Field Day

About the Field Day Interest Group

From its earliest days, amateur radio has had the dual mission of experimenting with the radio arts so that a station’s range could be increased to its maximum capability at any given frequency, and to always be present to provide disaster communications in time of need. The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) was founded on this basis in 1917. The U.S. Congress, over the objections of commercial radio broadcast interests, established lawful amateur radio at about the same time, by creating the licensing process and by providing a charter requiring that all amateur radio operators always be available in times of disaster to provide emergency communications. Ever since its founding, the ARRL has been setting up exercises to test the ability of the amateur radio community to respond in times of disaster. What we now called field day resulted from a formalization of these early disaster preparation drills, by the ARRL. Field day provides all radio amateurs in our country (Plus Canada and some Latin American countries) a chance to simultaneously test their level of disaster readiness, once each year, fulfilling the charter that congress granted to our community back in 1917.

Strictly speaking field day is a contest, but it is truly a “different animal” from other contests. For many radio clubs, including ARCA, field day is a “peak experience” that all club members look forward to participating in whether they work any other contests or not. Some of the factors, which make field day unique, are: 1. Field Day is really done in “the field”, with tents, portable radio transceivers, emergency power, and portable antennas, 2. Field day not only tests and challenges an individual operator’s communications skills (it certainly will do that), but it also test and challenges the whole club’s ability and flexibility in mounting a major effort on the magnitude that would be encountered in a major disaster.

Field day logistics and strategy are of equal importance with operational skill. Field day scoring rules are unique among contests. Scoring multipliers, a key to achieving a high total score, result from the use of QRP power (under 5 watts), battery power suppliers, and digital or CW modes of operation; NOT from the locations of the stations contacted, as is the case in all other contests. High scoring clubs often heroically combine QRP power, battery power supplies, and largely CW/digital modes of operation. The exclusive use of QRP/Battery operation has the additional benefit of greatly simplifying a club’s power supply needs. A single 7 A-hr gell cell battery will power an 817 transceiver for the entire weekend. No more noisy, smoky generators to contend with.
Admittedly it takes excellent operational skills, good conditions, and lots of “stick to it ness” to generate lots of QSOs under these challenging (and often harrowing) conditions. But “less is more” on field day, and the successful field day team realize that once the equipment and operational mode choices have been made, a “QSO is a QSO”, and the key to achieving high scores, in spite of all adversity, is to have lots and lots of QSOs. It doesn’t matter where they are, or who they are, we need LOTS of them.

Antenna selection and location is another area where good planning really pays off. The three most important considerations in antenna selection are: 1. Locate antennas far enough from each other to avoid station to station interference (5 watt power levels help in this regard, but interference can still happen) 2. If possible, point the antenna’s peak radiation toward the east, where the vast majority of contacts will be. Strongly consider using simple wire antenna such as dipoles, which are light and easy to put up and take down. Dipoles work out very well even at QRP power levels.

Logistics is another key factor in field day success. Each station needs a good transceiver, a good battery (and backup), and a selection of good antennas. Of great importance for efficiency and accuracy is to be sure that each station has its own computer logging capability. Operators need to be lined up ahead of time to be sure that each station stays on the air for the maximum number of hours. It is amazing how many QSOs can be made in the middle of the night. Flexibility is a key part of planning, because no one can predict band conditions, especially in these times of low solar activity. It may be necessary to quickly relocate a given station to a different band in order to take advantage of an unexpected opening. This will surely mean a change of antennas, making an instant antenna crew an on the spot necessity. Creative thinking and flexibility is always the key to field day success.

Field day is also a time to demonstrate new technologies to ourselves and to the general public. Bonus points are earned by presenting these public demonstrations of new technologies such as satellite communications, APRS, ATV, and solar power sources. Further more we are encouraged (with additional bonus points) to invite community leaders and the media. We might find ourselves on the front page of tomorrow’s paper.

I have personally participated in more field days than I can, or care to, count. I have to say that the field days, which I have worked in the last few years with ARCA, have been my most enjoyable. I look forward to many more of these ARCA field day “peak experiences”.