Thursday, May 17, 2012



N7NG, Wayne Mills 


As Albert once said, "All things are relative...some more so.”1 And so it is with DXpeditioning. From its beginnings in the late forties and early fifties, DXpeditioning has grown tremendously with the Ham population and technology. In the beginning, DXpeditions made at most several thousand contacts with the faithful. Today a major expedition to a rare country can make fifty to seventy thousand contacts with over thirty thousand different stations. Further, the advent of five band and CW DXCC has increased the demand for band and mode countries, resulting in large numbers of DXers occupying all bands during an expedition. If the DXpeditioner is inexperienced, this increased DXing activity can lead to greater disarray and disorder.

Most DXpeditioners want to put on the very best show possible. When the skills of the operators on both ends of the pileup are up to the task, the operating is a joy to hear. When skills are lacking, maybe it's better to turn off the radio and heat up the sauna. As experience is gained in DXpeditioning, however, all facets seem to become clear as crystal.

Any method of operating which accomplishes the desired results is probably acceptable. When an individual (or a group of individuals) is entirely self supported, he has a large amount of latitude, and little can or should be said about how he operates and whom he works. But when DXpedition organizers accept contributions and support, there is an implicit, and maybe even an explicit obligation to conform to certain operating criterion. Specifically, organizations which funnel money to DXpedition groups for the benefit of the DXing community have become more particular about whom they support. Their assistance often demands minimum standards of operating proficiency, and may depend on the track record of the group.

Following a few simple rules can go far in assuring the success of a DXpedition effort. The following information is not new or unique. After reviewing this material, some will feel that much of it is obvious or superfluous.  It  has  been  observed,  however,  that  many  of  these  principles  are  constantly  forgotten  or disregarded even by experienced DXpeditioners. Inexperienced expeditioners are oblivious. It is apparently not sufficient simply to present these concepts in a summarized form as has been done in the past. For this reason, considerable  discussion  is presented  so  that  it  is  at  least  possible  to  proceed  beyond  simply  agreeing  or disagreeing with a particular concept.


Of  all operating activities, with the possible exception of contests, DXpeditions have the greatest potential for disruption of the HF amateur radio bands.  And while contests may cause general bedlam as viewed by non-contesters, their protests are somewhat diluted, falling mostly on a few deaf ears.   DXpeditions, on the other hand, are focused, centered on specific frequencies within the ham bands, increasing the likelihood of hostile reactions.  Because of this potential, other groups are constantly watching with an eye toward possibly regulating DXing activities.   On several occasions even DXers and others within the DXing community have called for guidelines to help control undesirable situations. It is important, therefore, to consider those whose interests differ from ours.  Though the participants in DXing adventures are often found only listening rather than transmitting, not even using a fraction of their share of the spectrum, only making their presence known when DXpeditions begin operating, those whose normal activities are displaced by the sudden bedlam of a DXpedition can and often do become greatly incensed.

So DXpeditions can be accompanied by extremely disagreeable situations on the bands. These situations run the gamut from jammers on the DX frequency who are generally frustrated by the actions (intentionally and otherwise) of other participants or the expeditioners, and their inability to make a QSO, to disaffected amateurs who are angry as a result of the disruption of their activities, Those DXers who are frustrated by their inability to work the DX may or may not have a valid complaint. Those non-DXers who suffer often do have valid complaints. DXers, in their selfishness often call on any frequency they wish without listening for anyone already using the frequency. As a result, many have called for better operating procedures on the part of those wishing to contact a DXpedition. DXers have been admonished for their lack of courtesy, for their inability to operate their radios correctly and for their intolerance of those who suffer lapses in these areas.

In the past, some have sought to remedy these problems by directing attention toward those DXers wishing to contact rare DX in pile-up situations, trying to educate these DXers mostly through the written word. In some cases this is effective, but for the most part, it is a random process. Making even the best advice simply available to large numbers of DXers is probably not very effective. Perhaps more effective would be peer pressure exerted by those associating with the offending operators, but there are few people who possess the necessary stature within their circles who are at the same time willing to exert this pressure. Some examples do come to mind, however, and this type of control can be effective.

