RTTY Contesting Etiquette

RTTY Contesting Etiquette

These are my own personal comments concerning RTTY Contesting Etiquette. I believe that many of these ideas are supported by a majority of RTTY contesters. However, some will disagree with some of the comments I make here and that’s OK.

There are some things you should take into consideration when RTTY Contesting. RTTY has always been a “gentleperson’s mode”. Still today, you see people taking the time to help others during a RTTY contest, something you are unlikely to see in CW or SSB contesting. I doubt that many of the poor operating practices found during RTTY contesting are deliberate. No one wants to have a distorted signal or to spread interference across the whole RTTY sub-band. No one wants to call other stations off frequency. And rarely will you come across someone deliberately trying to QRM another station. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but it’s rare.

The problems, for the most part, are caused by a lack of experience to new RTTY contesters. Many of these problems can be overcome with education. It’s hoped the information provided here will help the new RTTY contest operator do the right thing.

Put Out a Clean RF Signal

There is nothing worse, or nothing that will give you a bad name quicker, than transmitting a poor quality signal. In every RTTY contest, there is always someone who is spreading QRM across the band by having an overdriven AFSK signal or some other type of RF problem. Your #1 priority before you transmit is to make sure your signal is clean. This should be checked out well before you start a contest. Either monitor your signal with another receiver or have someone check it while you are on the air. Listening to your signal with your transceiver’s “Monitor” is not good enough. And if your signal sounds poor in your radios “Monitor”, it’s surely to sound poor going out over the air. If someone says you are transmitting spurs across the band, you might want to check your setup. People normally will not make these comments unless they see a definite problem.

That is not to say that someone could be mistaken when making these comments. If someone is hearing spurs or interference in their receiver, it could be caused by a transmit signal overloading the front end of their receiver. This is especially true when using a Noise Blanker. Unless your transceiver has an excellent Noise Blanker, you may want to consider never using it when RTTY contesting. There are times when there are so many loud signals crammed into the RTTY sub-band that the receiver just can’t handle it. I’ve personally experienced this on many occasions. In these cases, I’ve had to either had to use the AIP function in my receiver or put in some attenuation. Don’t be guilty of making false accusations to someone you think is sending out spurious signals. If you don’t know for sure, it’s best not to say anything over the air. If you’re convinced someone is sending out a poor quality signal, be nice in your approach and be helpful in trying to identify the problem with the other station. It may be better to wait until after the contest and send that person a private E-mail telling them you believe they might have a problem with their signal.

So make sure your signal is clean and make sure you know what you are talking about if you are going to tell someone else they have a poor quality signal.

Being on the Right Frequency

One of the biggest complaints after every RTTY contest is that many stations still call off frequency. There are two main reasons for this – AFC and NET. With the popularity of sound card programs, comes the problem of not operating the software correctly and forgetting to turn AFC and NET functions off when necessary. These seven rules may help:

1. Use AFC only when CQ’ing. Turn it OFF when S&P (Search & Pounce).
2. Use NET when S&P only. Turn it OFF when CQ’ing.
3. Until you become comfortable with AFC and NET functions (NET is only used with AFSK transmission), it’s better to keep both OFF at all times and tune with your receiver’s RIT.
4. If you tune with your receiver’s RIT, make sure you reset it to zero or turn it off after use.
5. Tune in the station you want to call as closely as you can before transmitting.
6. Do not vary your transmit frequency when calling CQ’ing.
7. Never use XIT in RTTY.

Using a Carriage Return to Start your Buffer Message

It is common practice and a good idea to start each important buffer message that you transmit with a Carriage Return (CR). Why? So the information you transmit is viewed on a new line on the receiving station’s screen. Without the leading CR, the start of your message could come on the tail end of random noise characters and may look like this:


What you see here could easily happen if you don’t begin your message with a CR. Unless a receiving station is using a RTTY demodulator with a squelch circuit, random characters will scroll across the screen when no signal is detected. This is normal. Noise looks like a signal to the RTTY demodulator. It may take the RTTY demodulator a character or two to synchronize with an actual incoming signal. On strong to moderate signals, most RTTY demodulators are good enough to synchronize very quickly if it sees a CR. In actuality, a CR is the CR baudot “character” plus a Line Feed (LF) “character”, then a LTRS or FIGS “character”. CR, LF, LTRS and FIGS characters are all non-printing characters. The CR returns the cursor to the far left hand side of the screen and the LF advances the cursor to the next line. All this is sent before your text goes out. That is at least 3 baudot characters which are sent before the first text character of your message. This gives the RTTY demodulator on the other end plenty of time to synchronize with your signal. Most RTTY programs today will always advance the LF when it sees a CR, therefore you should never see a line print over an existing line.

