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CW Sprinting - Beginners Guide

Bill Fisher (W4AN) on August 30, 2001
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The North American CW Sprint is one of the most competitive contests running.It is, the contest of operators.It can be, and has been, won from just about every part of the country.At the same time, the CW Sprint can be very intimidating to newcomers.I hope this document will serve to help relieve the stress associated with operating the CW Sprint, and get a few more people active in the best contest in radio.


One of the first things to do before operating the CW Sprint is getting acquainted with the rules:

The CW Sprint has a QSY rule that prevents contestants from Cqing on the same frequency over and over.In the CW Sprint if you work a station by calling CQ , you must QSY at least 5KC before you can callCQ again or at least 1KC before calling another station.

Mental Preparation

The CW Sprint is the hardest contest you will operate.As such, you should focus on personal accomplishment and improvement rather than comparing yourself with others.The only number that matters is the one you are sending.The CW Sprint can bevery rewarding as you watch yourscores improve nearly every time you operate the contest.


Stay relaxed.This is just a four hour contest, and there will be another one in six months for you to try again.Staying relaxed may help your score as much as anything.

CW Speed � Don�t Let Em Get You Down!

One of the first things you will figure out in operating the CW Sprint is that the average CW speed is much higher than most contests.If the speeds are intimidating, that doesn�t mean you can�t play.It just means you may have to play the game differently than the others.

Because of the Sprint QSY rule, most competitorsfindsearching and pouncing(S&P) for new QSOs to be more rewarding , than it is to call Cq.S&P QSOs generally make for two quick QSOs per frequency rather than one.If you aren�t comfortable S&Ping, given the higher speeds -you should callCQ.If you CQ you have the advantage of being able to set your own pace by calling CQ at a speed you are comfortable copying � you will be in a position of control.I suggest picking a frequency either high or low in the band, and calling CQ at a speed that you can handle.If someone answers you at a speed you can�t handle, even if you copy their callsign correctly, ask them to QRS.When they return at a comfortable speed, send them your report.Remember�they want your QSO!You be the boss.

Once the QSO is completed, you will have to QSY 5 KC to CQ again.I suggest programming two frequencies in your radio.One at the top of the band, and another at the bottom.Just alternate between your VFOs with CQs.

Band Strategy

Most of the activity in the Sprint will be on 20M at the start of the contest and gradually work down to 80M by the end of the contest.If you are feeling intimidated by the fast pace of 20M at the start, you might try 40M.Plenty of guys spend time on 40 right from the start.Then, when the bees start buzzing on 40, move back up to 20.You will find everyone has slowed down, and the contest may be more comfortable.This would be an excellent time to S&P if you haven�t done so already.

Later in the contest, you may try going to 80M early (around 0230Z).Then when activity and rate is high on 80 (normally starting at 0300Z), try going back to 40.

Exchange Format

The QSY rule makes it advantageous to send your report in a manner that gives others listening to your QSO information about who will have the frequency next.If you call CQ, you should send your report as follows:



K5ZD W4AN 357 Bill GA

If you find a station S&Ping, then at the completion of the QSO the frequency will be yours.In this case, you will want to send your callsign last so people on frequency know you are the person to call.


K5ZD 357 Bill GA W4AN

This is simply done by programming different CW memories with different messages.

Also remember, you MUST send the callsign of the station you are working and your callsign with each QSO.

Asking For Fills

Sometimes you will need to ask a station for a fill.In the Sprint, this can be a trick because of anxious stations calling the station you are working.If you need a fill of information and the frequency begins to fill with people calling the person you are trying to work, I suggest sending a string of dits followed by your question.The dits will likely be picked up by the station you are working and by others on frequency, allowing you to complete the QSO.However, if you are unable to get the information�don�t guess.Remove the QSO from your log.Log checking is very stringent in the Sprint, and it is better to be safe than sorry.It is as much the responsibility of the station you are working to complete the QSO as it is yours.

Two Radios?

If you are new to the CW Sprint, don�t bother with two radios.Although some of the top-ten finishers will have more than 100 band changes during the four hour contest, there will be others with less than 10.Top scores in this contest have been made in recent years with as few as two band changes.Keep it simple.

Low Power?

Hey, guess what?The CW Sprint has low-power and QRP categories!You don�t need an amplifier to join the fun and you will be surprised at some of the big numbers people put up with low power and wire antennas.


One of the first considerations for doing the CW Sprint is software.Although you may be surprised to learn that several often-time top-ten finishers are using paper, pencil and dupe sheet.

TRLog:TRLog is very well suited for doing the Sprint.If you are already using TR, then you shouldn�t have much trouble adapting it for the Sprint.N6TR has written a Sprint how-to with TRLog that you should also read before starting.

NA:K8CC�s NA also supports the Sprint.NA has built-in Sprint logic that automates some of the finer points of operating the contest.

CT: K1EA's CT now supports the Sprint and has built-in logic to send the exchange in the preferred format based on calling CQ vs answering someone as a result of S&P.

WriteLog:I have never used WriteLog, but K5ZD is a frequent top-5 finisher in the CW Sprint with it.

Post Contest

One of things that helped me improve my CW Sprint scores was recording the contest and playing it back several times just before the next event.This was very helpful in getting me in the right frame of mind right from the start of the contest.


N6TR Sprint Survival Web Page � Must read!

Anyone Else?

If you have some tips or tricks for people just trying the Sprint, please post your comments here!


Bill Fisher, W4AN / K4AAA / KM9P

Member Comments: Add A Comment
CW Sprinting - Beginners Guide Reply
Anonymous post on August 31, 2001 Mail this to a friend!