Others, however, have recognized that counseling the masses can be less than fruitful. For every DXer who faithfully follows the published DX media, the weekly bulletins, the excellent magazine articles on the subject, and many books detailing "how to do it" in order to be more aware of how to work DX effectively, there are many more budding DXers who are blithely unaware of these intricacies of the DXing art. The situation worsens when these poor budding DXers encounter the DX police who seem to expect that everyone know all there is to know about these matters. Certainly, the more inexperienced DXers are put off by these experiences, perhaps not to return to DXing for some time and at least harboring ill feeling toward everyone involved.

(This is an idealistic view, of course. Between the experienced DXer and the neophyte there exists a class of somewhat experienced DXers which is aware of the generally accepted procedures for working DX but simply refuse to cooperate. While this behavior results from social problems beyond the scope of amateur radio, it is necessary to consider this class of operator when analyzing the DXpedition operator's performance.)

If directing our educational efforts toward the large numbers of DXers will not yield the desired results, perhaps there is another way. Since there are many fewer DXpeditioners than DXers, it might be more effective to direct toward the DXpedition operators a number of suggestions which have been found effective in helping the operator control the operating performance of those calling the DX. In fact, many have said that the DXpedition operator is responsible for the conduct and outcome of an expedition, and that, indeed, the pileups in a sense mirror the DXpedition operator.2  The DXpedition operator must be in command, but just how is that accomplished?

It is my purpose here to discuss a selection of techniques and methods which will help control a DXpedition situation and therefore preserve the positive aspects of DXing activity. Most of these techniques are not new. They have been used by DXpeditioners on innumerable occasions over many years and have generally worked well. DXers have usually endorsed these ideas, and many publications have listed them. In the following material, however, a detailed discussion will be presented in the hope that a more complete consideration and understanding of the problems and solutions can be achieved.


We will start with the premise that the overall objective of the DXpedition is for DXers around the world simply to have fun. With rare exceptions, no expeditioner ever expects to profit from his DXpeditioning activities. Rather, considerable expenses are incurred primarily in transportation costs and loss of employment income. This is a fact; chiseled in stone! Note, therefore, that the DXpeditioners will also be trying to have fun. Putting as many QSOs as possible in the log is an important goal, but I will not concede that it supersedes having fun as an overall objective. Certainly putting a QSO in your log is not more important to me than someone else's enjoyment. But I'm sure that many DXers in the end determine that the objective of getting their QSOs recorded in the log is more important than someone else's enjoyment, so this needs to be kept in mind. When a DXer from a target area compliments you on a great expedition, he's having fun!

Assuming that the DXpedition will be to a somewhat rare location, we can expect that there will be a considerable effect on the normal operations of several amateur bands. Another objective, therefore, will be to minimize the impacts on the bands due to DXpedition operations while making as many QSOs with as many different stations as possible. This can be accomplished primarily by controlling those frequencies, both calling and listening, on which the operation takes place.

After having fun, the most important objective will be to work as many stations as possible. One measure of how well an expedition has succeeded in meeting its objectives will be the total number of QSOs it records in its logbooks. But this measure alone is meaningless. It may be that the country is very rare, in which case it will be important to work as many different stations as possible. If the location is less rare, it might be more desirable on CW, the WARC bands or some other band/mode combination. It may well be that the country being activated is particularly rare in one part of the world or another. In this case it is important to target certain geographic areas or population centers for a concentrated effort. It is important to clearly define the goals for the expedition: To work as many different stations as possible, to target difficult areas, or something else. Goal setting is fundamental.

In planning the operating for the 1990 Penguin Island trip, knowing that we were limited to eight days of operating, two stations and four operators, we decided to limit our operation to as few bands as possible. In fact we had a TH-5DX antenna high on the top of the island and a ten-meter monobander. The plan was to operate as much ten meters as possible during the entire trip, thus minimizing as many "band dupes" as possible. Since this was only the second operation ever made from this potential country, and since only about twelve thousand QSOs had been previously made, we felt that there were still many DXers who were awaiting their first QSOs.3In the end we were able to boast a two-to-one total QSO to different callsign ratio, and more DXers were able to claim a Penguin Island QSO even though some might not have been able to make their customary thirteen band-mode QSOs.

