The future of DXpeditions…

Posted: July 7, 2014 in Uncategorized


I recently read a blog post on DX Coffee by Rich-KY6R about the future of DXpeditions. Rich’s entry raised many more questions than answers. I’ll try to weigh in on this subject and answer from my own perspective.

I believe the future for Dxpeditioning activity is good; however I do believe that we will see changes in the duration and kinds of DXpeditions in the future.

It is more costly to charter boats and aircraft now than at any time in the past. This will likely cause some future DXpeditions to “downsize”. By that, I mean that instead of 17-20 days they may be only 8-10 days. Instead of a full on Leaderboard Dxpedition with contacts on many bands and modes, the Dxers may have to settle for fewer contacts.

I think the scope and durations of DXpeditions will change. FT5ZM was probably one of the best DXpeditions ever with flawless execution and great fun. I would expect that future rare ones may not be all band/all mode feasts as they are now. Dxers may have to settle for one CW, SSB and Digital contact. I think the days of working a Dxpedition on 20 band slots is coming to an end. Shades of days gone by.

There is more money than ever available to Dxpedition teams, but only for the rarest of places. DXpeditions to destinations out of the top 25-30 most wanted entities will likely be largely self-funded.

It is costly for US led DXpeditions to use the world-wide Bureau system. I think you will see changes there. Recently the Italian Dxpedition Team initiated a $1.50 OQRS fee to get a bureau card. I support DXpeditions covering their cost such as what the Italian team has implemented. The free ride needs to come to an end. DXpeditions should always accept and return direct cards with SASE or adequate postage. But a bureau card costs a Dxpedition’s bottom line and has no possibility to cover even its small cost. Multiply that small cost by many thousands of cards and you can easily spend thousands of dollars to return bureau cards. With LoTW being such a success returning thousands of bureau cards just does not make sense. This tradition needs to change.

It’s not just Americans that are busy organizing DXpeditions. Our friends the Russians, French, Spanish, Germans and the Italians are quite busy activating many rare and much needed places. In fact, the Italian Dxpedition Team led by Silvano-I2YSB has been extremely active these past few years. The French F6KOP team will bring us Tromelin-FT4TA in just a few months from now.

The Chinese and Taiwanese are very interested in organizing DXpeditions. Their challenges are primarily cultural in that Chinese and Taiwanese hams generally do not donate their money to support Dxpedition activity. When a group is self-funded it greatly limits what they can accomplish. The UK based Five Star Dxers are about due for another exciting activation. You can bet that Zorro-JH1AJT is working on something exciting!

World-class Dxpedition leaders Ralph-K0IR and Bob-K4UEE are not ones to rest on their laurels. They are hard at work on future ultra-rare activations which they will share with us when they are ready.

There are fine young men that are coming into the ranks of Dxpedition Leaders. I’ve previously written about Krish-W4VKU and Jon-K7CO. Many of the established Dxpedition Leaders are still quite young, such as James-9V1YC, Antonio-EA5RM, David-K3LP, Greg-W6IZT, Seb-F5UFX and a host of others. We look forward to more operations by Craig-K9CT, Lou-N2TU, Joe-W8GEX, George-AA7JV and Tomi-HA7RY.

The future of DXpeditions will continue to be greatly impacted by Government and environmental restrictions. Governments such as the DPRK (P5) Turkmenistan (EZ) and Eritrea (E3) remain hostile towards amateur radio or freedom and civil rights for their people.

The US Government has become more environmentally restrictive than in years past. KP1-Navasa, KH5K Kingman Reef, KH3, Johnston Atoll and Palmyra Islands remain out of reach for Dxpedition leaders.

I predict that in the future, hams will need to form or hire organizations to lobby on our behalf to open up now inaccessible places. Hams will need a larger voice and more influence to accomplish what was easily done in the past.

There is no shortage of Dxpedition leaders trying to activate the rarest of entities. Eritrea (E3) is regularly visited as is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (P5). There are world-class Dxpedition leaders that are continuing to try and activate the rarest of islands in the Caribbean and the South Pacific. There are teams working on most of the top 20 most wanted DXCC entities. Some are real efforts and some are “tire kickers”. Probably the only entities likely to not see any ham activity any time soon are Syria and Turkmenistan. The situation in the DPRK is difficult to predict however I feel that the Chinese or the Russians may be successful at some point.

