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Field Day 101: How Your Club Can Achieve Field Day Success

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Field Day (FD) has a number of different meanings to the Ham Radio community. For the purposes of this article, we will skip whether you think it is a contest or not and agree that as with many activities, it is a friendly competition. Friendly competition can often drive us to do something better. The competition might be between local clubs, stations in your ARRL Section or state, between different stations at the same FD site or even with your club’s previous results.

Proper planning and preparation can make all the difference. The first planning decision is a big one; what category do you want to participate in. Amateur Radio competitions are unique among sporting events in that each player gets to choose his or her own playing field, and FD is no exception.

Field Day entry categories are determined by two things: the maximum number of simultaneously transmitted signals and a designator for the type of setup your group uses. Each possible setup type has a letter designation:

  • A—club or a non-club group of three or more persons set up specifically for Field Day
  • B—one or two people portable
  • C—mobile stations in vehicles capable of operating while in motion and normally operated in this manner (this includes maritime and aeronautical mobile)
  • D—home stations operating from permanent or licensed station locations using commercial power
  • E—same as D except using only emergency power
  • F—Emergency Operations Centers (EOC) radio stations at an established EOC activated by a club or non-club group

In addition, stations in categories A and B can also choose to be designated as “Battery,” meaning all transmitted signals have an output power of 5 watts or less, and the power source must be something other than commercial mains or motor-driven generators.

How do you pick the correct entry category? Start by examining your group’s size, experience level and strengths. Examine previous years’ FD results on both the ARRL Contest Results web page at www.arrl.org/results-database and yearly results articles at www.arrl.org/contest-results-articles. Note the results of your potential competition, the number of entries in each category and the relative competitiveness of each of the transmitter number levels. You might be surprised to find some higher numbered transmitter levels are less competitive than popular lower numbered transmitter levels.

Recruiting members to participate is paramount to success. Participation is essential in all aspects of FD, not just operating. Tasks include planning, preparing (sometimes repairing) equipment, gathering supplies, transporting equipment to the site, antenna erection, station setup, station operation and support roles. Support roles can include food and beverages, shelter, maintaining power sources, computer support, etc. These all mean the operation is personnel-intensive, so it is important to get club member buy-in and commitment.

Planning your operation can be the key to maximizing your overall score. Reading all the rules for any contest is essential if you want to compete effectively, but reading the FD rules also reveals numerous available bonus points. To put the importance of the 1,600 available bonus points in perspective, that is equal to 800 phone or 400 CW contacts for a station running 100 watts!

So for a higher score, you definitely want to maximize the bonus points your group earns, and planning is the key to earning these. For example, all of the following activities can earn 100 points: “physically locating the Field Day operation in a public place (i.e., shopping center, park, school campus, etc.)”; adding a “Public Information Table”; and making a minimum of five QSOs using an alternate energy source of power, such as solar, wind, methane or water, rather than power from commercial mains or a gas/diesel generator. You need to go through all possible bonus points and plan which you can earn and what you need to do for each.

It’s also important to check/test the condition and operation of all your equipment before FD. Antennas, antenna supports and feedlines are a big part of the equipment for FD, and DX Engineering can provide a wide variety of antennas and supplies to support your FD effort, including Portable HF Antennas, Wire Antennas & Parts and Cables & Connectors. To maximize your QSOs, you do not want to miss contacts with closer-in stations. The addition of a Near Vertical Incidence Skywave (NVIS) antenna like the DX Engineering 8040 NVIS Antenna (DXE-NVIS-8040SNM) can improve your chances for contacts.

To make sure everything we have planned actually happens on FD, we need checklists. These include a list of equipment to bring (who is bringing what and backup items, etc.); who will be there, what they will be doing and when; and what things need to be done, when and by whom. Here is an example of an equipment/supply list from a previous Cuyahoga Falls Amateur Radio Club FD. A quick search for “Field Day checklists” on the Internet will give you other examples for you to build your own customized lists.

The final thing that needs to be done before FD is training the operators. This can include hands-on time with the specific radios and logging software they will be using. One great way to do this is with a warm-up contest such as the June ARRL VHF contest. You could even do a portable station operation to practice tower erection and antenna assembly. Other training/operating aids are simple “cheat sheets” and/or charts with operating instructions for specific radios and logging software. These could be laminated or placed in a notebook at each operating position. This information could include lists of ARRL section abbreviations, frequency limits for bands and modes, etc.

Once everything has been set up at your FD site, the focus needs to be on three things:

  1. Making contacts
  2. Providing operator support
  3. Providing information and educational opportunities for visitors to the site

To maximize the number of contacts your group makes, it is best to keep all stations fully crewed and operating effectively around the clock. Change bands of operation to follow changes in propagation and follow your operating plans. One of the best ways to make this happen is to have a station captain in charge of the operating crew for each individual operating position. The station captain can create operator schedules, coach operators, diagnose problems and coordinate operations with other operating positions.

Providing support to operators includes tasks such as keeping the generator fueled and running, and keeping operators fueled with food and beverages. Make sure you plan for and have someone in charge of these critical support tasks.

FD should not only be about scoring points. It is a great opportunity to give the public a view of Amateur Radio. Providing information and educational opportunities for visitors to the site is a great part of FD. Here is a link to an article on Education & Student Outreach at FD.

The final step in any successful contest operation is submitting your log for entry. The ARRL FD rules are a little different for submitting your entry than most other contests. Requirements include:

  • ARRL summary sheet completely and accurately filled out
  • List of stations worked by band/mode (dupe sheet or an alpha/numeric list sorted by band and mode)
  • Proofs of bonus points claimed (copies of visitor logs, press releases, NTS messages handled, photographs, etc.)

So make sure you read submittal instructions in the rules and take photos and gather other documentation of your FD operations.

And finally, don’t forget the souvenirs. DX Engineering can supply your group with official ARRL Field Day gear, including pins, shirts, hats and other items.

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