1)        HAVE FUN
"Good grief! It's a hobby!" OK, it's only a hobby, but it's also pretty serious competition when an opportunity exists to work your last country, which hasn't been on for ten years, and won't be on again for ten years. Therefore, the argument is not really useful in persuading DXers to behave in a more satisfactory manner. It is important to have fun, however. DXpeditioners want to have fun, and generally they want the DXers to have fun as well.
a) Although no formal band plan exists to designate frequencies for DXpeditions, it is possible to make good decisions concerning the best DXpedition frequencies.
b) It has been traditional for the DXer to transmit on a frequency just outside of the US. phone band, for example. Although this tactic is intended to minimize transmitting by calling stations on the DX frequency, it has almost no effect. This is because most transmissions on the DX frequency are inadvertent, and intentional transmissions on the DX frequency will occur no matter where the DX is transmitting.
c) Listening frequencies should be selected to avoid frequencies which are often occupied by groups, such as the international slow-scan net frequencies. Of course these groups have no exclusive right to these frequencies but it is simply unnecessary to create a conflict by using them. Some investigation should be done prior to the expedition since we are not always aware of what is happening at certain places on the bands in other parts of the world.
d) The range of frequencies used (width of the pileup) should be kept to a minimum (See Pileup Dynamics.) Regardless of what some have said about the necessity of using one hundred or even two hundred kilohertz, it is possible to work effectively even weak signals in a pileup situation without excessive spreading. Experience has shown that no more than 30 kHz will ever be necessary on SSB while 10 kHz is more than enough on CW. Well thought-out techniques will allow confirming a large pile-up even when conditions are poor.
a) Determine the areas, which have the greatest need for this country and pay special attention to propagation to these areas. Work them whenever propagation permits.
b) Depending on the rarity of the country in question and the length of the operation, it may be desirable to minimize the number of different bands on which operation is conducted. This will maximize the number of different callsigns in the log. (Two QSOs per callsign is an acceptable ratio.)
c) Properly executed QSO mechanics and pileup management will optimize the number of QSOs in a given period of time.


Preparation for an expedition should start with a management plan established by the organizers. This plan should assign responsibilities for transportation, logistics, and operating to specific members of the team. Those assigned these responsibilities should be particularly capable of performing their duties. In addition, it is important that all of the team members be aware of who is responsible in each area.

The next and nearly as important function of the organizers is the selection of operators. This will be crucial to the success of the DXpedition. Ideally, two operators should be available for each station planned. The operators selected must be capable of operating in an acceptable manner as well as being able to perform other important logistical functions. Equally important, the operators must be capable of working as a team rather than as a group of individuals. For the most demanding DXpeditions, no person should be selected who cannot perform both logistical and operating functions unless there is no limit on number of people in the group. Once the operators are selected, the necessary transportation and logistical plans can be made. This is the most desirable of situations.

If an expedition is being designed around a particular transportation opportunity, it will be necessary to tailor operator selection and logistical considerations to this opportunity. This may be a less than desirable situation, but it may be preferable to no opportunity at all. While the size and duration of the effort may be defined by the available transportation, the other considerations still apply, and the operator selection will still be the most important decision for the organizers.

It should be noted here that an expedition can involve too many people. A large group may be necessary if the available operating time is short. In this case, many operators, large amounts of equipment and supplies will be involved. Be aware that large groups of people may lead to personality conflicts and will require careful personnel management. If too many operators are present for the operating requirements, additional problems may arise related to how much operating time can be allotted to each operator. If the expedition duration is controllable, more  time,  with  fewer participants may be desirable. It is probably  true in most cases that transportation costs for expeditions to rare locations will depend on the overall size of the effort. More operators will require more supplies, more radio equipment, more antennas, etc. Therefore, a balance should be struck between the number of operators, the number of stations needed, and the available funds. A longer duration will also allow for variations in propagation, helping to ensure that solar flares and other propagation anomalies will not adversely affect the outcome.

But the best made plans are worthless if they cannot be executed effectively. Therefore, once operating has begun, it is important that the responsible team member take an active role by making an operating schedule, monitoring the team's progress, and putting together an overall view of the operating. He should track the number of QSOs made with the various population centers and adjust the operating schedule accordingly. He should make certain that the proper operators are working each opening while balancing the operating time for each operator.

