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. (Reference: DXpeditioning Behind the Scenes)
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, a minimum of two operators should be available for each station. Station requirements will, of course, depend on the available bands, the status of the sunspot cycle, and the location of the operation. The operators 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.
An expedition can be organized around a particular transportation opportunity, or it can be organized based on the manpower necessary to fulfill certain operating objectives. If an expedition is being designed around a particular transportation opportunity, it will be necessary to coordinate operator selection and logistical considerations which are consistent with 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.
If the demand – and available funding – will allow the means of transportation to be driven by other necessities – band, mode and operator requirements, for example – all the better. Greater demand for band and mode Qs in recent years has resulted in larger and much more complex operations.
It should be noted here that an expedition could involve too many people. A large group may be necessary if the available operating time is short, or the demand large. 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 might more 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 duration of the expedition is controllable, more time with fewer participants might be preferable. It is probably true in most cases that transportation costs for expeditions to rare locations will depend on the overall size and length 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. (Ref: DXped Behind the Scenes)
Make a management plan. Pay particular attention to operator selection. Pick operators for operating skills and other necessary logistical attributes.
Don’t include more people than necessary. Too many operators increases expenses and may cause additional difficulties.
Once underway, monitor the progress and make sure the objectives are attained. Do not allow operations to continue unsupervised.
Led by the operating manager a discussion should take place among all of the operators prior to any operating. This is the time to consider how to handle the situations that will define the operating style for the expedition. This could be done on the boat enroute to a 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 operating management. Operating issues and tactics should be discussed in the context of a managed system. Even the best operators should not be allowed to proceed in their own directions.
The best-made plans are worthless if they cannot be executed effectively. This includes operating. Once operating has begun, it is important that the responsible team member – the operating manager – take an active role by making an operating schedule, monitoring the team’s progress, and putting together an overall view of the results. 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.
Some operations have used individuals located in various parts of the world to coordinate DXer input aimed at helping the DXpedition team cater to individual suggestions and complaints. These individuals are usually called “pilots.” Whether the pilot system is helpful is questionable. Listening to individual complaints seems problematic. It might be helpful to entertain outside input, but it is probably most useful for the DXpedition operating manager to study the logs and make his own decisions, based on all of the data. Modern data-processing makes it possible to look at the whole picture, rather than selected comments, mostly from people who have been less than successful, for whatever reason. Allowing folks to weigh in may help to make them feel better, but in reality most inputs are not useful to the DXpedition.
Often expedition personnel may be of different skill levels. It can be useful for the operators to share ideas concerning how to handle the DXpeditioning basics. The basics include who to work at different times of the day in terms of target areas that have been defined, where to transmit on each of the amateur bands, how to control the size and nature of the pileups as well as were 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 if operators act 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 that work well in controlling the operating situation. Mention should be made of how self-identifying will be handled, how unruly calling will be managed as well as communicating to the audience where and how to call.
QSO mechanics is another topic that must be addressed during the pre-operation discussion. Proper QSO mechanics refers to the procedure that 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. One might argue that Skimmer and RBN technology makes advance announcement of DXpedition frequencies obsolete. Perhaps it does for some DXers. Still, finding a DX station on the announced frequency even before the RBN stirs the crowd can be exciting. Once spotted however, the RBNs and Skimmers will allow the DXpedition operator to shift frequency as necessary due to QRM. DXpedition operators should favor small deviations from the announced frequencies – 100-200 Hz – when interference causes difficulty.
DXpedition 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 theUnited 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 due to commercial and pirate QRM. In various parts of the world, authorized eighty and forty meter transmitting frequencies differ. Topband (160M) assignments vary widely around the world, so special attention should be paid to them. Exact kHz frequencies should be avoided on 160M because of broadcast birdies.
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. Select bands that will facilitate contacts with the target areas. If propagation is limited, use several stations on the open bands. Once the frequencies are selected they should be adhered to as much as possible. This is important because DXers must be able to predict where a DXpedition will appear, especially when they are weak. When an expedition operates consistently on advertised frequencies, DXers can more readily identify the DXpedition, which in turn minimizes questions about “who is the DX?” and adds to the air of confidence surrounding the operation.
We will discuss in a later chapter how proper pileup management can minimize the effects of jammers and deliberate QRMers (DQRM). An additional tool that can be used by DXpeditioners is simply moving the transmitting frequency slightly from time to time. In addition, alternative transmitting frequencies can be used when necessary, particularly on SSB. Where legal, transmitting on two different frequencies simultaneously can be an effective means of avoiding intentional QRM. These alternatives should be widely publicized.
In laying the groundwork for a successful operating effort it is advisable to prepare an operating manual for the expedition. Writing an operating manual helps the operating manager organize his thoughts and allows the operators to become familiar with the plan at their convenience. 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 that 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 that 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. There is no question about how much being loud can add to the quality of DXpedition operating. Experience has shown that there is something like a 1/R relationship between a DXer’s success and the distance to the target. A good deal of improper operating in the pileup and around the DXpedition frequency can be reduced or eliminated simply by adequate strength of the signals on both ends of the pileup. Therefore, good antennas and high power can assist greatly in the success of an expedition.
Recent developments in spectrally clean radios along with proper placement of antennas will often allow several signals on the same band. These radios might even allow 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 theSpratlyIslandswas able to overcome the expected poor propagation to the easternUSAby placing two Yagi antennas side-by-side while facing theUSA. 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 Revillagigedo showed up one night with a total of five signals on twenty meters at the same time! Reports of pirates were heard, but placing stations at various locations allowed five signals on the open band with no interaction.
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 PenguinIslandno 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. Be aware of the environment and provide adequate shelter for operator comfort and safety. Be sure to provide good operating tables, chairs, and a bed for eachparticipant.