QSL means either “do you confirm receipt of my transmission” or “I confirm receipt of your transmission”. It can also mean “please send me a QSL card”.
QSL is a Q-code.
A QSL card is a written form of QSL, a confirmation of contact between two parties. Traditionally, amateurs traded QSL cards. These are usually about the same size as a postcard, often elaborately decorated to express individuality, and were mailed from person to person. QSL cards can also be used to confirm one way communication ie, to a listener from a radio station either commercial or amateur.
A number of amateurs use electronic QSL “cards”. These are available through eQSL. This website has a logging facility with which users can email other registered users and exchange QSL cards electronically. Some hams display these electronic QSL’s on web pages.
Modes such as SSTV lend themselves to another way of exchanging QSL’s. In the case of SSTV, each station will send a screen that contains contact detail.
The minimum information on a QSL card is:
- Callsign of each station
- Time – usually in UTC
- Frequency of operation
- Mode of operation
- Signal report, usually using the RST code.
While sending QSL cards directly to a distant station is most often fastest, the confirmation of large numbers of international contacts may prove expensive. An alternative offered by many national and regional amateur radio societies is a bureau system.
QSL’s from individual stations are sent to an outgoing bureau locally; that bureau bundles all outgoing cards for each country and sends each bundle as a single package – reducing international postage costs. At destination, a national or regional incoming bureau holds received cards so that they may be claimed by the operator of the intended station.
The International Amateur Radio Union maintains a list of QSL Bureaus for most nations worldwide. There is no incoming bureau in the following countries:
Outgoing bureaux are normally operated by national radio amateur organizations for use by members. Incoming bureaux are normally available to all amateur stations in the region served, but the destination operator must provide sufficient funds or postage (depending on region) to forward cards from the incoming bureau.
QSL bureaux are operated by volunteers and time to receive cards may be months longer via bureau compared to a more direct route. Cards submitted to the bureau system should be of reasonably-standard dimensions (typically postcard-size, 3 x 5″-5½” are suitable) and sorted by destination callsign prefix.
Individual national and regional bureaux:
- Wireless Institute of Australia operates a bureau for WIA members
- Fists Downunder provides a QSL ZL/VK Bureau for its members
A list of Australian bureaux is here.
- RAC (national)
Incoming cards are forwarded to individual provincial bureaux. To receive cards from the provincial bureau, a radio amateur must provide self-addressed stamped envelopes, payment or both (depending on the bureau) to cover forwarding costs. The incoming bureau does not require that the recipient of the cards be a member of a club or association.
Note: When sorting cards destined to mainland US radio-amateur stations, the first numeric digit in the calls, not the first letter, identifies each of the ten main regions within the US. (For instance, W3, AA3, N3 and K3would all indicate the same region.)
- ARRL outgoing (members only, does not accept cards where both stations are in the continental US)
Incoming (48 contiguous states):
Incoming cards are forwarded to one of the individual regional bureaux for radio amateurs in the continental US. Alaska, Hawaii and US territories and possessions are not handled by the eleven main regional bureaux, although some may have a local bureau. The recipient must provide SASE, payment or both to cover forwarding costs, depending on the policy of the individual bureau – ARRL membership is not required to receive cards.
- W0 Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North-Dakota, South Dakota
- W1 Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont
- W2 New Jersey, New York
- W3 Delaware, D.C., Maryland, Pennsylvania
- W4 single-letter, two-letter prefixes Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia
- W5 Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas
- W6 California
- W7 Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming
- W8 Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia
- W9 Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin
There is no incoming bureau for the following US possessions:
- KG4 Guantanamo Bay
- KH0 Mariana Is.
- KH1 Baker & Howland Is.
- KH4 Midway Island
- KH5 Palmyra & Jarvis Is.
- KH7K Kure Island
- KH9 Wake island
- KP1 Navassa Island
- KP5 Desecheo Island
- ARRL Logbook of the World accepted for ARRL awards but does not deliver a paper QSL card
- eQSL eQSL serves amateurs internationally and provides an Authentication Guarantee to help contesters and avoid false QSO claims.
Sending and receiving QSL’s
You will need to familiarise yourself with the rules and guidelines of your bureau. Some terms that are used by Bureaux are :
SAE stands for Self Addressed Envelope
This is an envelope with your name and complete mailing address written on it. This is usually sent along with your QSL card to the person you wish to exchange QSL cards directly instead of going through the QSL Bureau.
To help defray the cost of sending the SAE back to you, a Green Stamp or an IRC (International Reply Coupon) is normally enclosed.
If the other person is within your own country, it will be more convenient to use a SASE.
SASE stands for Self Addressed Stamped Envelope. This is the same as an SAE except that it has a postage stamp of sufficient value for the envelope to be mailed back to the sender.
This method works only if the sender and sendee from within the same country. You cannot send a SASE with a U.S. stamp to a country outside the U.S.A. as U.S. stamps are not accepted by foreign postal agencies and vice versa.
Cash enclosed in the mail, usually one or two US $1 bills, as an alternative to using IRC (International Reply Coupon). Used only when sending directly to a DX station as enclosures cannot be made when sending cards through bureaux. If used, must be carefully concealed due to the risk of theft.
In some cases, a distant station will delegate the task of responding to QSL requests to another radio amateur, often in another region. The QSL manager is responsible for storing a copy of the station’s logs (often in an electronic form, such as ADIF Amateur Data Interchange Format), verifying requests and issuing QSL cards. Requests to “QSL via (callsign of another station)” are most commonly used by DXpedition operators and stations in remote locations where direct mail would incur an undue delay.
