The Sprint Survival Web Page

"The Sprint - the most fun you can have in 4 hours with your clothes on." - N6TR


This page was put together by some of the sprint veterans as an introduction to this very unique contest.  The information here will make it easy for you to enjoy your initial sprint experience at whatever operating level you are comfortable with.   We will also provide tips which will result in improving your score over time.  

If you have ever heard a big gun like K1AR running Europeans during a DX contest - you have probably wished you had his frequency.  Imagine what would happen if you called John, and after the QSO, John would hand you the frequency.  In the Sprint, this can happen.  In fact, it happens thousands of times in four hours.  Not only would John hand you the frequency (without you even asking), he will be glad you called him.  This unique feature helps put the operator back into the equation.  You can't win a sprint just by sitting on one frequency and pressing the F1 key. 

The Sprints are held in February and September. For exact dates and full rules - check out the NCJ web page by clicking the rules link below.  The CW Sprint is typically on the first Saturday of February, and the Saturday after Labour Day in September.   There are also SSB and RTTY sprints. 

Sprint Rules - from the NCJ Web Site.

Official NCJ Contest Web Page - includes records and e-mail addresses of the editors.

The sprints are held on 20, 40 and 80 meters. The contest starts at 00Z and runs for 4 hours. Most stations start on 20, but in recent sprints, some of the mid-west and east coast stations spend the first fifteen or twenty minutes on 40 meters, and then QSY up to 20 meters. This is done to allow them to work each other before the skip gets too long later in the contest. The only risk to this is that their 20 meter QSO total might suffer. By 0130Z, most of the activity has moved to 40 meters, but you will still find some activity on 20 as late as 0230. It is sometimes a good strategy to QSY back to 20 for a few minutes around 0200 to pick up some potential multipliers. Most stations spend the last hour on 80 meters.

The frequencies typically used on CW are 14020-14060, 7020-7060 and 3520-3560. The top ten kHz is where the slower stations tend to hang out (above the fray). If you are not comfortable at the blazing speeds many of the sprint operators use on CW, your best bet is to go to the top ten kHz and call CQ at a comfortable speed. The good sprint operators will call you at your speed. On SSB, the typical frequencies are 14235-14300, 7190-7250 and 3800-3850.


The Exchange

The exchange is both calls (more about this later), a QSO number, your name and your QTH (state/province/DXCC country). If this was the end of the rules - we would have just another average contest.

The one rule that makes the sprint a whole new experience is the QSY rule. The QSY rule has two parts:

  1. If you are the initiating party of a QSO (i.e., you called CQ) - when you are done with the QSO, you must QSY at least five kHz before you can initiate another QSO.
  2. If you are the initiating party of a QSO, you must QSY at least 1 kHz before you can respond to someone else initiating a QSO.

Initiating a QSO can be done by any of the following means:

This sounds a lot more complicated than it is. Essentially, think of it this way - if you "own" the frequency, after making a QSO, the person you worked now owns the frequency and you have to go find a new one. You can either move 1 kHz and answer someone and then inherit their frequency - or move 5 kHz and call CQ yourself.  

This is obviously a lot different than just CQing away on one frequency. I like to think of it is as rewarding the act of searching and pouncing. If you find someone CQing and call them - you get rewarded by working them - and then having your own frequency for another QSO. Many times, people will call you before you even have a chance to CQ. Sprint champions have figured out that getting two QSOs per frequency is much better than one - and are eager to find stations they can call as they are finishing up a QSO.

To help illustrate how this all works, we have some sound files that will step you through the process.  You can also practice a couple of nights before the contest in the NS Sprint warm-ups that are typically announced on the cq-contest reflector. 


When to Send Your Call

The Sprint rules require you to not only send the call sign of the station you are working as part of the exchange – but also your call sign.  You may notice that sometimes stations send their call sign at the beginning of the exchange and sometimes at the end of the exchange.  What's up with that?  Because of the QSY rule described elsewhere on this page, one of the stations in the QSO will be leaving the frequency after the contact is over – and the other station will be staying on the frequency for the next QSO.  A simple “trick” has been developed to help you figure out not only who it is that will be staying on the frequency – but when it will be okay to call them.

If you tune into someone sending an exchange – and you hear it end without any call signs being sent – you have just tuned the middle of a QSO.  The station that was just was sending that exchange will be the one leaving the frequency after the QSO is complete.  However, if you tune into a station that is sending an exchange – and he finishes it with a callsign – you have just heard the callsign of the station who will be staying on the frequency after the QSO is completed.  If this is someone you would like to work – you will want to be ready to call them when the time is right.  The right time would be right after the other station acknowledges that they have received the exchange and the QSO is complete.  The right time could also be after the station staying on the frequency calls a CQ. 

