Compendium of Cabrillo QSO Formats

The Cabrillo file format was developed as the result of efforts by contest score checkers to reduce the headaches caused by the plethora of file formats they received in the absence of an agreed-upon standard. With the advent of computerized score checking, it became important to ensure not only that all of the necessary data was in each submitted log, but also that the data was in a format that would be easily read by the score checking software.

The Cabrillo file format represents an agreement between major contest sponsors (the ARRL and CQ Magazine), and major developers of contest logging software. Because of the very narrow focus of this agreement, the requirements for this format are very different from those for ADIF. Although files in both formats are ASCII text files which can be edited with any text editor, there is little resemblance between them, nor are they in competition with one another. Neither format suits the purposes for which the other one was designed.

The specifications for Cabrillo files are given in detail by N5KO. There are two distinct sections of a Cabrillo-format file. The first is the summary data (contest name, entry class, names of operators, address to send certificates or other prizes to, and so on). This information appears in a header at the beginning of each Cabrillo file. The second section contains the QSO data. This data is in a fixed format to simplify the decoding job of the checking software. Fields are separated by blanks to make the files readable by humans, and are nominally in fixed columns. It appears that some variability in the position (but not the order) of elements of the sent and received exchanges may be tolerated in practice by some contest checkers (i.e. the elements of the exchange may be separated by single spaces instead of being in fixed columns). Software for decoding Cabrillo files can easily accommodate this minor deviation.

There are actually several different Cabrillo formats for QSO data, resulting from the differences among contest exchanges. The format used for the majority of ARRL and CQ contests is also suitable for many other contests. It is designed to accommodate exchanges with two limited-length elements. The Cabrillo format used for the ARRL and CQ VHF contests is similar to this "generic" format, but with only one exchange element. There is a special Cabrillo format which applies only to the ARRL Sweepstakes contests, with their unique contest exchange. Two other Cabrillo formats, quite similar to one another, are used for the National Contest Journal contests (NAQP and NA Sprint), providing sufficient space for the name that is part of the exchange in those contests.

Since the initial introduction of the Cabrillo format and its adoption by the ARRL and CQ Magazine, many other contest organizers have also adopted Cabrillo-like formats. Contests with simple exchanges can use the "generic" format, but for contests with unusual exchanges, organizers have introduced modified QSO formats to account for the special features of the exchange (e.g. BARTG, many RSGB contests including the IOTA contest, and QTCs exchanged in the WAE contests).

Because of the fact that the contest exchange information varies among contests, as well as the existence of several separate QSO formats, it is necessary for each Cabrillo header to identify the contest to which the file applies. The Cabrillo specification lists several different contests which are officially supported. In addition, the web pages of a number of contest organizers describe Cabrillo-like formats that they require or request entrants to use.

A compendium of QSO (and for the WAE contests, QTC) formats for many contests (including all contests sponsored by ARRL, CQ, NCJ and RSGB) can be found here. The majority of the fields are self-explanatory; when in doubt, consult the referenced web page or the Cabrillo specifications. The "tn" field that appears at the end of QSO lines in some contests confuses many new users; it is used to record the transmitter id number for multi-transmitter entries in certain contests. It is unnecessary for single-transmitter entries, although some programs insert a zero in this field in single-operator logs.

In order to comply with the requirements of the ARRL and CQ and other contest organizers for electronic log submissions, the majority of contest logging programs are now capable of exporting logs in the Cabrillo format. Log file conversion programs which existed before the introduction of Cabrillo, notably LogConv and BV, now also support the Cabrillo format for both import and export. A special suite of programs to create and manage Cabrillo files, the WT4I Contest Tools, is now available. The WT4I Cabrillo Converter program will produce Cabrillo files from ASCII log files not only for the contests in the original specification, but also for many additional contests.

The advent of the Cabrillo format has made the job of conversion of contest log files to ADIF easier. It is now possible to count on the availability of a file in a common format, instead of having to support the different formats of each of the many available contest logging programs. I have taken advantage of this in CBR2ADIF, a program which is smaller and simpler than the general-purpose conversion programs, despite the presence of some additional features.

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Page last updated 27 August 2003