There are many bold men willing to go to bold places. Let’s wish them well and give them our full support when they are able to announce a Dxpedition to these rare and much needed places.

The future of Dxpeditioning is good, but like many aspects of the world, it will be changing and more and more DXpeditions must find new ways to cover their ever increasing costs.

What do you think?

  1. ky6r says:

    Transportation cost is certainly becoming the most important factor to the especially rare entities, closely followed by access (controlled by environmental law and / or political situations).

    I do think that “where there is a will – there is a way” is the right idea. Pierre, ZS1HF (aka ZS8M) did a fantastic job helping three support staff going to Marion Island get their amateur licenses and then hand out ZS8 for the past year. I believe his model could work for Bouvet – maybe someone in Norway could cultivate such “synergy” as Pierre has?

    I also think access can happen with some creativity – one idea is to join a trip to a place visited by “eco-tour” companies like “Heritage Expeditions”

    Thinking out of the box seems to be in order these days . . . I don’t think many of the “old models” will continue to work.

  2. n6pse says:

    Hi Rich, yes I agree with you. The problem with the Heritage Expeditions is that they are quite expensive at about $20,000 a paying passenger and they are only on each island for a handful of hours. Not enough time to make a dent in the need. The cost per Q would be way too high, but fun nevertheless.

  3. Mike KJ4Z says:

    I also think we might need to change our attitudes about remote operations. The day is near when a remotely operated station in some of these places could become a reality. We should probably give serious logical consideration to (rather than just gut-check) the opportunities this might provide.

    • n6pse says:

      Mike, I’ve often thought that too. Imagine how much fun it could be if we were able to prepare a “suitsat” of sorts to go to Bouvet with the Norwegian Scientists. They could put the box down on the ice covered tundra, push a button. Out pops a vertical antenna and small satellite dish. The radio kicks on, calls CQ and starts logging the responding callers. How fun would that be? Maybe in the future.

      • N7SMI says:

        How fun would that be? Not much, at least for me. It would certainly be interesting, but I wouldn’t want to see these QSOs provided equal treatment to standard DXCC contacts with people. It would be like sending a robot probe to Mars and claiming that you actually sent a human there.

        With that said, I think that semi-remote operations should be considered. By this I mean placing a temporary station on the island, but operating it remotely from a nearby (maybe a few miles?) ship or landmass. For the US island entities, places like BS7H and the southern islands with physical limitations, places that allow only daylight operations, etc., a primary constraint is physical access – especially by multiple operators for multiple days. This approach could alleviate these issues (but would introduce some distinct and interesting technology challenges), but you’d still be contacting a human through that station.

  4. ky6r says:

    I would enthusiastically support such a “suitsat” idea. Environmental agencies want to send data packets regarding rising seas, and also send live streaming video of the conditions on an environmentally sensitive place – so – a “cooperative synergy” between amateurs and environmental science community is not at all a far fetched idea. There is a model for this already – “Weather Bug” . . . . Geez – this could even be big fun – and “advance the radio art” at the same time.

    • Mike KJ4Z says:

      My roommate is working on the Google Loon project, and I think they have a reasonable chance at success. That would mean pervasive, cheap, relatively low-latency broadband even in the most remote corners of the globe. I helped on the predecessor to the project, which required making systems that could look after themselves for extended periods in harsh environments — and it was a tremendous amount of fun. I’d love to participate in building such a station.

  5. Mike KJ4Z says:

    “How fun would that be? Not much, at least for me. It would certainly be interesting, but I wouldn’t want to see these QSOs provided equal treatment to standard DXCC contacts with people.”

    I think it’s important to distinguish between remote QSOs and automated QSOs. I like the idea of remote QSOs (where there’s an actual human operator located somewhere else). I’m not sure I’m sold on the idea of automated QSOs. I do feel like there ought to be a real person on both sides of the QSO.

