Wednesday, March 25, 2015

DXpedition Planning - Lessons Learned

(1) Never assume that anything is admissible to the airline as far as checked baggage goes

  • Case in point – I assumed that my tiny 450 watt generator when inside my checked luggage is OK with the airlines.  Once inspected and if there is any smell of gasoline – the generator will be confiscated.  Research this ahead of time.   I re-thought my power source and settled with LiPo batteries when operating away from commercial mains
  • Make sure the size of any tripod is under the limit that will otherwise classify it as oversize baggage.  This can be quite expensive $175 one way.  Stay under the 62 inch limit L+H+W <62 inches.  For my tripod, I had to fabricate a box that was 46 inches high and 5 inches wide and 4 inches deep which is about 54 total inches – which is inside the parameters set forth by the airlines
  • Make sure your rig fits in a Pelican Case sized for carry on size limits – the Pelican 1520 is the largest case that fits these parameters.
(2) Make sure you research the QRN and man-made noise sources are minimal in the places you need to operate from.

  • I learned from previous DXpeditioners that areas close to the city center in Saint Pierre tend to have a lot of noise and so I sought out a place that was on the outskirts of town
  • In addition I gave myself the ability to relocate using batteries as a power source
(3) Take advantage of verticals near the ocean

  • I did a lot of research on the advantage verticals have over yagis for DX when operating close the ocean, and there are several for a solo DXpeditioner, weight, gain, omnidirectionality all contribute to the vertical being the solid choice and performer
  • b. A single elevated radial is all that is needed because the ground plane conductivity and reflective properties overwhelm the directivity.

(4) Don’t take on the role of a solo DXpeditioner unless you have several field day and extensive contesting experience, operating split, and operating long hours in the saddle.

  • Nothing prepares you for the rigors of a DXpedition than contesting – that is making QSO’s for hours on end.
  • You will be more successful if you are an experienced contester because you can maintain high QSO rates.  You don’t want to kill yourself but an operator who is comfortable running 150-200 Q’s per hour with a DX exchange is going to be less “under the gun” than an operator who can only operate at 50 Q’s per hour.  The 50 Q/hr operator will feel guilty about not making enough QSO’s and not take breaks – end result – burnout and a not so pleasant DXpedition experience.  Remember, you will be all alone and need to pace yourself.  
  • Field Day experience allows for less stress in set-up and break down because you know the routine, you know just how much or how little to bring, and is comfortable with having to lug equipment.
  • Operate as many Field Days as possible ahead of a planned DXpedition.  In my case I have participated in 4 Field Days prior to taking on the DXpedition mission.  On the last Field Day prior to the DXpedition, I am simulating activating an island and set up on a beach with the same equipment I will take to the DXpedition.  I will be doing this in Hunting Island SC for Field Day 2015 with the call sign K4J and with WM4AA.
  • Operate as many contests as possible ahead of the DXpedition that your schedule will allow.

(5) Take inventory of everything and prepare backups for any piece of equipment that might be prone to failure

  • Extra bolts and nuts, clamps, etc.  Guy ropes and stakes
  • Weigh everything and be prepared to pay any extra luggage fees.
  • Minimize the weight but maximize redundancy.  These are competing goals – so weigh the risk-reward carefully
  • Make a list of everything you bring – and make it some sort of a checklist (so you don’t lose anything as you set up and break down
  • Bring an extra headphone, keyer, and make sure you have programmed NIMM to function with the main rig and a back up rig.

(6) Know how to operate your rigs and antennas efficiently

  • Again nothing prepares one for this other than contesting, operating split, using morse and voice keyers, contesting software (N1MM, Win-test).  N1MM is my first choice.  N1MM has a DXpedition mode that allow you to log Dupes.
  • Know the current draw at the power levels you intend to operate.  If the propagation is good – cut back on power.  You are the DX and you have an 18 dB advantage over the chasers
  • If the pileup gets too heavy – turn down the power.  The big boys with big towers and sensitive receivers will still be able to hear you and work you.  When the pileup gets too thin – turn up the power.  This is the tip from Vlad N3CZ who has activated many a DXpedition.
  • Know how use your rig as an antenna analyzer as a backup
  • Know how to use your antenna analyzer efficiently
  • If you have to paper log – make contingency plans that allow you to do this – have a handy UTC time source and an all-weather notebook (just in case your laptop battery craps out).  Make sure you have an extra paddle or two – just in case.

(7) For making audio and video recordings

  • Make sure everything in the audio chain works and practice using your sound capture software ahead of time.

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