I realize this may be a little difficult for a beginner to understand, just consider putting a CR at the beginning of each important buffer message as a courtesy to the receiving station. Try not to make him decipher your message when it’s adjoined with noise characters. In the example above, I’m sending a report to W1ZT without a CR at the beginning of my Exchange message. George is an excellent RTTY operator and would easily know the report is for him but had I put the CR at the start of the buffer message it would have come out like this:

XMORPA5PZE (noise)
W1ZT 599 001 LA BK

A carriage return is %R in WriteLog RTTY message buffers.

Ending your Buffer Messages

Do you need a CR at the end of your message?

I say no. You should end your message with K, BK, KN or a SPACE to separate the end of the message from noise characters. It’s OK if you see:


The receiving station does not absolutely need to see the K, BK or KN clearly at the end of the transmission. By listening to the receive signal, the receive station knows the transmission has ended. Putting a CR at the end of a transmission actually could cause a problem with RTTY programs that move each line up when a CR is received. If the receiving station is clicking on information in his receiving window and a CR is received, the line moves up and he then has to chase the information up the screen. This does not happen with programs like WriteLog that keep each line in the same place on the screen at all times.

Answering CQ Stations

When you answer a station that is sending CQ, you should observe some simple rules. The main, #1 rule is to NEVER call with a report first. Always wait until the CQ station comes back to you first. You only need to send your callsign. There is really no need to send the CQ’ing station’s callsign. He or she already knows his/her callsign. If he/she calls CQ, then he/she should know that the station calling is for him/her. Many send the CQ station’s call once before they send their own and it’s acceptable. If you are going to begin our call message with the other station’s callsign, send it once and only once. But it’s not necessary.

Let’s say I am calling CQ.


To answer you should send the following:


Sending your callsign 3 times is the norm. Sending your callsign twice is OK. There are times when you might send your call only once or when you might send it more than 3 times. And you should ALWAYS send DE before your callsign. Why? Because in most RTTY contest programs, the DE triggers some sort of database which highlights your callsign on the other station’s screen making it easier for the receiving station to pick up your call when it follows DE. This is important. You want your callsign highlighting on the receiving station’s screen.

Work All Dupes

With the advent of Cabrillo scoring, it’s important that when you make a two-way contact in a contest that the QSO is logged on both station’s computer. If someone calls you that you have logged previously in a contest and it’s a “dupe” according to your log, you need to work him again to make sure you are in his log. If you aren’t in his log, then your QSO will not count. So work all dupes. It’s much faster to work the station and log him again than it is to argue about it. It only takes a few seconds and you won’t be penalized for it. Never send a “WKD B4” message.

Be Considerate

Be considerate of others over the air. Remember, this is just a sport, a hobby. Try to contain your emotions if someone upsets you. Don’t air your dirty laundry over the air. Wait until after the contest and vent your frustration in your 3830 post or a message to the RTTY Reflector. Arguing with someone over the air is just a waste of time. If someone really upsets you with the way they act on the air, send them an E-mail after the contest.

If you find you have accidentally made a mistake, a quick “Sorry” works very well over the air. People make mistakes. You will make mistakes, I will make mistakes and everyone else will make mistakes.

Be considerate of other modes. Don’t deliberately cause interference to other stations just because they are using a different digital mode, CW or SSB. There’s not much you can do when someone deliberately interferes with you but to move away from them. Don’t try to fight back, you are only wasting time.

Always remember that you are contesting for fun.

If you follow the suggestions above you will have fun. And that’s why we contest.

73 & Good RTTY Contest!, Don AA5AU