Field Day 2017 – Part 2 Operating Introduction

30 Jan

January’s blog gave a general introduction to Field Day. We’ll now look in greater detail at the operational side of Field Day.

Who can operate a radio at Field Day?

  • New licensees or non-licensed people are encouraged to operate the “Get On The Air” (GOTA) station.
  • The short answer: anyone. More specifically, any licensed ham can operate as normal within the restrictions of their licence, or under the permissions of a control operator

Operating ‘Class’ and ‘Section’

  • Each field day station assign themselves an operating category or ‘Class’ based on (a) the number of simultaneously transmitted signals and (b) how the transmitters are powered. The WARA station, call sign VE7VCC, enters as a Class 2A station, where the ‘2’ refers to the number of transmitters used, being ‘Phone’ (speech) and ‘CW’ (Morse code), while the ‘A’ means we’re operating as a Club station operating independently of commercial power mains. A full list of Classes can be found at http://www.arrl.org/field-day
  • As the ARRL rules stand at the moment, even if we operate an additional GOTA station, our Class stays as 2A. Categories and full rules can be found at: http://www.arrl.org/field-day
  • The field day ‘Section’ is basically each US state and Canadian province/territory, giving a total of 71 US and 12 Canadian Sections at present. And before you say, hang on, there aren’t that many states, provinces and territories, some US states and one Canadian province are divided into separate Sections. So we have north, south and west Texas, abbreviated to NTX, STX and WTX respectively. In Canada we have Ontario North (ONN), South (ONS), and East (ONE) as well as a separate section just for the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). A full list of Sections can be found at: http://www.arrl.org/section-abbreviations.
  • The Class and Section together make up the Exchange, which we’ll take a look at now.

The Exchange

  • When you make contact with another station, you pass a short, structured exchange which will be the same for every contact and mode. This consists of passing the operating Class, in our case 2A, followed by the ARRL/RAC Section, which of course for us is BC. So we send, by phone or morse, “2A BC” to the other station. In return, we receive their exchange which might, for example, be “8A LAX”, or “1D EMA” which we enter in our Log. From these exchanges, we know the 8A station has eight transmitters and is a Club station located in Los Angeles, while the 1D station is participating from home in Eastern Massachusetts with a single transmitter. A full list of Section abbreviations, together with last year’s full Field Day rules, can be found on page 43 of the ARRL field day packet at:
    http://www.arrl.org/files/file/Field-Day/2016/2016FD_packet.pdf
  • Each phone contact is worth one point, while all CW (morse) and digital contacts (PSK31, RTTY, Packet, Pactor etc.) are equivalent at two points each. You can only work each station once per band-mode. For example, you can work the same station once on 20m Phone, once on 20m CW, and once on 20m digital mode for a total of 5 points. You can work the same station on other frequency bands and modes for additional points.
  • You can get many bonus points depending on your entry class but we’ll look at these in a future blog.
  • Information on different operating modes can be found at
    http://www.arrl.org/communications-systems .

Why this exchange of information?

  • January’s blog talked about making contact with as many NA stations as possible in a 24-hour period. Passing and receiving exchanges, often in rapid-fire succession, confirms the contact and snags you the point(s). This may sound suspiciously like a ham radio “contest” (see below) and in a way it is. But consider why we’re doing it this way at Field Day.
  • In an emergency our main role as radio operators is to facilitate message and traffic handling with accuracy, brevity and clarity – the “ABCs” – to keep transmissions precise, concise and clear by getting immediately to the point. Point 5 below discusses this in more detail. 
  • Messages will be passed under abnormal circumstances, possibly in an unfamiliar location and/or outdoors and using equipment that we’re not familiar with. So we’re not taking part in a contest per se, but we ARE developing valuable skills to meet the challenges of emergency preparedness, a key Field Day objective. Maximising the score and submitting the completed Field Day log adds a fun, competitive dimension to the event. Seeing your own or your Club’s call in the published league tables gives a sense of achievement and pride and a resolve to beat your own score next year.
  • Just being present at your club’s Field Day contributes to its success and I guarantee you’ll learn lots and possibly discover an aspect of our multifaceted hobby which really ‘lights your fire’. It may also convince you that contesting, a true ‘contact’ sport, is exciting and great fun, which it is, but then I’m totally biased. For years, you wouldn’t get me near a contest, but once I dipped that toe in the water, I discovered a whole new dimension to the hobby and I was hooked. If you want to learn more in the meantime, a great introduction to contesting can be found here: http://www.k4ro.net/w4phs/W4PHS_Guide_to_Ham_Radio_Contests.pdf

Exchange examples – PHONE

Now that we know what the exchange consists of, here’s an example of a good Phone exchange, using correct procedure:

VE7VCC: “CQ Field Day, CQ Field Day from VE7VCC, Victor Echo Seven Victor Charlie Charlie
     Response: Victor Echo Seven Victor Charlie Charlie, this is Whiskey Four Alpha Delta November
VE7VCC: Whiskey Four Alpha Delta November, Two Alpha British Columbia, Two Alpha British Columbia.
     W4ADN: QSL, please copy Four Alpha South Florida, Four Alpha South Florida, over…
VE7VCC: QSL, thanks for the contact. QRZ Field Day, Victor Echo Seven Victor Charlie Charlie

  • Rinse and repeat! Simple, but remember accuracy is key: you must copy their information correctly and vice versa, otherwise it’s not a valid contact and you don’t get the point(s). Moreover, your final score may even be penalized. Atmospheric and ionospheric conditions may make copy difficult at times. If there’s any uncertainty, don’t be afraid to request a repeat (“fill”) of the exchange or provide one if asked: “Please repeat your…(call sign, section etc.)”. If it’s still unclear, request the specific info: “Just your call, just your call, over” and so on. Or if the other station copies your call incorrectly, repeat it until you’re sure they have it correctly.

Exchange examples – CW (Morse)

  • In a similar manner to Phone, a good CW contact typically goes like this:

VE7VCC: “CQ FD CQ FD de VE7VCC VE7VCC k
     Response: VE7VCC de W3LPL (or simply W3LPL W3LPL)
VE7VCC: “W3LPL 2A BC 2A BC
     W3LPL: QSL 23A EPA 23A EPA
VE7VCC: “QSL QRZ VE7VCC”

Sometimes the first response by the station calling you will give his Exchange first in which case you would reply: “QSL 2A BC 2A BC VE7VCC”. Notice in the above example W3LPL’s Class: 23A – that’s 23 transmitters – these guys take Field Day seriously!

  • If a lot of stations are calling you simultaneously, known to hams as a “pile-up”, keep your Exchanges concise but always accurate. Give or request fills as needed. Don’t waste time sending “73” (best wishes) or “GL” (good luck) etc. as this adds nothing to the Exchange and slows your contact rate. That may sound harsh, but when you’re making fast contacts, unnecessary padding can seriously erode your final score. When it’s slower overnight for example, then there’s no harm in adding them. Personally, I wouldn’t anyway but that’s just the hardened contester in me.
  • As an aside, when you call CQ seeking other stations to reply to you, this is known as “running”. If however, you are tuning the band looking to answer other stations calling CQ (i.e. they are running), you are said to be “searching and pouncing” or S&P.

Well, that’s it for February. In March we’ll look at radios and logging software that play seamlessly together to make your Field Day experience a breeze. That’s the theory anyway. Tune in next month to find out how it all works.

Many thanks to Glenn, VA7HC, for the Field Day photos and Alan, VA7AWM, for formatting the online blog.

73 Steve VA7KH