Thursday, May 22, 2014

Things No One Else Will Tell You About Field Day

I'm nostalgic. I like traditions. I like to camp. I like to stay up all night from time to time. I like to play on the radio--but you knew that already. So, it makes sense that I would like the ARRL's Annual Field Day. In fact, since becoming a ham I haven't missed one yet. Okay, that's not really a major feat, as I've only been licensed during the past four Field Days, but I am on a roll that I hope to keep going. So like many other amateur radio operators, I've marked June 28-29 on the calendar and informed the XYL of my intentions to operate the, "entire weekend this year. " 

In case you're wondering: she rolled her eyes and gave me her best "whatever" look before informing me that I would have three children as company and that she would be happy to be left alone in the house for, "the entire weekend." She said it very menacingly.

If you've never partaken of the Field Day festivities, there is plenty of literature available online and in print. The books and website will give you the basics: what the point is, who might be on the air, what you'll be hearing, where to go, what t-shirt to buy, how many commemorative mugs you should consider parting with your dollars for...but there are a few things they don't tell you. For instance:

Field Day IS a contest

They will say it isn't. They will assure you that it's a test. They will tell you there is no winner. They are all liars! Of course it's a contest, but the points are a little tricky to calculate, so here is a handy guide to calculate your score.

Field Day 2014 Ham-N-Roll Point System

Visible Insect Bites 1 Pt./Ea
Antenna Rope Burns 1Pt./Inch
Hair Physically Torn Out During FD 10Pts./Square Inch
Caffinated Beverages Consumed 1 Pt./8 oz.
Pens/Pencils Rendered Useless 2 Pt./Ea.
Sleep -25 Pts./Hour
Speaking to Non-Hams about Event 10 Pts./Minute
New Friends Made Priceless
Sunburn Percentage of body covered expressed as a whole number i.e. 50% of body Sunburned=50 x total points
Lost Voice Multiply points by db SPL lost from June 28 at 1800 UTC to June 29 at 2059 UTC

Field Day is a GREAT Weekend for DX

Sure the bands will be crowded, sure people will be piled up like I-5 during rush hour moments after an armored truck rolled over spilling it's contents across 8 lanes of asphalt. It also means that just about everyone in the world with na HF rig will be pointing their antenna stateside to witness the madness. If you're anything like me, you'll find those little RF holes in the spectrum and call CQDX a few times, you might be surprised at who answers. Last year, I added 7 new countries. 

You Don't Need an HF Rig to Enjoy Field Day

There are a few ways around the lack of a HF rig in your shack. You can join a club or group who is participating and use their gear at a GOTA (get on the air) station--find a group here. You can find a friend who has an HF rig and beg, borrow, or steal it for the weekend (I do not advise the latter, the fines and jail time will really hamper your chances at DXCC). Or you can take you FM mobile or hand-held out to the highest geographic location within a reasonable distance and score some major fun working simplex. If you decide to go that route, take a few minutes and a few dollars (<$20) to build a tape measure yagi and double your distance. Here is a link to some great plans for one.

Even if You Are Set Up on the Moon Bring Bug Spray

Field Day's one draw back is that it is always concurrently scheduled with the annual AMFGNEAH festival. The AMFGNEAH (Annual Mosquito Fly Gnat and Noseeum Eat A Ham) Festival is notorious. Google it. Never mind the robots must be sleeping, there are no results. Seriously though, you would be amazed at how many Field Day points (see the chart above) you'll acquire if you ignore this little tidbit: Bug Spray=Good, Mosquito Coils=Good, Sugar water=No Bueno. 

37% of Field Day Happens at Night

Field Day is twenty seven hours long, ten of those hours are in darkness, unless you live in Alaska or you are operating inside a building (which, for the record, is not a Field and therefore cheating...regardless of what the rules say). No one remembered to tell me this the first year, so imagine my surprise when I was trying to test my battery voltage at three in the morning without a flashlight. Luckily the arch of electricity alerted a fellow ham that I needed some light...and an icepack. Make sure you have some means of seeing after dark, I prefer an LED headlamp. It leaves my hands open and reduces shadows where I need to see. Also, it's easier to find after thirty cups of coffee and eight hours of breathing bug spray fumes.

In Conclusion

Field Day is a blast and the stories I have from my first four are some of my favorite Ham moments. If I could only impart one thing, it would be this: enjoy your time. No matter how many or how few contacts you make Field Day is always interesting, challenging, and usually a lot of fun. Take time to work stations having trouble, go out of your way to chat up younger hams. Be ready with a smile and plenty of charm when someone stops by to see what all the racket is about. Field Day is a blast, but only if you make it one.

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