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Field Day Strategies to Maximize Scores… and Fun

Since 1933, ARRL’s Field Day has been arguably the most popular event in ham radio. It is a rite of passage of sorts, with many hams citing the event as the first time they tried a new mode, worked outdoors, or even got introduced to ham radio itself. But what, exactly, is Field Day? Some view it as a contest or an emergency preparedness exercise. Others see it as the biggest opportunity we have to showcase ham radio to the general public. Some simply view it as a social event, a way to enjoy the food and fellowship of the local club.

The answer is, of course, whatever you choose to make it.

With less than a month before Field Day, some operators and clubs may still be considering their approach. That approach will depend entirely on how you view Field Day. While this blog post might be overthinking the event a bit, let’s take a look at the general strategies of each of the major approaches to Field Day.

Field Day as Emergency Preparedness Exercise

If it is important for you or your club to test your abilities under less-than-optimal operating conditions, use Field Day as a training exercise. Here are some things you can do to maximize the experience:

  • Don’t begin your setup until 1800z Saturday. Most emergencies don’t give you a lot of notice. Simulate the emergency by not setting up until the event starts. I’ve even heard of a few clubs whose members don’t even leave their houses to go to the site until a call is made over a local repeater announcing the “emergency” and ops are needed at a location. They grab their go-kits and off they go.
  • Tough it out. Once you get to the site, deploy your stations and go for it. Stay the course, no matter the weather. If it were a real emergency, you wouldn’t leave your post unless there was severe risk to your own health; try to stay operating regardless of sun, wind, rain, cold, etc.
  • Collect needed bonus points by sending formal traffic to your Section Manager and try to get a local official to visit your site.

Field Day as Public Relations Exercise

If you or your club wants to make Field Day accessible to the public, work on your outreach strategies.

  • Don’t call it “Field Day.” Most of the public has no idea what Field Day means in the context of ham radio; call it an “open house” instead. It’s more easily understood by the general public and more inviting, too.
  • Set up in an easily accessible place, such as a park, parking lot, or civic center. If you want to be visible, be overt and follow the advice of the old saying, “You do your best business on Main Street.”
  • Assign someone the role of “greeter.” Your club needs to have a person who welcomes visitors to your site, answers basic questions, and hands out literature. If your club is large enough, have additional volunteers offer tours of the Field Day site to guests and explain what your operators are doing.
  • Avoid jargon. It is easy to slip into ham radio language; we speak to hams all the time, so it’s natural to do so. But the general public won’t understand terms like QSO, 20 meters, and FT8. Use simple language and concepts to explain what you’re doing.
  • Bonus points: Use the new ARRL rules on publicity and social media to your advantage. Maximize your interaction with local media, get those posters in local store windows, and post videos to your club’s Facebook page. Set up a Get On The Air (GOTA) station and get willing visitors on the air. Lastly, keep a signup sheet for visitors to list their email address for more information. Follow up with them quickly (no later than a week after Field Day ends) and invite them to the next club meeting.

Field Day as Contest

  • Technically, Field Day isn’t a contest; there’s no cross-referencing or adjudication of QSOs and submitted logs. They’re not subject to the same level of scrutiny as genuine contests like CQ World Wide or ARRL DX, so scores are merely the claimed score of the club or individual. That doesn’t stop lots of hams from viewing Field Day as a truly competitive event. If you’re one of them, then you need to do everything under the sun to maximize your score.
  • If you only have a few operators, focus on CW or digital QSOs. They’re worth more points.
  • Use the best antennas possible. Yagis take a lot of time to set up, but they work well. If you don’t have a Yagi or tower, learn about wire antenna configurations that provide gain and directivity.
  • Get every “free” station your entry category permits. GOTA and VHF stations are free for certain classes and don’t count against the number of transmitters you report.
  • Pursue every bonus point opportunity you can. Copy the ARRL message, send a message to your Section Manager, promote your event on social media, make a satellite QSO, the works.
  • Never stop calling CQ. If you want to “win” this non-contest, it’s all about maximizing your rate. Keep your exchanges short and to the point; add nothing extraneous, like “please copy,” because it’s a waste of time.

Field Day for the Fun of It

If all of the stuff I’ve mentioned just seems like too much effort, you don’t have to do any of it! Get your gear together and just go out and enjoy Field Day however you want to. Solo, with friends, with your club, QRP or 100W, it just doesn’t matter. If you remove the pressure of making Field Day a mission, then all bets are off and you can simply enjoy the event. You could use Field Day to try something new, like making digital QSOs or checking out alternative power options (e.g., solar or wind generators). Or maybe you just want to make some QSOs outdoors on a lovely summer evening with a cold drink and a couple buddies with no concern over scores. It’s entirely up to you!

No matter how you choose to participate in Field Day, make sure you operate safely and understand the rules. There are some significant rules changes in place for 2022, so be sure to read the 2022 ARRL Field Day Rules and understand them. Have a safe and enjoyable Field Day!

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