Field Day 2017 Part 3 – FD vs. Contesting vs. Emergency communication skills

12 Feb

Participating as an operator in Field Day, regardless of mode, provides you with two vital skills: 1) you learn to become efficient and accurate information communicators, providing and requesting confirmation ‘fills’ when needed, and 2) perhaps without even realizing it, you enhance your emergency communication skills.

How so? To answer this, let me quote directly from Patrick Barkey, N9RV, from the National Contest Journal (2017, January/February):

“Let’s start with the pure operating aspects of contesting – banging out the contacts. Contest contacts are efficient exchanges of information, with a premium placed on accuracy. These exchanges often take place under challenging conditions … But it’s not just broadcasting information. It’s communicating it, and making sure it’s accurate – asking for confirmation, and responding in kind to others’ requests … Yes it’s silly and useless information, in the bigger picture. But if it is a blood type or a home address that needs to be communicated in the wake of an accident or emergency, those useless skills would suddenly become very valuable.”

One particularly challenging contest in this respect is the annual November ARRL ‘Sweepstakes’. Launched in 1929, it was originally structured as a message handling contest for hams in Canada and the US. It ran for two solid weeks in January before becoming today’s twenty-four hour duration in 1932. Each exchange consists of: (1) serial number, (2) precedence, (3) callsign, (4) 2-digit check, and (5) ARRL/RAC section.

So a typical Phone or CW exchange might go something like this: NU1AW would respond to W1AW’s call by sending: W1AW 123 B NU1AW 71 CT

Phew. In this example, this indicates QSO number 123, B for Single Op High Power, your call NU1AW, the year you were first licenced (1971), and in the Connecticut section.

That’s a lot of information,  or ‘traffic’, conveyed in a very efficient manner. In this contest, striving for 100% accuracy is essential since unconfirmed QSOs where you and the other operator have differing logged information can lead to overall score reduction. If the reduction exceeds 2% overall, it may lead to your disqualification. That may seem harsh, but consider if you’re handling traffic in a real emergency: discrepancies in blood type, or numbers of injured people incorrectly noted for example, could result in serious consequences.

Interestingly, statistics reveal that the number of younger participants in Sweepstakes, as evidenced from the 2-digit ‘first year licenced’ check, has been increasing steadily for a number of years. Sweepstakes is a real challenge and a great way to hone emergency communications skills, as are other contests throughout the year on the amateur bands. I strongly encourage you to tune in during November and listen to Sweepstakes and practice noting down the exchanges. Full details can be found at: and

To sum up, Field Day participants and contesters are part of the same community of emergency communicators. They are flip sides of the same coin. The benefit to your community from enhancing personal traffic handling skills should not be underestimated. All emergency communications can be thought of as a ‘contest’ but instead of a final score, you are rewarded by being ready and able to provide a crucial service during an emergency. Being an amateur radio contester helps you keep those skills honed year-round, while Field Day gives you a flavour of the ‘real deal’, albeit it in a fun and friendly way with pizza and BBQ thrown in. See you there this year?

73 Steve VA7KH Field Day Coordinator, Feb 12, 2017

Field Day weekend is Saturday June 24 and Sunday 25, and we will be located at Heritage Acres, access off the Pat Bay Highway at Island View Road in Central Saanich.