Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Beyond Field Day

The May QST arrived in my mailbox yesterday.  The theme is Amateur Radio Outdoors and among its contents is an announcement for Field Day.  Another article is about activating the John Muir Trail, and I started thinking about how Field Day could be a good starting point for expanding one's outdoor operating horizons.

For many hams, Field Day is likely to be their primary and often only exposure to outdoor operations.  It's probably my favorite event of the year but it only scratches the surface of what can be done away from the shack.  If my early experiences with Field Day are typical, here's how things generally happen:
  • Several months before the last full weekend of June, the local ham club will start planning.  A chairperson is identified, a site selected, band captains and a safety officer are named, a publicity chairman begins contacting local news outlets and public officials, communal meals are planned, and other various and sundry details are addressed.
  • The morning of Field Day - or perhaps the day before - a group of volunteers arrives at the site to erect antennas, prepare operating positions, set up a generator and string power cables, configure computers for logging, and make a few test contacts to verify that everything is working properly.
  • Beginning a few hours in advance of the start, reinforcements arrive in the form of club members and other local hams, all of whom anxiously await 1800 UTC.  Those staying overnight will generally prepare their campsites.
  • As the countdown ends, the real fun begins.  For 24 hours straight, contacts are made, tours given to local officials and the general public, meals and snacks eaten, beverages consumed, and - if fair weather holds - a good time is had by all.
  • At the end of the 24 hours everyone catches their breath and then starts the tear down and clean up, often accompanied by a cold 807 or two.  Over the next few days and weeks, scores are tabulated, documentation prepared, and the entry submitted.  Then the wait begins for the scores to be published and bragging rights established.
Phew!  Field Day is lots of fun but it's also lots of work!  And for many hams, it's all of the outdoor operating they care to do.  Oh, maybe a fox hunt or assisting with communications for a bicycle ride or other public service event, but that's about it.  Everything else happens in the shack.  If you've been a participant in one of these large group Field Day operations, you may have asked yourself if all that effort was worthwhile.  If you enjoy Field Day but don't enjoy all the work it entails, I can assure you that there is an alternative.

When you look at the scores published in QST, you'll see a relatively short section of entries in categories 1B and 2B, sometimes further identified with the designation of Battery.  Those are categories for 1 and 2 person entries, many using QRP power levels and a battery for power.  Set up and tear down time can be minimal, the site can be anything from your back yard to a mountaintop, and food is whatever you want and can carry with you.

Admittedly, the social aspect of Field Day is greatly reduced but there are offsetting benefits.  Without a generator roaring away, you can enjoy the sights and sounds of nature.  Extra filters to reduce interference from other stations are not needed.  There is a 5 times multiplier for running QRP and battery power.  Your entire station can fit in a backpack.  And the list goes on.  Perhaps best of all, you become aware that, if you can do this on Field Day, you can do it any other day of the year as well!  After all, you don't need help to set up your station and antenna.  If everything fits into a backpack, you can operate anyplace where you can toss a wire up into a tree, and without much planning.  Just throw the pack on your back or toss it in a car and go!

Field Day will be here before you know it.  This year, why not try something new?  If you don't own a radio suitable for hours of operating on a couple of gel cell batteries, perhaps you can borrow one from a friend.  Used equipment can be pretty reasonable and you just might know someone who is looking to divest themselves of that 40m QRP kit they built a few years back and then never used.  Sure, it may not be the best radio for Field Day but you'll find out if you like this style of operating enough to acquire something better for next year.  Who knows...it could be the beginning of a lifelong interest in operating outdoors!  72, Jim - K0RGI