Islands on the Air (IOTA)

Title:  Islands on the Air (IOTA)
Author:  Scott Ginsburg, K1OA

Are you active on HF and looking for a new challenge?  Consider chasing islands around the world through the Islands on the Air (IOTA) program.  Created in 1964 by the Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB), IOTA is a challenging and fun program that offers awards for contacting and confirming qualifying island groups in increments of 100.  There are 22 available certificates, and a handsome plaque can be had for confirming 750 islands.  If you reach the 1000 level you qualify for a gorgeous glass trophy.

There are approximately 1200 island groups that are part of IOTA, organized by the major continental areas of the world. Each one has a unique identifier starting with its geographical area, such as AF for Africa, NA for North America, followed by a number. For example, NA-131 is the Rhode Island State Group which includes Block Island, Hope Island and others. Working any one of them gives you credit for the group.

Valid IOTA islands have to meet these basic criteria:

  • Must be located in the open ocean, lake islands do not qualify
  • Must be natural, not man-made
  • Must be demonstrably above water at high tide
  • Must have a recognized island name
  • Must be separated from the mainland at low tide by at least 200 meters

Island groups are organized by country using the country definition similar to the ARRL DXCC program. Larger countries such as the U.S. are broken down further still in order to simplify the administration of the IOTA program. Some state’s islands are represented by multiple island groups, for example the Maine State East Group, NA-055, and the Maine State West Group, NA-137. Each of these groups contain some 75 islands, any one of which gives you credit for that group.

The initial award starts at 100 island groups confirmed, with a great looking certificate (See Figure 1) available.

Figure 1 – IOTA 100 Certificate

Subsequent awards and accompanying certificates come in increments of 100 up to 1100. There are also awards for confirming either 75 groups or 75% of the groups from each continental area, whichever is less.

Annual listings are published in the spring for every participant who has at least 100 island groups confirmed. A separate listing for those reaching the Honor Roll level of at least 50% of the island groups is also produced. These lists give the active island chaser a chance to see how they stack up against other fellow chasers and provides some good motivation to work even harder the next year to work more islands!

Figure 2 – Plaque of Excellence for 750 Groups

For those of you who are working on DXCC you know that some countries are considered rare either because they are difficult to reach, such as remote locations in the Antarctic, or for political reasons such as Yemen or North Korea. Many of the islands in IOTA are hard to reach as well, some only being activated every 20 years and many that you may have to wait 10 or more years for them to come on the air again. With 1200 IOTA groups vs 339 DXCC countries there are many more places to work which are very rare. This just adds to the excitement and planning, as you don’t want to miss the opportunity to work a new one. You will find yourself studying the DX bulletins, working on new antennas, and just being all the more aware in preparation for snagging a new island. Your adrenaline level will be elevated!

Figure 3- EU-189 Rockall Island – This Scottish island is confirmed by only 9% of all island chasers due to the difficulty of landing

Here are some excellent resources for island chasers:

  • DX World ( – updated daily with IOTA and other DXpedition announcements
  • DX Summit ( – real-time aggregator of world-wide DX cluster spots – has a filter option to display any spots that contain an IOTA island group designator (Filters->Flags->iota on)
  • OPDX Bulletin ( – weekly DX bulletin containing IOTA announcements, has an email subscription service
  • 425 DX News ( – Italian weekly DX bulletin with a special focus on IOTA DXpeditions and info, has an email subscription service
  • DXNL Newsletter ( – German weekly DX bulletin, has an email subscription service
  • Twitter feeds: @DX_World, @DAILYDX – real-time updates of IOTA DXpeditions

Within the past year the IOTA program has transitioned from an RSGB administered program to an independent organization called IOTA Ltd, in partnership with the RSGB. They have launched a new website,, with some exciting new features on the way such as electronic IOTA confirmations leveraging the Club Log ( database. All the details on how to apply for your first award, fees, etc. are on the website.

If you have DXCC then you already have a good start on your IOTA 100. Look for cards that have an IOTA designator on them (this is required for getting island credit).

Get on the air and start chasing those islands!

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