Understanding Logbook of the World – Part 1

One of the most common but confusing tools in amateur radio today is the ARRL Logbook of the World (“LoTW”). Logbook of the World was created by the ARRL to establish a secure, online QSO/QSL manager that could be used both for convenience and to provide a reliable service for recording contacts for award applications. ARRL’s own mission statement for LoTW reads:

LoTW’s defining role is to provide confirmation of two-way amateur communications with impeccable reliability and security.  LoTW maintains a record of logged and confirmed contacts, and identifies confirmations associated with supported awards

LoTW uses a cryptographic mechanism called “certificates” to ensure the security. These are the same certificates that are used to identify and secure online commerce websites. Needless to say, ARRL takes LoTW’s security very seriously. And this is where some confusion comes from. However, understanding some of the key concepts behind LoTW and how the fit together, using LoTW is fairly straightforward.

In this series of articles, we will explore the key concepts of LoTW, setting up LoTW for first use, using multiple station locations in LoTW, and using multiple callsigns in LoTW.

Key Concepts

To get started with LoTW, it’s helpful to understand certain key concepts.

LoTW Account – The LoTW account is the main interface into the web application. The LoTW account is a username and password used for https://lotw.arrl.org. The LoTW account name will be the ham’s current, active callsign. It is important to know that a ham may have multiple callsigns associated with an LoTW account and does not need multiple LoTW accounts to handle multiple personal callsigns (e.g. historical calls, changes in callsign, etc.)!  The LoTW account is also how QSO/QSL information is downloaded from LoTW into logging software.

Callsign Certificate – A callsign certificate is a secure file, generated on a computer, that identifies the holder of the callsign. A callsign certificate must be requested for a ham’s current call and, optionally, any historically-held call. For new users of LoTW, the first callsign certificate requested will always been the ham’s current, active callsign as listed in the FCC ULS database.

Station Location – A station location is the definition of a particular geographic location identifying where a callsign was transmitting from. A ham’s first station location will almost always be their Home QTH or a Club QTH if the ham doesn’t have home-based equipment (yet!).  An active ham will begin to accrue several locations depending on operating habits such as participating in Field Day or radio events such as the 2016 National Parks on the Air event. In general, a ham defines a new station location when they are operating from a new maidenhead gridsquare location (6 char gridsquare) but in certain circumstances finer-grained location differences may be in order.

Trusted QSL / TQSL – Trusted QSL or TQSL is software developed and distributed by the ARRL for facilitating uploads to LoTW. The software is available Windows, MacOS, and Linux platforms. In general, even if logging software supports LoTW integration, TQSL must be present and properly configured.

Relationships Between the Key Concepts

The most powerful and potentially most confusing aspect of LoTW are the relationships between concepts, especially the relationships between the LoTW Account, Callsign Certificates, and Stations Locations.

The “big bucket” for any ham in LoTW is the LoTW Account. An LoTW Account is created for each ham as part of the process for registering and generating their Callsign Certificate. The ham’s LoTW Account will be their current, active callsign. Whenever a ham changes callsigns, they should file the appropriate form with the ARRL to have their LoTW primary callsign updated. Although the LoTW Account is named after the current primary callsign, it’s important to think about the LoTW Account itself as a collection of all past, present, and future callsigns.

The LoTW Account holds at least one callsign for every user. If a ham never changes their callsign, never operates a club call, or never operates a special event station then their LoTW Account and their Callsign will always be a one-to-one relationship. However, many hams will do at least one of those things over the span of their “career” in amateur radio. For each callsign, a Callsign Certificate is generated and associated with the ham’s LoTW Account. For example, the author’s current primary call is N8JDM so his LoTW Account is N8JDM and he has a Callsign Certificate for N8JDM associated with the LoTW Account.

However, his original callsign was KE8ETB. The author may also obtain a Callsign Certificate for KE8ETB that has a start and end date for the duration of the time he was assigned that call. The ham has logs from that time period too (perhaps historical paper logs?). Both Callsign Certificates reside within and are associated to the LoTW Account.

Station Locations are configured within TQSL. A Station Location is a definition for the ham’s local convenience only! It’s a way to bundle the necessary location information that LoTW requires for every QSO. Each QSO requires DXCC Entity, CQ Zone, ITU Zone, Grid (6 char), State, and County. These items are defined within TQSL so that the ham uploading logs can simply choose the correct location and associate the correct location information to all the contacts easily. There is no limit to the number of Station Locations that one can define in TQSL. However, it’s also important to note that the name of the Station Location is not something that is uploaded and stored within LoTW – the individual location data points are stored instead. A ham can create and delete Station Locations in TQSL as needed without affecting the data stored in LoTW. A Callsign Certificate is associated with a Station Location. The ham has options for multiple callsigns – they can manually change the associated Callsign Certificate as needed or create multiple Station Locations associated with different Callsign Certificates.

This concludes the Key Concepts portion of LoTW. Forthcoming articles will walk through obtaining an account and certificate, setting up and using TQSL, using LoTW’s web interface, and integration of LoTW/TQSL with logging software.

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