A QSL Managers’ Society maintains a list of radio amateurs willing to handle QSL requests on behalf of other stations. Various databases listing QSL managers by call sign of individual stations served include:
Direct requests addressed to volunteer QSL managers must contain a self-addressed envelope and return postage.
QSL card checking
A common problem in acquiring QSL’s is the broken call; the station and contact were originally valid, but a callsign was incorrectly recorded or transcribed. This may lead to acknowledgment being sent to the wrong station or to individual QSO’s not being credited to operators engaged in contesting and otherwise eligible for awards.
In some cases, broken calls can be spotted by checking the station’s log against a callbook for the region contacted; a lookup of an incorrectly-recorded callsign may return “no such station” or identify another station situated far distant from the reported location.
Problems can also arise when QSL cards are missing a key piece of information (such as callsigns, location, band and mode) or contain handwritten text which is not clearly legible.
Less often, issues arise due to a distant operator’s willful use of an incorrect callsign or location on-air:
- A “pirate” is a transmitter unlawfully using the calls of some other station; the licensed station will be puzzled to be flooded with QSL’s and inquiries about bands and modes on which it may have never even operated.
- A “Slim” is a station incorrectly reporting its location, often to claim origin from a rare or exotic DX location. The term is believed to originate with a 1960’s-era station briefly identifying as “Slim”, call 8X8A and location “Cray Island,” an island newly-emerged from the ocean floor due to volcanic activity. The claims were debunked and the station quietly left the air. A DXpedition claiming to be P5RS7 (North Korea), operated by 3W3RR Romeo Stepanenko in December 1992, obtained similar notoriety after being exposed by radio direction finding techniques as operating from Vladivostok, Russia.
- A “bootlegger” is an unlicensed transmitter operating using a call which does not legally exist. This may be a station that had lost its license or an operator who had acquired equipment only to fail to obtain competencies necessary for licensure. Similar issues may arise where a station is duly licensed in its home jurisdiction but operates a DXpedition in a nation in which it lacks reciprocal operating privileges or authorization from the host government.
In some cases, a bogus radio amateur operation has issued QSL cards which look to be valid and these may be unknowingly collected by legitimate amateur stations. In order to maintain the integrity of contest and award programs, QSL’s from contacts with any station known for historically fraudulent or illegal operation are normally rejected by contest organizers.
Rare (“most needed”) QSLs
There are currently two nations with no licensed radio amateur service; many other DXCC entities remain rare as they correspond to distant or uninhabited islands to which access is difficult or impractical.
As of 2008, the list of most needed DX station QSL’s included:
- P5 North Korea – The governments of North Korea and Yemen are the only worldwide known to issue no amateur radio licenses to their citizens; the last P5 station signed off in 2002 and is not expected to return.
- 7O Yemen has no licensed amateur radio service; attempts to correct this have met with long-standing opposition from the country’s Interior ministry. The last to have shown government approval to operate from Yemen is 7O/OH2YY in 2002.
- KP1 Navassa Island is an uninhabited, 5 km² island in the Caribbean Sea between Haiti and Jamaica claimed as part of the US Minor Outlying Islands. Status disputed as Haiti has also made claims; as a US National Wildlife Refuge, Navassa has no permanent infrastructure.
- FR-G Îles Glorieuses (Glorioso Islands) – One of five scattered tropical islands (Îles Eparses) around Madagascar, part of French Southern and Antarctic Lands. No permanent inhabitants; most visitors are scientific research station, fishery or military personnel. A planned 2008 DXpedition has been repeatedly postponed.
- ZS8 Marion Island (46°54′ S, 37°5′ E) in the Prince Edward Islands group in the Southern Indian Ocean is home to a South African National Antarctic Programme research station. Outside the one scientific base station, the island has an extensive population… of penguins.
- KP5 Desecheo Island is a US National Wildlife Refuge located 14 miles west of Puerto Rico (18.40° N, 67.55° W); normally uninhabited except by nesting sea birds, it became the destination of a 2009 DXpedition – the first in fifteen years.
- 3Y-B Bouvet Island – An uninhabited Atlantic island at (54º 26′ S, 3º 24′ E) of approximately ten square miles, with no suitable harbor and situated on sharp volcanic cliffs. Administered by Norway, but no local presence except an unattended weather monitoring station.
- VKØ-H Heard Island – A remote uninhabited sub-Antarctic island; expeditions must obtain permission from Australian authorities months in advance and most who travel to this remote outpost are engaged in scientific research.
- FT5W Îles Crozet – French archipelago in the Indian Ocean (45°95′ – 46°50’S, 50°33′ – 52°58’E) located far from inhabited land with no airport, port or regular transport.
- FT5Z Amsterdam Island – Amsterdam & St. Paul Island have no permanent inhabitants but have accommodated scientific expeditions. Like Îles Glorieuses and Îles Crozet, this is part of the uninhabited Terres Australes et Antarctiques Françaises collection.
- QSLing suggestions, ZS6EZ
- Inside Your League–QSL Service, ARRLweb
- Maps for CQ zones, ITU zones, grid squares
- G3SWH, a charity operated by an eccentric millionaire, offers information from the point of view of a longtime QSL manager
- Ham Gallery, a collection of worldwide QSL cards
- QSL’s on the Web, list of 465 QSL galleries
- PE2PE Funny QSL Gallery