Best Practices for DXpedition Operating
“The nature of a DXpedition pileup mirrors the skill of the DXpedition operator” – OH2BH. A carefully managed pileup will run with little disruption to the band and lots of fun for the DXers. Here are some suggestions that will help you make the most of the pileups. (Click the link for more information.)
1. Check transmit and receive frequencies before starting.
2. Use split operation from the beginning.
3. Maintain a rhythm of regular transmissions – no long silences.
4. Do not use excessive speed on CW. Slow down when signals are weak.
5. Reduce speed further on CW to pass information to the pileup.
6. Sign our call sign at least every minute.
7. Issue calling instructions after every QSO, for example ‘UP5 EU’ on CW or ‘NA UP 5-10’ on SSB.
8. Minimize Pileup Width: Suggest Max 5-8 kHz CW and 10-15 kHz SSB.
9. Move receive frequency in a generally regular pattern.
10. Repeat corrected call signs so everyone is confident of being correctly logged.
11. Work and log dupes, it’s quicker.
12. Don’t leave the pile-up hanging. Keep the callers informed about QRT/QSY, etc.
13. Maintain a moderate, but “in-charge” attitude.
1. Where to begin transmitting? This can be a difficult question. Ideally, transmitting frequencies will have been selected and published ahead of time. Selecting the frequencies for an expedition requires great care, and that is a separate topic.
Given a set of frequencies, and being ready to begin operation, the individual operator should begin operating as near to the pre-announced frequencies as possible. It is important that DXers be able to find him when beginning a session. If the selected frequency is occupied, it will be necessary to wait until it is clear or find another nearby frequency on which to begin. Beginning to transmit on an occupied frequency can lead to considerable grief, as DXers may not be able to hear the DXpedition and they will agitate to clear the frequency. Those using the frequency will not be happy, and may cause difficulty. This problem has been reduced through the use of Skimmers and the Reverse Beacon Network: If we call CQ on a different frequency, we will likely be spotted automatically, so everyone can find us quickly.
Selecting the receive frequency is even more difficult. The receive frequency will cover a range, and it is very likely that several of the frequencies in the range will be occupied. It is important to avoid activity on regularly occupied frequencies such as nets etc. Technically, DXers should listen before transmitting, but in practice, it may not happen. Many non-DXer hams avoid the “usual” DX frequencies however, so we are probably safe in using these frequencies for our pileup. Conversely, we should avoid unusual frequencies for our pileup.
2. Any DXpedition operator that expects even a moderate pileup should begin using split operation from the beginning. Virtually all DXpeditions, almost by definition, will need to use split operation.
Split operation is necessary so that the calling stations can hear the DX station and not be covered by those calling. Even when we cannot hear many stations calling, it is likely that other, weaker stations are hearing us and calling. Even when we cannot hear them, these weaker stations can cause QRM for others at their distant locations. Again, it is imperative that the DX station utilize split operation so that callers can hear and so the DX operator’s instructions can be heard.
3. DXers want to think that their QSO will be the very next one in the DXpedition log. This concept is crucial in maintaining order. A good rate and very steady operation leads to this feeling among DXers. Such operation will help maintain the confidence of the callers. This confidence is a calming factor, which will help to minimize chaos-inducing frustration. A steady rate also helps to synchronize calling and listening, making our job of finding calls in the pileup easier.
4. Surprisingly, excessive CW speed does not enhance the QSO rate. Rather, an inability to copy speeds greater than 35 wpm may in itself lead to frustration among callers, with its consequent effects. It is likely that excessive speed may also reduce the overall QSO rate because of dupes caused by uncertainty in copying calls. In addition to dupes, there may be many broken calls resulting from a DXer’s inability to copy the call sign that we send. He will “mostly” hear his call, but if we don’t have it exactly right, he may not know it, and we will end up logging a broken call. He will be lucky when he doesn’t find his call in the on-line log and he works us again.
5. It is a fact that most DXers cannot copy code effectively at speeds in excess of 30 wpm. Even at 30 wpm, many DXers may only be able to decode their own calls. If we wish to communicate to the callers things like where to call, who we are listening for, and when we will QRT or QRX, we must slow to at least 25 wpm, if not less. It is possible to communicate even complicated instructions to a pileup on CW, but we MUST slow our code.
6. It can be very frustrating for DXers to hear a station working many stations at a good rate and not to know who it is. It is in our best interest to sign frequently. If we do not, the callers might soon become frustrated, ask continually for our call and perhaps try to trigger chaos.
We should have a regular “signature” at the end of each QSO consisting of our call, and the calling instructions, where to call, and who we are looking for.