Led by the operating manager, a discussion should take place among all of the operators, prior to any operating, to consider how to handle the situations, which will define the operating style for the expedition. This is often done on the boat enroute to the rare DX destination when many hours of free time are available. "In the beginning, it is important to invest the best resources and throw them into the battle to gain the overall confidence of the audience. As time wears on, after several days of successful operating and the pile-ups get thinner, the operators with a more leisurely style will be needed to relieve the operators weary from the early days.” This quote from the operator's handbook for the South Sandwich Island Expedition of 1992 suggests the type of operations management, which is necessary for a successful effort. Despite terrible environmental conditions, this expedition was a success because of proper management.

Often, expedition personnel may be of different skill levels. Therefore, the operators must share ideas concerning how to handle DXpeditioning basics. The basics include who to work at different times of the day in terms of target areas which have been defined, where to transmit on each of the amateur bands as well as where to listen, and how best to handle the pileups. These considerations have a major impact on the perceptions of the audience. In this respect, it is important that the operating be managed as a system since it is extremely difficult to accomplish the expedition objectives with all of the operators acting independently. Operators should not be left to their own individual resources even if they are all highly skilled. A coordinated approach is absolutely necessary for best results.

Special attention should be paid to what has been termed pileup management. Pileup management generally refers to the organization of those operating techniques which work well toward controlling the operating situation. Mention should be made of how identifying and QSLing information will be handled, as well as how dupes and unruly calling will be managed.

QSO mechanics is another topic which must be addressed during the operator discussion. Proper QSO mechanics  refers  to  the  procedure  which  should  be  used  to  ensure  that  each  operator  contacted  by  the DXpedition is sure that he is in the log. This is a crucial issue, and addresses the very reason DXpeditions are conducted. These issues are discussed more extensively in succeeding sections.

Operating  frequencies  for  the  various  bands  should  be  determined  and  publicized  prior  to  the expedition. These frequencies should be selected according to the requirements dictated by the area of the world in which the operation is taking place. For example, in the United States, only Extra Class operators are permitted to operate CW below "025" on eighty, forty, twenty, and fifteen meters, so listening frequencies should be designated accordingly. In other areas of the world, frequencies as high as "025" on eighty and forty may be useless. In various parts of the world, authorized eighty and forty meter transmitting frequencies differ. The expedition transmitted signal must be heard, and therefore its frequency on each band should be the best choice based on listening conditions in the most important areas. This information is not easily obtained, but a diligent effort should be made. Once the frequencies are selected they should be adhered to rigidly. Operating consistently on advertised frequencies helps others identify the DXpedition, minimizes questions about "who is the DX," and adds to the air of confidence around the operation.

In laying the groundwork for a successful operating effort, it is advisable to prepare an operating manual for the expedition. The operating manual should outline the methods of operating considered appropriate for the expedition and contain many of the suggestions considered in these pages. In addition, it will document material specific to the expedition's destination which the operators will find useful during the operation. Information such as a great circle chart, propagation prediction charts, and statistics describing the relative DXer populations in various parts of the world should be included.

Several aspects of logistical planning can significantly impact the operational character of an expedition. Prior to embarking upon an expedition, special attention should be paid to determining what equipment will be needed. Particular attention should be given to those logistical areas which will yield the greatest signal strengths to the major target areas. As one famous DXpeditioner has noted "you have to be loud." Good antennas are an important factor in being able to work the smaller stations, and as much power as permitted should be used. They (the small station operators) will be proud of themselves for being able to work the expedition with their peanut whistles and dipoles, and, no one will tell them that it was really the expedition planners who mandated big amplifiers and large antennas that deserve the credit.

Proper antenna placement and spectrally clean radios may also allow several signals on the same band, or even several signals on the same mode, taking advantage of limited propagation to certain areas. High power, where possible, leading to a dominating signal, can also be an aid in controlling pileups. The 1993 9M0S expedition to the Spratly Islands was able to overcome the expected poor propagation to the eastern USA by placing two Yagi antennas side-by-side while facing the USA. This orientation minimized the interaction between the two stations and allowed the two FT-l000Ds to operate on twenty meter SSB at the same time. In 1989, the XF4L operations from Revilla Gigedo showed one night with several signals on twenty meters at the same time! Reports of pirates were heard, but station placement had allowed four signals on the open band with no interaction, leading to just under fifty thousand QSOs in less than eight days.