  6. Peter, W2IRT says:

    I don’t think the era of the mega-operation is necessarily dead. The only big change is that the Europeans and JAs *must* be forced to pay the freight for their confirmations. I never thought I’d say it’s time to end free bureau confirmations, but with LoTW available, then that’s the ‘free confirmation’ option. And eQSL if they want a downloadable physical card. Otherwise pay for a printed card+delivery.

    One of the biggest things a major DXpedition could do to reduce overall demand is get rid of the Clublog greenie leaderboard (if they so choose), and limit each operator to one QSO per band. I wonder if this would work: If you’re pre-supported the DXpedition you get an email for every QSO that gets in the log (once it’s uploaded to the chief pilot). That email indicated date/time/band/mode. Or better still, if you’ve pre-supported at a premium level (say a minimum of $50-100), each QSO you make is uploaded to LoTW immediately.

    • n6pse says:

      Peter, I’m so glad to have your comments, particularly from your perspective as being involved with the ARRL bureau system. I’m not in any way against the bureau system, but like DXers, DXpeditions need to have a choice in when/how they QSL. Right now, most of the Foundation and Club sponsors stipulate to get funding a DXpedition must QSL in the same manner as they received a QSL. So if they get 10,000 bureau cards or bureau requests via Clublog, they must return those. To add to the problem, many DXers send a bureau card as “insurance” after sending a direct QSL card.

      You are right, LoTW is part of the solution.

  7. Peter, W2IRT says:

    Then the foundations will seriously have to look at the future health of DXpeditioning and address this situation. At the heart of the issue is how to deal with hams who are on a very limited income, especially those in poor countries, who nevertheless would like to confirm that rare one. There are two issues, really: confirming the contact in a way that is good for an award or confirming the contact with a physical card. Maybe it was one thing when bureau costs were negligible, card printing was inexpensive and the number of uniques was a bit lower. None of these are the case today.

    Don’t get me wrong; I support bureau QSLing wholeheartedly. It’s a great tradition and it does serve a purpose. But at the heart of the matter, I think that to satisfy the funding grantors’ rules, a guaranteed LoTW upload within a specified timeframe should fulfill the QSL requirement. This in turn helps DXpeditions funnel their very limited resources into travel costs, provisions for a longer stay and so on.

    I don’t think that average DXpeditions have the muscle to pull off a quantum change like this overnight. I think it would take a major operation like P5, Heard, Eritrea, maybe Crozet or Bouvet to pull it off. Something ultra-rare that will gather the attention of the entire DXing world, and will have a big enough lead time to get the word out. It would obviously help if several of the principals involved were on the board of the NCDXF or similar funding organizations.

    The simple bottom line here is that those who make the Qs need to pay the freight if they want the confirmations. This is not a question of “selling QSOs,” and the minute that happens it’s game over.

    • Larry, WO7R says:

      I agree. LOTW should be enough for the freebie QSLs. I suppose someone will cry about Grandpa (hey, I’m a Grandpa, too) that can’t use the internet and so needs that buro card. I say: Grandpa needs to make some younger friends. It’s in everyone’s self-interest, even Grandpa’s, to get on with the LOTW system (which is far cheaper overall even for Grandpa in the end. Don’t cry poor and then say “no” to LOTW. Not in 2014).

      The other problem is that Grandpa is already in trouble. More and more DX stations are refusing to participate in the buro anyway and the foundations can’t force their hand. They already live there. Today, buro cards are well under 10 per cent of my incoming QSLs I need for awards since 2004.

      A low cost OQRS buro card is find by me as well, but even LOTW only is fine as a buro replacement.

      Besides, it’s a bit odd to say Grandpa can’t afford it. Afford what? 340 cards for Mixed Honor Roll? 2500 DXCC Challenge cards? 1200 IOTA cards? If Grandpa is participating in awards at the multi- 1,000s level (and not too long ago, we really didn’t have that), then Grandpa needs to find the cash or deal with LOTW.

      DXpeditions need every valid source of funding and we need to cut them loose from deadweight costs.

      I don’t know what you do about the IOTA crowd, but for DXCC, this seems workable to me.

  8. IMHO, the current E30FB sounds as a perfect “new standard” operation! Well done.

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