Many things factor into obtaining the correct directional antenna for your specific needs. You must decide on which amateur band or bands you would like to use the antenna. The physical size of the antenna must be appropriate to your needs and available space. You must have an antenna support structure that will hold the antenna securely in place and someone to install the antenna safely. Finally, the antenna must be priced to fit your budget.
The type of antenna you choose might be dictated by aesthetic or practical reasons. A Yagi is the most common gain antenna chosen by amateurs, but you might consider a cubical quad, multi-element delta loop, or vertical array instead. The number of elements and element spacing also will help determine the antenna gain. The front-to-back ratio will show the difference in gain between the maximum forward gain and the gain from the exact opposite direction. The front-to-side ratio will show the difference in gain between the maximum forward gain and the gain from 90 degrees to the side. This should be high, as the signal from the side should be nulled as much as possible.
Multi-band antennas are quite popular. The most commonly used for the amateur HF bands is the triband Yagi (or tribander). This antenna covers three of the more popular HF bands —10,15, and 20 meters. Most are fed with a single coax feedline. There are many companies that make this type of antenna. Three-element tribanders are common, effective, and reasonably priced. They provide a lot of value for the money. Some multi-band antennas come with multiple feed lines (one per band) and may actually be monoband antennas interlaced on a common boom. These antennas tend to have higher gain but may be more expensive.
In general, buy the biggest antenna you can physically fit in the space and budget you have available. For the average contester, jumping from a dipole antenna to a directional antenna will be the most effective use of your resources to improve your station effectiveness. With a tribander and 100 watts, most amateurs will be able to work what they hear. This type of station is much more effective in contests than those using strictly dipoles or simple verticals.
Being heard is not all about hardware. The operator can and does play an important role in making a contact quickly. You must hear the station in order to work it, so don't call unless you clearly hear the other station. Listen to the rhythm of the calling station operator. If he (or she) is running a pile-up, can you hear the stations he is coming back to? Where is he calling in relation to the transmitting station? Is he calling right on frequency or is he offset slightly? Does the desired station change its listening frequency or remain in the same place? What type of response indicates he is ready to receive a call? The answers to these questions will greatly help you get through.
Timing is also crucial to communication effectiveness in pile-ups. If everyone calls at once, you might be more effective if you delay your call slightly so you will be out in the clear after the first wave of callers stop. Calling slightly off frequency can also make your signal stand out. Try to find the unique characteristics of the station and fit into the pattern that it using.
Now Hear This
Being heard is essential to communication. However, donbe an alligator —all mouth and no ears —as this prevents everyone from making contacts efficiently. Incessant calling is not only annoying but it disrupts other contacts. If you do not hear your call sign, do not transmit on top of an existing exchange! This is rude and poor operating practice. Please be a considerate operator and stand by in a pile-up if the person responds to someone else.
There are many things you can do to make your signal stand out. Build, purchase, or install the best antenna you can. If you have a directional antenna, point it in the direction of the station you want to work. Increase transmitter power (within your desired power category) or use an amplifier (if in the high-power category). Hone your operating skills. Listen first and then transmit at the most opportune time to maximize your chance of the other station hearing you. If you do all of this, you get more responses to your calls, make better use of your time, and put more stations in your log. This should help increase your score and more importantly, your enjoyment. Then it will be a lot easier to know, you hear me now?”