During the planning phase, operator comfort should be considered. It's not much fun sitting on a driftwood stump, writing on a makeshift table. It doesn't promote effective operating, either. Wherever possible, adequate  furniture  and  housing  facilities  should  be  provided  for  best  results.  Remember,  the  expedition operators expect to have fun too! Bedding should be provided for each operator for maximum productivity. On Penguin Island, no beds were provided and only blankets were brought. The floor of the operating house became very hard, and the very limited sleeping time was poorly used.

a)  Make a management plan. Pay particular attention to operator selection. Pick operators for operating skills and other necessary logistical attributes.
b)  Don't include more people than necessary. Too many operators increases expenses and may cause additional difficulties.
c)  Once underway, monitor the progress and make sure the objectives are attained.
2)  DISCUSS OPERATING ISSUES and tactics in the context of a managed system. Do not allow even the best operators to proceed in their own directions.
a)  Specify the operating frequencies according to the area of the world, and honor them as though they were chiseled in stone.
b)  Select bands which will facilitate contacts with the target areas. If propagation is limited, use several stations on the open bands.
c)  Consider license class restrictions and available frequencies for various regions such as the extra class only below 7.025 and 3.525 in the United States as well as the limitations on 80 meters in Region I.
4)  PREPARE AN OPERATING MANUAL based on the current destination.
a)  Define the necessary equipment and from where it will be obtained. Use the best transceivers available. Use amplifiers if allowed.
b)  Allow for the best possible antennas for the biggest signals.
6)  ALLOW FOR THE GREATEST OPERATOR COMFORT: good operating tables, chairs, and a bed for each participant. Be aware of the environment and provide adequate shelter for operator comfort and safety.


The DX world can be thought of as consisting of three major population centers: Europe, Asia (Japan) and the United States. For any DX location, at least one of these three population centers is likely to be difficult to work simply because of its geographic location. Because of this, one or more of these areas will have a greater need for this DX location. It is important to know where these population centers are, and what the relative DXer populations are within these areas. After identifying the target areas and determining where the DXers are, the propagation to these areas should be studied in order to maximize the effectiveness of the operation. The operation should take advantage of all openings to the target areas with all of its resources. It has been found that this is an extremely effective method which almost never lessens the chances of DXers in other areas of the world. Since propagation to the target areas is by definition poor, with relatively short openings, the desired number of QSOs with the target area is not always reached even with strict adherence to targeting.

Propagation predictions can be used initially, but observations of actual conditions should be made after operation has begun. Often, operators unfamiliar with the propagation to expedition destinations will miss important openings and thousands of QSOs to difficult areas. Inputs from experienced DXers in the target areas can be used, but take care in evaluating real time feedback from DXers still needing a QSO. As the openings are identified (and more openings may be found as the operation progresses) an operating schedule should be made which will assure not only that the operators are active during the necessary openings, but that the most qualified operators will work those openings.

Late one night during the 1990 Jarvis Island expedition (AH3C/KHSJ), Martti, OH2BH came running to the CW operating site yelling that ten meters was open to Europe. We didn’t believe him at first, but since we were targeting Europe heavily, we checked and found that indeed ten meters was open to Europe. We set up quickly and worked several hundred Europeans during that opening. Martti had been using a spare radio and antenna looking specifically for additional openings. When the QSL cards came, one from a YU station noted "it was noon and there was nothing on ten meters except noise and AH3C/KH5JI"!

One of our biggest challenges was attempting to work the east coast of the US from Layang-Layang,
9M0S in the Spratly Islands in 1993. Preliminary propagation predictions indicated that openings to that area
would be few and quite short. As a result, we considered several options to maximize the number of east-coast QSOs. One option was to be prepared to operate several stations on an open band. I also considered making greater use of the WARC bands than had been done in the past. The propagation on thirty meters looked particularly good, but as I promoted this idea prior to the expedition, a question was raised among several DXers about whether there were enough DXers on that band to make a big effort worthwhile! Well! I guess if I am in a rare country, and the best band is thirty meters, maybe several resourceful DXers might even erect a dipole (or even better, a vertical) in order to make a QSO with the rare one! An open band is a resource to be exploited, and in fact the WARC bands produced a significant percentage of the thirty five thousand QSOs from Layang-Layang.

