LotW — Are You Using It? If Not, Why?

This is an article that I wrote a couple of years ago for eHam. It’s still valid except the postage prices have went up a couple of times and IRCs went the way of the buffalo nickel.

lotw-logoby Steve Miller/W6SDM. The stamp: 98 cents. An IRC: $2.10 – and expect these both to go up next time the post office has a rate increase. Over three bucks and we haven’t included the cost of printing a QSL card and the cost of envelopes – both sending and return.

When I started in his hobby, stamps were a nickel, a gallon of gas was thirty-five cents and I never thought I would see either climb to over three bucks. But here we are and at least we can count on the price of gas going down if Michele Bachmann gets elected (snicker.) Not so for the price of sending a QSL card.

Getting a DXCC using cards through the mail is going to cost a minimum of $350 – not counting all the cards that are sent out for which there isn’t one returned. Plus, with cards, you must have them checked and verified – a necessary step to ensure the integrity of the awards program. Then there’s the wait – cards coming through the mail take forever. Cards coming through the bureau take longer than that. One of the reasons we have so many hams over 90 is that they refuse to go SK before they get their cards from the bureau.

Even QSLing direct has its risks in addition to the cost. In some areas the postal authority is less than efficient or less than honest. Mail to hams is targeted for theft because it has become common knowledge among postal thieves that these envelopes may contain money.

Because currency and IRCs can be stolen and possession of foreign currency in some countries is illegal, many hams use foreign postage stamps to cover the return shipping cost. Unless you want to take on a new hobby, stamp collecting, this is a cumbersome way to do business. What am I going to do, stock stamps for a papa five or a seven oscar just in case I ever work one?

So, as you sit there bleary eyed from reading paragraphs of QSL problems, you ask, “What’s the solution?” Logbook of the World. And no, contrary to what you may be thinking, I don’t fly an ARRL flag from my fifty foot tower or have a marble bust of Hiram Percy Maxim sitting on top of my linear.

First the downside: LotW is a pain in the butt to set up. I work with computers for a living and it took some time for me to understand what I had to do. The protocol seems more difficult than setting up a Swiss bank account. It’s as though the process was taken from a Tom Clancy novel – the only thing missing is dropping off a paper bag under a park bench at midnight. ARRL says it’s necessary to protect the integrity of the system so that an entity is identified and verified before they can compete for an award. I am okay with that. Plus, once you have your account set up it gets better. Really. It does.

Most of the logging software has the capability of uploading QSOs either one at a time or in batches straight to LotW. Nothing could be easier. Your contact gets his acknowledgement and you get yours in minutes instead of weeks or months. There are progress reports available to let you know how far away you are from each award.

For those who still want a paper QSL – and I am one of those because the walls of my shack are papered with them – you can still go the normal QSL route. And for those DX contacts who don’t use LotW, you can still combine those cards with LotW logs to get award credit.

In order for Logbook of the World to be more effective, more hams need to use it. I would love it if everyone did. I will do paper QSL cards no matter what. I like to have a card the first time I work a country. After that, if I can get LotW credit for additional bands, it’s so much more convenient.

So, what would encourage you to participate in LotW? What would the ARRL have to do now that they’re not doing?

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