Really, really great write up. My one comment for newcomers would be to run high power if you can. CW Sprint is intimidating enough the first time without being beat out in ever pile-up because you are running low power or QRP.

73, Jim K4MA
CW Sprinting - Beginners Guide Reply
by KB8XU on August 31, 2001 Mail this to a friend!
Congratulations Bill!

Wonderful source as well as including citations for special article to keep ur work concise. I must admit, I've never worked the whole 4 hours and submitted logs for CW sprint. Always frustrated by rapid fire code at 30 wpm or more---felt as if I was holding up the parade at 16-18 wpm. Well--u showed me how to deal with that as well as other great pointers that should help make the sprint a contest instead of a torture session!

Thanks again, wonderful source of information!

73 de Frank KB8XU
CW Sprinting - Beginners Guide Reply
by ke5c on August 31, 2001 Mail this to a friend!
Yes, do read and understand the rules. I was so nervous during my first sprint that I forgot 20 meters was one of the bands included. I started on 40 and couldn't understand why more ops weren't on... (not that more ops on would have necessarily helped me that night)

73, John
CW Sprinting - Beginners Guide Reply
by N6XI on August 31, 2001 Mail this to a friend!
Great article, Bill! Newbies please note: Although you might be able to survive by CQing only,
moving 5 KHz between QSOs, you will often find yourself on someone else's frequency. There
is a rhythm to the band and it becomes almost channelized as people answer a CQ, assume
the frequency and work another station. On the lead band at any time there are very few empty
slots. You will probably make far more contacts by S&Ping and making two Q's per frequency
than searching in vain for clear spots to call CQ. Yes, the high speed CQs can be intimidating,
but once you get the call, a slow response will usually prompt a slow exchange. And if not, a
"QRS" will elicit a slow repeat.
RE: CW Sprinting - Beginners Guide Reply
by W4AN on August 31, 2001 Mail this to a friend!
The heart of the Sprint will be from 025 to 060 on each of the three bands.

I would suggest if you are going to use the CQ only technique because you want to control the pace... then find the edge of the action (where there is nobody CQing or having a QSO) and call CQ there. After you make a QSO, hit VFO-B (which you previously set to the other end of the band) and find a clear spot to call another CQ. Flop back and forth. You will always move 5KC if you use this technique.

I strongly believe that if you are not on top of your CW skills (like copy better than 35 wpm comfortably), then using this method will yield more QSOs than S&Ping the band for guys sending in your comfort zone. Near the end of a band (like when everyone starts to leave), normally people slow down and then it might be useful for you to try S&P. Just depends on your skills.


CW Sprinting - Beginners Guide Reply
by K9AY on August 31, 2001 Mail this to a friend!
Let me underscore the need to RELAX! This can be the most frustrating contest you ever operate. I first tried Sprint several years ago, ran high power, did poorly and hated it... REALLY hated it. Later, I tried it again with low power and didn't care about my score. Well, my score ended up a lot higher than those earlier attempts. So relax, go with the flow, take what comes your way and see what happens. Then do it again in six months. See you next Saturday! 73, Gary K9AY
CW Sprinting - Beginners Guide Reply
by k6cta on September 1, 2001 Mail this to a friend!
Nice write up, Bill. I'll also underscore the need to stay relaxed, and not to get frustrated. One of the
biggest sources of frustration for a new op can be
the exchange. Make sure that you are comfortable with the 2 basic variations; listen to the examples on N6TR's Sprint Survival pages (in fact, listen to them over and over until the exchange format becomes second nature). Also, having software that is designed for the Sprint will make your life much easier, since it will take some of the possible confusion away. Speaking of software, be sure you are comfortable with it. For example, TRlog, which is a wonderful program, has a rather steep learning curve. Take some time BEFORE the contest to learn the functions! I'll never forget my first Sprint, which was also my first run with TRlog...what a disaster! A week spent prior to the contest getting familiar with the program pays big dividends on contest day.
CW Sprinting - Beginners Guide Reply
by k6iii on September 3, 2001 Mail this to a friend!
Good reading, Bill. Thanks.
I am sometimes in NA Sprint running QRP (Elecraft K2 at 5w). Rather slow going but hang in for a couple of hours, anyway.

I like free software CQPWIN (by AE6Y). Pretty intuitive and all the usual features. Find it at
RE: CW Sprinting - Beginners Guide Reply
by N2MG on September 5, 2001 Mail this to a friend!
Now if I can just figure out what to do when the Deer-in-the-headlights syndrome hits! ;-)
CW Sprinting - Beginners Guide Reply
by K0CO on September 5, 2001 Mail this to a friend!
WheeewBOYY!! I took me 14 minutes the first outing to make a single Q....This site got me up to about 40Q/HR as QRP 2nd time out; I can QSO near 35wpm, but this is a very different thing. Thanks for the sample audio strings - they help prevent "SprintShockSyndrome" that hits us new guys....Good luck all
K1xx 999 JACK CO K0CO
CW Sprinting - Beginners Guide Reply
by W1NRX on February 11, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
Thank you for the Sprint Beginners guide and I am also new at CW. I have thought of trying the CW Sprint but I cannot figure out where I get a serial number for the exchange..I am sure it is not the serial number of my radio...but, then again..????help please
RE: CW Sprinting - Beginners Guide Reply
by n6tr on February 7, 2006 Mail this to a friend!
Sorry this response took a year!! It is the same as the serial number in the SS or WPX contests - just a number - that starts as #1 for your first QSO - and increments for each QSO.
CW Sprinting - Beginners Guide Reply
by krishnakumar on February 3, 2022 Mail this to a friend!
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