The Art of DX Pileup Busting


Recently, I came across some questions another amateur radio operator posed to a group of CW enthusiasts. Since I have an interest in Morse code, I thought I would explore these questions:

— begin quote —

1. When chasing some particular CW DX station needed for my DXCC punch-list, what are some things(s) that one can do to improve one’s chances of snagging that DX contact amidst a congested pileup? Is it truly the luck of the draw or roll of the dice? Or are there some time tested methods, less than obvious, that the experienced CW DX chasers have used that seem to improve one’s chances of snagging the DX contact? Yes, I’m aware that there are many variables to consider. I’m just looking for some general suggestions to improve my odds of success based on the experience of others.

2. If, let’s say, a DX station appends “UP 1” or “QSX 2” to his CQ call or just “UP” appears in a DX cluster spot listing, what is considered an acceptable amount of “UP”? I’m amazed sometimes at the amount of “UP” that I hear. LOL. Does a hefty amount of “UP” actually improve one’s chances? What does the DX op expect?

3. After a DX station sends their callsign how long should one wait to reply with one’s callsign? I hear stations respond immediately. But sometimes I hear others wait just a “bit”, and then respond to DX. And sometimes when the DX station is responding to a chosen station, other callers are STILL calling the DX op. What do most DX operators expect with regard to the response of a reply? Immediate? One-Mississippi …?

4. I hear stations reply to DX with their callsign once. Others sometimes twice. If I send my callsign twice I run the risk that the DX station has already begun his reply back to me with my sig-report while I’m still in the midst of sending my 2nd callsign reply. So … I should send my call just once?

— end quote–

Great questions!  And, the answers translate over to working DX pileups on voice, too.

Waterfall with split operation displayed.

Here are some of my off-the-cuff remarks, based on my limited experience DXing since 1990:
(I am an avid DXer, with 8BDXCC, etc.)

1. Listen, Listen, Listen: The DX station typically does work split – the DX station on, say, 14.023 MHz, and the DX station is listening anywhere from 14.028 to 14.033 (up 5 to 10). You first, of course, need to listen to the DX station, but, also to hear the stations that are calling the DX station! The trick is to be able to hear some of the stations that are piling up on the DX, and to determine if the DX is working a station, then tunes up a little, or down a little, from the frequency on which the last caller was chosen.

Once you know this, you want to position your signal so that the DX operator tunes to or very near where you are transmitting your signal. If the DX station does not call you but continues in the same tuning direction, you reposition your transmit frequency (always in the pileup window) and try again. If you do not know where the DX station is listening next, and especially if you cannot HEAR the DX station, you are calling blind and are in for a long effort.

If you have a way to see the waterfall at and around the DX frequency, you can often see the general spread of “UP” where the callers congregate. When listening (and, let me tell you, listening is key) to the DX station, watch the waterfall for the responding caller (the station in the pile-up calling the DX), as sometimes it is very obvious who is answering the DX. Watch this exchange for a number of new callers – and get a sense of HOW the DX operator is moving through the pile-up. Anticipate where the DX might listen next. Choose that “next frequency in the pattern of movement” and use that as your calling frequency.

2. Timing your call: this takes a bit of effort. I typically listen to my chosen transmit frequency, trying to call never at the exact same time as others, on or near my calling frequency.

3. I always send my callsign TWICE… something like this:


There are some fine CW-oriented DXing books, PDFs, and websites that talk about this. For instance:

I hope this personal observation of mine about working a Morse code pileup is helpful in some way.

73 de NW7US


Visit, subscribe: NW7US Radio Communications and Propagation YouTube Channel

7 Responses to “The Art of DX Pileup Busting”

  • Mike VE9KK:

    Excellent info, in the past I had noticed when there were fewer with a waterfall option those who had a waterfall display had a great advantage. Now that rigs and software most all have a waterfall working a pileup is getting to be more of a challenge. The challenge makes it all the more fun and gives greater satisfacton in the end when the contact is made.

  • Dave - WA5OUW:

    Nice comments. I’m re-entering the ham world after many years inactive. Stirred up a lot of memories chasing DX.

  • Dan W9EQ:

    One thing I have found, even with a waterfall, you still need to listen. More often than not I will still see several on the waterfall after the DX station calls someone. One is the real station and there a a few still calling. At least the waterfall helps narrow that down quicker.

  • Bill Mader K8TE:

    Everything sounded great until you got to item 3. I want to point out the wisdom of the question in asking if you might cover up the DX op’s response. The answer that is highly likely! Then, the DX op has to call you again, probably while you’re sending you call twice (or with some ops three or four times). This delays everyone, slows the DX op’s rate, and fewer people get in the log.

    One call then listen. Call again if the DX appears to be listening. The DX Code of Conduct and common sense will put more DX in your log and all the other callers’ logs.

    73 and Good DX, Bill, K8TE

  • Tomas, NW7US:

    I am not sure what you mean regarding my sending my callsign twice. I’ve done it both ways, and find less problem (repeats, partials) when I send twice. Since I use fast break in, I can hear the DX if (s)he starts transmitting.

    For reference, The DX Code of Conduct was formulated by Randy Johnson W6SJ. It is as follows – and I don’t see that it says to only send your callsign once.

    + I will listen, and listen, and then listen again before calling.

    + I will only call if I can copy the DX station properly.

    + I will not trust the DX cluster and will be sure of the DX station’s call sign before calling.

    + I will not interfere with the DX station nor anyone calling and will never tune up on the DX frequency or in the QSX slot.

    + I will wait for the DX station to end a contact before I call.

    + I will always send my full call sign.

    + I will call and then listen for a reasonable interval. I will not call continuously.

    + I will not transmit when the DX operator calls another call sign, not mine.

    + I will not transmit when the DX operator queries a call sign not like mine.

    + I will not transmit when the DX station requests geographic areas other than mine.

    + When the DX operator calls me, I will not repeat my call sign unless I think he has copied it incorrectly.

    + I will be thankful if and when I do make a contact.

    + I will respect my fellow hams and conduct myself so as to earn their respect.

  • Bill Mader K8TE:

    QSK does not provide sufficient time to discern what station the DX is calling thus violating the first rule of The Code. Send you call once. Listen at least a second or two. Then, if the DX is silent, send your call again. That is both the more courteous and smartest way to work DX, even with QSK.

    I have often worked DX in a pileup on the first call using this technique. The same is true for the 30th call in a big pileup. At the same time, I hear ops sending their calls a second time while the DX is calling them. Listen, listen, and listen. While sending our call is important, listening is even more important.

    73, Bill, K8TE

  • Tomas, NW7US:

    Bill, I appreciate your perspective. You are not wrong. I am not wrong, either. DX pileups, in split, are not such that I am going to EVER cover up the DX, nor am I making the pile-up unmanageable. And, I typically bust most pile-ups I enter, within three to five calls. So, my method, in the last 33 years, has worked pretty well.

    73 de NW7US
    dit dit

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