When the pileup is large, it may be best to work call areas or some other identifiable subdivision. Working call areas tends to increase the penetration to a desired area since it allows a specific pileup to be worked down to a level where low power stations can compete successfully. It is important, however, to work all subdivisions which have been identified. If numbered areas are being worked, all of the numbers in an area should be completed before a major change in operation occurs. Stations signing portables constitute a minimal problem. The issue of portables is discussed in the PROBLEMS section.

It should be noted that it is possible to work call areas or other subdivisions on CW as well as SSB. It is necessary, however, to repeat the instructions at the end of nearly every QSO, since some will assume that one omission will be a signal that the designated area is being abandoned. This is necessary on SSB as well as on CW, but it is particularly important on code.

Preconceived ideas of certain groups of DXers should be suppressed. Since the operator's approach to the pileup may be the most important factor in how a situation is handled, a serious problem may result from a poor attitude on the part of the DXpedition operator. Europeans can be worked just as easily as the Japanese if proper techniques and attitudes are displayed.

An assumption has been made to this point; that everyone interested in working an expedition will be able to do so if the expedition operators are efficient enough and manage the operation properly. There is another concern, however. There exists a group of DXers who are simply inexperienced or lack the necessary equipment to work a rare DXpedition under the usual circumstances. Therefore, some thought should be given to what might be done to accommodate as many of these participants as possible.

Perhaps the most important consideration is the total amount of time allotted to the expedition. If time is limited and even experienced DXers will have difficulty making a QSO, then it will be necessary for the inexperienced to fend for themselves. It makes little sense to slow a CW operation to twenty words per minute to accommodate those who are not capable of copying thirty five words per minute if it is at the same time possible to work nearly twice as many stations in the same amount of time. Alternatively, however, those who lack the skills to work a split pileup or simply prefer to work in a net environment might be accommodated in situations where sufficient time, operators and equipment are available.

In any case a complete DXpedition should consider the needs of all interested DXers and attempt to provide QSOs for everyone. CW QSOs can be made in the General-Class segments of the US. CW bands, especially on forty meters. Slower code can be used later in the expedition when the overall rate drops. SSB QSOs can be made with general class DXers by listening in the appropriate band segments. However, the overall goal should be to contact the largest number of different stations possible, and under no circumstances should the DXpedition management allow less than the most efficient form of operation.

As mentioned earlier, this discussion presumes that the large DXpedition will usually be relying on at least partial support from a DX oriented group or groups with responsibility to contributing DXers, in which case certain rules apply. It goes without saying that if a DXpedition group is entirely self-supporting, it is responsible to no one and may proceed accordingly.

a) Define which population centers will be targeted. There are three major population centers in the amateur radio world, North America, Europe and Japan. From most locations on Earth, one or possibly two of these will present a greater demand. These areas should be targeted for concentrated activity.
b) A rough idea of the number of DXers inhabiting each of the countries in these population centers is important so that one knows how to allot the time within each area. For example, from the Pacific it is not enough to work only several thousand Europeans out of fifty thousand total QSOs.
c) Work all possible openings to the target areas.
a) Use propagation predictions as a starting point and determine actual propagation as the expedition progresses.
b) Use real time feedback from selected amateurs in key areas to help determine how propagation is being handled by the expedition operators.
c) Make an operating schedule based on the observed propagation and determine which operators are most qualified to work each opening.
d) Work only the target areas when the propagation permits. Every opportunity to work the target
centers should be used in that effort. This is the most effective technique for balancing QSOs to all of
the population centers. Those in the areas with better propagation will take care of themselves.
a) Work call areas whenever the resulting pileup exceeds the desired band space. This technique does not diminish the challenge to the DXpeditioner, and it increases the perception by the DXers (especially those with smaller stations) that they will be able to make the desired QSO. When working call areas, however, one should try to include all areas within a given operating period, assuming propagation permits. If propagation permits, maybe only certain areas should be covered during a particular session. Do not try to work an area despite poor propagation. Return to that area during a better opening. It is also imperative that the operator permit no noticeable exceptions to working the current call area. To make exceptions is to invite and actually sanction calls from other areas.
b) There is no good pileup or bad pileup. Working the Europeans just as smoothly as working the Japanese is possible since the pileup's behavior accurately mirrors the DXpedition operator who runs the show.4 The most experienced operator knows that it is he who is ultimately responsible for the character of the operation.

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