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The Station Log

Discussion in 'Amateur Radio News' started by VK6FLAB, Mar 23, 2019.

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  1. VK6FLAB

    VK6FLAB Ham Member QRZ Page

    Foundations of Amateur Radio

    The Station Log

    A topic that rarely if ever gets any serious air-time is the humble station log. It's a process where you track what contacts you've made with whom, when and what conditions prevailed at the time.

    Notice first of all that I mention that it's a process. A station log is made up of several different moving parts and if you're new to this you might think of your station log as a physical thing. You can actually buy things called Station Logs, looks like a book, it has pages, lines, columns, sometimes pre-populated with headings and as you operate, you write stuff into this book.

    Let's start with the stuff. What stuff? How much stuff?

    Have you ever heard another station on-air say something along the lines: Hey Wally, it's been a long time, we last spoke in 1984, how are you and how are the kids?

    If you thought for a moment that the station had all that information stored away in the back of their mind, that's not to say, some do, but most of the time it's thanks to their station log that this kind of information is at their fingertips.

    Another thing you might realise is that if you're using paper, like the book I mentioned, then doing this kind of lookup is less than trivial, unless you maintain two logs, one in callsign order and another in contact order. Perhaps you start creating a card file with this kind of information.

    We do have better tools.

    At the simplest level, you can create a spreadsheet with your station log. It's simple to maintain, easy to expand, backup, infinitely flexible and for many stations it ticks all the right boxes as a way to store contact information.

    So, looking at a spreadsheet, what columns should you introduce as a starting point?

    Well date and time is a good start. Logging in UTC is a solid idea, given that you might move location several times in your amateur career and you might not always be in the same time zone, so if you need to know what time it actually was, you'd need to add a time zone column. Instead just log in UTC, and the time will always be correct. After date and time, you'll need a record of the frequency. You can either record it as a band name, or as an actual frequency, your choice. You'll need a column for the mode, was it an SSB contact, CW or an AM contact, RTTY, FM, FT8, what ever you need to track. You can choose to differentiate between Upper Side Band and Lower Side Band, it's entirely up to you.

    The next column you'll need is a callsign column, one for the other station. If you have several callsigns, you might also want to add a column for your own callsign. The operator name, theirs, presumably you know who you are, a signal report sent column and a signal report received column and if you're game a comments column.

    That's the bare bones of the idea.

    You can expand this to include location information, both theirs and yours, perhaps you'd like to record station information, what antenna you were using, where were you, operating on battery, the power levels, etc. The sky is the limit. Log as much or as little as seems helpful.

    You'll notice at this point I've not yet talked about specific software. That's because at this point you don't actually know what you care about. For some people logging the bare minimum is enough, for others, recording the whole contact or QSO is not enough and of course there is every variation in between.

    Once you've become comfortable with what to log, you can start looking for specific tools, what's suitable for your Operating System, your usage patterns, etc.

    I've said previously that if you're looking at logging software, make absolutely sure that it has the ability to export your data. If it cannot export, then my strong recommendation is to discard that software as a choice, because locking away your data in a flexible environment like amateur radio is a recipe for entering data manually into a new tool and you have better things to do with your life like getting on air and making noise.

    Now I started off with saying that the station log is a process and so far all I've talked about is the act of logging. The next step in the process is the act of QSL-ing, that is, exchanging your contact record with the other station. There are many different ways to do it, which is food for another day, but tracking where in the process you are, sent QSL, received QSL, confirmed QSL, etc. are just some steps that you might want to track.

    One of the things that a spreadsheet won't do is track progress. Unless you start writing specific reporting modules, which from an educational perspective might be interesting, tracking progress toward a DXCC, which is contacting 100 countries, Worked All States, Worked All Continents, IOTA or Islands On The Air, SOTA or Summits On The Air and many other awards, you'll get to a point where you'll want to have a report.

    At that time you can import your spreadsheet into an amateur radio logging tool and generate reports from there.

    Also, Contest Logging and Station Logging are very similar but not the same. A tool that is great for a station log might be a nightmare for a contest. Contests have rules and station logs don't. Clicking your mouse or entering the time manually during a contest is not a good use of your contesting time. So consider that when you're hunting around for software.

    Final comment, using an online tool, a website, to track your station log is in my opinion fine as a secondary option. It can act as a backup. As an IT professional I've yet to encounter an online log that is run as a business with service level agreements, redundancies, etc. I'm not saying that they don't exist, I've just not seen them. Keeping your primary station log on a random website run by volunteers is great for a short term effort, but long term it's asking for trouble.

    Before I go, remember to make backups of your log!

    I'm Onno VK6FLAB

    TL;DR This is the transcript of the weekly 'Foundations of Amateur Radio' podcast - for other episodes, see

    Attached Files:

    KN4SXG likes this.
  2. KN4SXG

    KN4SXG Ham Member QRZ Page

    Thanks. Great article. I'm a new ham and this is very helpful.
  3. WB9YZU

    WB9YZU Ham Member QRZ Page

    Most people keep a radio log.
    Although there is no longer any legal reason to do so, I log all my home QTH contacts, any off-station HF contacts, and any new hams I chat with.

    What I like about logbooks is that if you have a comment section, you can write down details of the contact, interests, and other misc info for posterity.
    This has come in handy a few times.

    Paper is a place many have started.
    The ARRL sells one as do many others.
    Many of my early logbooks were ruled paper made on the kitchen table.

    After doing paper for years, I created an excel spreadsheet that has one sheet dedicated to an ADIF format so I can create an output file for QRZ, EQSL, and LOTW.

    Using an electronic logbook allows you the ability to use the previously mentioned sites as a backup., and what's interesting about those sites is that if you are interested in awards, they make keeping track easy as many Hams QSL Electronically via these sites.

    There are also many, many free (or shareware) and for profit logbook programs out there.
    Some go as far as integrating with your radio or other software to make logging seamless; look around a bit.
  4. W1GHD

    W1GHD XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    QRZ, exported to LOTW. Easy peasy, even on my cell phone during portable operations.

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