By Richard Arnold, AF8X
There are lots of good reasons to log your contacts even if the FCC isn’t checking anymore. The reasons for logging your amateur activity fall into three categories: legal, operational and personal. Legally, a log of your transmissions would be invaluable in proving your innocence in an interference complaint. A record of dates, times, frequencies and so on, will be evidence of your operating activity that can be compared to the dates and times of interference. In the days of broadcast television such logging information helped many a ham out of a complaint situation. In today’s cable and CC&R environment, if you have jumped through the hoops to get permission to put up an antenna, a log of your operating activities would be powerful evidence to combat an “interference” complaint from neighbors who might not agree with the board’s decision. If you have been forced to operate a “stealth” station and are discovered when someone has an interference problem, such a log, in proving you are not the source of the interference could help you make a case for bringing your station out of hiding.
Operationally, having a log of past contacts is a resource when filling out that DX QSL card that may have taken months to arrive. Also, reviewing the records of your contacts can be an aid in determining which bands and times of day seem most productive for your station.
Personally, there is the pleasure of looking back through the log at the contacts made years ago. A log is like a personal radio history reminding you of the people and places you’ve talked to, the nets you participated in and contests you worked. From the call of your first contact to the hurricane net you passed traffic on or the first time you placed that homebrew antenna on the air, your log will provide an opening to those past times and perhaps spark an old interest to return to in the future.
What’s in a Log?
There are two essentials types of information that every log needs. Information about your operation and information about the station you contact. For your operation record the date, frequency, mode and power output; for the contact station record their call sign, the time the contact started and ended, their signal report, name and location (QTH). When you enter the date and time, Universal Coordinated Time (UTC) or Zulu as it is commonly called, is highly recommended. Using UTC eliminates confusion over time zones or daylight saving time, but you must remember to change the date at 0000Z, which could be anywhere from 4 PM to 7 PM local standard time for a North American station. This is an advantage of the computerized logging programs. They keep UTC date and time straight automatically. Of course, you are free to use local time as long as you indicate this clearly in the log. It is unwise to mix UTC and local times and dates together in the log; use one or the other.
Non-essential information that is worth recording is your signal report and that of the contact. You might also want to note comments about the contact’s rig, antenna and quality of their CW, if pertinent. For an interesting contact, you can include notes about your conversation or a QSLing route (many DX and DXpedition stations cannot be QSLed directly but must be QSLed through a QSL bureau or manager). It is also useful to note in the log when you send a QSL and if you receive it. A month after the contact, when you can’t remember if you sent a card to that rare DXpedition that won’t happen again for 10 years, those notes alone will be worth the cost of the logbook or program.
If logging manually during a contest, it is impractical to record the start and end times for each station so these log areas can be used for contest-exchange information.
Paper or PC?
The hardcopy paper logbook is the traditional keeper of the contacts. The explosion of computers into the home and ham shack has affected the logging choice. There are a number of programs currently available that can perform logging functions directly on your shack computer.
The traditional paper log book has been the mainstay of amateur logging since Marconi first made notes on a transmission. If you don’t do a lot of award hunting or contesting and you spend most of your time chewing the rag then the log book will meet all of your needs. Plus, there is something warm and personal about a hardcopy log that you can hold in your hand.
The format of your log can be your own personal preference. By using a common composition book with bound pages, you can add information in the order that makes sense to you. Here is a sample log sheet format you can download. On the other hand, there are a number of commercial logbooks with ruled pages available from the ARRL.
In order to keep your logbook looking neat and orderly, jot down all the data necessary on a note pad while operating and then, at a later time, transcribe the information into the logbook in your best script. It is also best to use a pen with ink that does not smear from hand contact.
A number of computer logging programs are available, many of them are free downloads from the Internet. Computer logs are configurable and can automatically keep track of a wide range of information. Not only will they record the basic information we spoke of earlier but they will also keep track of a wide range of award information. Interested in Worked All States, the computer log will keep track of your states worked. Interested in the Islands On The Air program? There is a computer logger that will track it for you. A logger for DXCC? Certainly.
Computer logging programs also go beyond just logging. Many include tools to control modern software controllable rigs. Rotor control is also available with some and many will automatically generate a great circle map from your location to any other point on the globe. Time and date functions for UTC, local and daylight savings are standard but you can also find computer loggers that will display a gray line diagram for helping to plot propagation.
The other fish in the software sea are the contest loggers. There are a number of logging programs available that are designed specifically to help you during contests. Some are general contesting programs that record generic points and multipliers while keeping track of the basic information. Others are designed with specific contests in mind and aim to help you maximize your score. There are even some that are general contest loggers that have plug-ins available for those contests you are interested in. Contesters almost always use computers to log. Finally, many computer logs support an export function that makes sending your log in to Logbook of The World (LoTW) fast and easy.
In September of 2003 the ARRL brought online a computerized database of QSO information to simplify the processing of awards and contests. When a station sends their log information to LoTW that information is compared to the logs of all the other stations that have submitted logs. When your log entry for a contact matches the log entry of the contacted station, LoTW credits you both with a confirmed QSO. This one electronically confirmed QSO can then be used for any and all awards or contests that you are pursuing. If you chose to use a computer logging program, most have the capability of exporting logging data to LoTW making for fast and easy contest and award verification.