without spending a lot of time in pileups.
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