7. As noted in “6” above, it’s important to sign our call sign frequently. It is equally important to transmit calling instructions after EVERY QSO. (If we do not, attentive DXers will call based on the lack of instructions.)
These instructions should include where DXers should call, and whom we are listening for. For example, on SSB, we can say “Thanks, PT0S Europe up 5 to 10”. On CW we might send “TU PT0S UP5 EU.” This means PT0S is looking for Europe up [at least] five kHz. We might also say “Down 5”. Having these messages stored in the computer can help.
8. This is arguably the most important operational matter. Excessive pileup width often draws more criticism than any other aspect of DXpedition operating. The bands do not belong to DXers or DXpeditioners. Taking excessive band width for our pileup damages relations with non-DXers.
Further, there is absolutely no reason for using large parts of a band for our pileup. If we seem to need more then 10 – 15 kHz at some point, we must employ methods to reduce the number of callers. It is NOT necessary to use more than 10 – 15 kHz for a SSB pileup and 5-8 kHz for a CW pileup. If a pileup of this width creates difficulty for the DXpedition operator, it will be necessary to pare the pile in such a way as to reduce the number of callers. Limiting the callers to certain geographic areas, call areas, etc. will make the job easier and use less of the band.
Some ‘experts’ have suggested that when the pileup is excessively wide, callers are at fault because they are calling gradually farther away from the main part of the pileup. This is patently untrue. Saying “UP” after every QSO does NOT lead to an excessively wide pileup. DXers will generally call only a few kHz beyond where we are working stations. If we work no one say above 14.027, very few will call much above that frequency. It is solely the fault of the DXpedition operator if he continues to work stations farther and farther away from the main pileup.
9. It is advantageous for those calling in the pileup to have an indication of where to call next. A totally random tuning pattern by the DXpeditioner will increase the frustration within the pileup – something to be avoided. Although it is sometimes possible to work several stations on the same frequency, it will usually be necessary to move receive frequency after every few QSOs since many callers will quickly determine where we are listening, and it will be difficult to pick out a callsign. If we can escape the pileup by moving up just a few Hz after each QSO, that is good. If not, some other pattern may be needed.
Along with tuning pattern, it will be necessary to establish the limits of the pileup – that is, where we want the high end and the low end of the tuning range. We should not continually move the listening frequency up the band, as that will cause unnecessary QRM to non-DXpedition traffic. On SSB, we can tell the pile where we are listening: “Listening up five to ten.“ If we say that we are listening up five to ten, it is then mandatory that we do exactly that. Saying up five to ten and then not doing so is simply poor operating.
Alternatively, we can say “Call on 14.210”. By specifying several spot frequencies in succession, we can define the size of the pile. On CW, we can do something similar by telling the callers where to call. Remember, we must slow the CW in order to do this.
10. The primary goal of a DXpedition is to fill the log with call signs – correct call signs. We OWE DXers the opportunity to have their call signs in the log correctly, and we OWE them the knowledge that their calls are entered correctly in the log. If we do nothing else, we must do this. It is the primary goal of any DXpedition. Further, if we do not afford DXers this opportunity, we cannot complain when they make duplicate QSOs.
So, if we reply to a call-sign which we then realize needs correction we must not only correct it in our log but we must also transmit the corrected call sign so that the caller is sure that he has been correctly logged.
11. As mentioned in 10 above, a duplicate QSO may well be a follow-up to a bad QSO or the perception of a bad QSO. In either case, we may be wrong. We owe it to the DXer to make sure that HE is satisfied that he is in the log.
Therefore, it is best practice to make the QSO and enter it in the log, even if we are convinced that it is a dupe. In the end, this is the quickest and most efficient solution. If a station insists on making multiple duplicate contacts, we might slow down, engage the operator and ask him why he continues to make QSOs on the same band and mode. One DXer once told me: “I don’t sure”. He was telling me that for whatever reason, he wasn’t sure he was in my log. Let’s make sure that he is sure!
12. To reduce frustration, it is very important to inform the DXers of any changes in the status quo. That is if we decide to take a break, tell them. If we must change bands, tell them. If we QRX and plan to return, tell them. Do not tell them one thing and then do another, however. Giving them correct information will go a long way toward maintaining a “good relationship” between DXpeditioner and the calling DXers.
13. As DXpedition operators, we are in the best position to control the pileup. Repeat “We are in the best position to control the pileup”. We should assume that responsibility and make the most of it. While we must be firm with callers, we must also follow our own rules and be consistent in our application of our own rules.
We should maintain a moderate attitude at all times, not becoming agitated or losing our temper. Doing so does no good, and usually causes a bad situation to escalate. If we must “blow up,” we should find another operator to take over as soon as possible.