In summary, if you hear someone send an exchange with two call signs in a row or that ends with a QTH, that station is not the one that will be available for you to work after the QSO.  Listen for the responding station's exchange that should end with their call sign - they are the station you can call and work.  The QSO example below will demonstrate this trick and it should become second nature after a little practice. 

If you are using logging software, create two different messages for your exchange; one to use when you are the one initiating the contact (by calling CQ or QRZ), and a second to use when you are the station answering a CQ and will stay on frequency to make another QSO.  For example, N1MM and TR Log software refers to the first as the "CQ Exchange" and the second as the "S&P Exchange".


CW Sprint QSO Example

Fasten your seat belts and listen to two consecutive CW QSOs in the sprint. These are actual, off the air, QSOs. After you have listened to it once, we will break it down into pieces and explain what is going on. This is a big file - so it will take a few seconds to download. The rest of the files are much shorter.

Click here to listen to two consecutive CW sprint QSOs take place on the same frequency

Okay - hopefully that didn't blow you away too badly. Keep in mind that you can approach the sprint at a CW speed you are comfortable with by simply calling CQ at that speed.

Okay - let's listen to this again - but a small part each time – with an explanation about what you are hearing. 

The first thing that happened, is that N6TR is tuning around the band and hears K6LA sending an exchange. He hears "43 KEN CA".

Click here to listen to K6LA sending his exchange as N6TR tunes in his signal.  “43 KEN CA”

It is interesting to note that K6LA did NOT send his call sign at the end of the exchange.  This is done on purpose as makes it clear to N6TR that this is not the time to dump in his call sign.  What happens next is that the station K6LA is working will send his exchange.

Click here to listen to K5TR sending his exchange to K6LA  “K6LA 56 GEO TX K5TR”

Note that K5TR sends both call signs as required by the Sprint rules – however, he sends K6LA’s call sign at the start of his transmission and his own call at the end.  This is an indication that the end of the QSO is near – and K5TR will be ready to receive new callers. 

Before N6TR can dump his call sign in – there is one last bit of business to occur.  K6LA indicates that he has received K5TR’s exchange by sending something.  In this case – he sends a couple of dits.  N6TR is quick to dump his call sign in just as the second dit starts.

Click here to listen to K5TR sending his call sign at the end of his exchange – K6LA sending “dit dit” and N6TR dumping in his call sign.  “K5TR”  “DIT DIT”  “N6TR”

K5TR comes back to N6TR and sends his exchange.  Note that he now sends both call signs at the start of the exchange – again indicating to anyone else tuning in that the QSO is only half over.  

Click here to listen to K5TR sending his exchange to N6TR  “N6TR K5TR 57 GEO TX”

Click here to listen to N6TR sending his exchange to K5TR  “K5TR 53 TREE OR N6TR”

When N6TR is done, K5TR will QSL the QSO with “TU”.  Just after this is done, K7NV dumps in his call sign to try and get N6TR’s attention.

Click here to listen to N6TR sending his call sign at the end of his exchange – K5TR sending “TU” and then K7NV dumping in his call sign

Note that if K7NV had not called in – N6TR would have simply called a CQ or two until someone else did call. 

Click here to listen to N6TR send his exchange to K7NV “K7NV N6TR 54 TREE OR  (Both calls at the start since the QSO is only half over)

Click here to listen to K7NV sending his exchange to N6TR “N6TR 40 KURT NV K7NV  (His call sign at the end indicating the QSO is almost over)

Once again – the location of the call signs in an indicator to other stations on just how far along the QSO is.  When Kurt sends “K7NV” at the end of his exchange – he letting other stations know he is ready to listen for them. 

Click here to listen to N6TR sending “TU” and tuning off the frequency as someone does call K7NV

This whole process - including the last half of the QSO with K6LA and K5TR took under 40 seconds. 

Listen one more time to the whole thing (it won't take any time to download since it is in your cache now).

Remember, if you are more comfortable operating at 15, 20 or 25 WPM, the best thing to do is call CQ at the speed you want to send at. The good operators will QRS to your speed and call you. A good place to do this is above the main activity on 14050-14060, 7050-7060 and 3550-3560. This is where sprint operators look for the slower stations. You will typically find less QRM on these frequencies as well.

If you are interested in knowing more - here are some other places to check out. 

How to finish a QSO in the CW Sprint - N6TR
CW Sprinting - Beginners Guide - W4AN
Some Sprint CW Practice- K5TR
Two Radios in The Sprint (a TR Log perspective) - N6TR
Sprint Tips for N1MM Logger Users – N2IC


We hope this introduction will make your sprint experience more enjoyable. If you have specific questions or ideas on how to improve this introduction, please send e-mail to tree@kkn dot net and we will get right back to you.

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