Tips for Field Day

I’m listening to the guys on the repeater as they make their preparations for Field Day  which is coming up June 25-26.

This 24-hour event is both a contest and a demonstration of the ability of amateur radio operators in North America to work under simulated emergency conditions.

(BTW the photo right shows how Field Day used to look like back in the late 50s and early 60s. That’s NC4FB operating the vintage equipment. This is a modern day photo as the tent isn’t made of heavy canvas which would get hotter than an 813 in the sun.)

I’ve been participating in Field Days for almost 50 years now and I’ve learned a few things that you might find helpful.

First is keep it simple. Complexity will kill the fun.

The guys on the repeaters are trying all sorts of new antenna ideas and are planning on running multiple stations in a very small area (on board a boat) and I’m thinking they’re way over their heads in choppy water already 🙂

Running multiple stations close together means you’re going to have audio and RF interference issues. Plus you’re going to be physically bumping into each other. After awhile this will get tiresome.

There’s no cure for the RF problems short of reduce the power output. These guys are not going to get the physical separation they need between antennas.

Tip two and this applies especially to multi-station setups is use the best equipment you can find.

Borrow better rigs with better front ends. I can’t tell you how many Field Days I’ve attended where somebody has brought their beloved IC-706 or TS-50 rig which works great at home to Field Day only to find the front end of the rig collapses in the face of so much RF so close by. If you do bring a rig that’s not contest quality (and in general that means a rig that costs less than $3K) you’re not going to have a good time running multiple stations in close. And regardless of the rig, run it with some attenuation and do not use the noise blanker for any reason as it will only generate all kinds of crud in the face of so much RF.

As to the audio issue, bring great headphones. Notice I didn’t say bring good headphones and not earbuds but communications headphones that entirely cover the ears. You can’t use loudspeakers without driving yourself and everyone around you absolutely nuts.

Same thing goes for VOX. Turn it off. Use push to talk or foot switches. If you use VOX your transmitter will key up anytime anyone yells out that the hot dogs are ready. Can’t tell you how many funny (but annoying) VOX-generated comments you’ll hear from Field Day sites.

Bring your own food and water. Pack a rain jacket and heavier clothing if you’re planning on operating outside after midnight. Here in Ontario it can get real cold at night even in late June.

So what would I suggest?

If you have a choice run one transmitter and run it well. Setup an operating schedule and stick to it. Give everyone a chance. SWLs can operate on phone so long as there’s someone with a license who is in physical control of the equipment. On Field Day this is often interpreted to mean the licensed operator is sleeping nearby at 3 am  and can be awaken in case of trouble. Industry Canada will likely disagree with this interpretation but then again they’re not on site are they?

Two charged car batteries in parallel can run a 100-watt rig easily for 24 hours. They can even power an autotuner if needed and a small LED light.

If you’re going to run two transmitters, separate then as much as possible while staying within the area defined by the contest rules.

If you’re able, run CW. It’s much more effective than SSB.

Use simple antennas raised as high as possible. If you’re running two stations (or more) place the antennas in a line to minimize interaction. Avoid using HF verticals on multi sites. Remember this is primarily a North American contest and antennas should be designed to work out to 2500 (Miami) to 4000 km  (Los Angeles) or so as this will cover the entire US. This means you don’t need yagis at 120 feet to have fun.

If you’re running one transmitter erect multiple antennas. The first should be a standard dipole cut for one frequency. Remember 40 meters is often the bread and butter band on Field Day and if you just do a one-band effort this would be the band to use with 20 meters a close second. For 80 and especially 160 meters you must have a full-size dipole up a quarter-wave length at the minimum. You can get away with less but if you want to maximize your signal this is essential.

Fifteen and 10 aren’t likely to be much of factor this year (but if they open, look out).

So the second antenna can be something more exotic (I fondly remember a fixed 40-meter ZL-Special (It’s essentially a two-element wire beam.) blazing an RF trail down the American east coast and into the Caribbean and South America.) and fun to put up. The second antenna at a one station effort could be a vertical but I don’t recommend it. Sure they’re easy to put up but essentially they work too well in that they shoot out the signal at a low angle which is best for DX. Remember this is a domestic contest.

If your Field Day site has two trees set anywhere from 120 to 200 feet apart and you can get ropes up 40 or more feet, a world of antenna possibilities opens up for you. I’d highly recommend getting a copy of ON4UN’s Low Band DXing book. It’s available locally and it’s fabulous. You can easily make high gain, wire antenna arrays that will rock the bands especially on 80 and 40 meters for next to zero expense and not much more work than it takes to erect a decent dipole.

If you’ve got the manpower, the ideal Field Day setup iMHO is two stations. One runs with a three-element beam for 20/15/10 meters on at least 30′ of tower and the second uses wire antennas for 40 and 80 and 160. These days I’d cable the logging computers together and using batteries or a generator go at it.

If you’re on your own, Field Day can still be fun operating out of the house but it’s even more fun if you can get out doors and operate from “the field”. And the field doesn’t have to be too far away.

Here at VE3HG I’m anticipating doing a one op, one station effort using the five-watt Ten Tec R40/20 and the PAR 40/20/10 end-feed wire antenna. I threw the PAR into a tree and tuned it yesterday and it’s flat on the CW portion of 20 and pretty flat on 40 meters.

For my Field Day, I’m thinking of operating from the Muskoka chair on our front patio.

I could operate out of park but most close for the night and I don’t want to bother trying to explain to Parks and Recreation what I’m proposing: “You want to put an antenna where sir?”

The rig will be powered by a 12-volt 8-ah gel-cell battery which I am just cycling through charge and recharge conditioning. Logging will be done by hand in a paper log (although I might use a computer – we’ll see as I’m purposely trying to keep this simple). I’ll use a memory keyer to send my report (to avoid bad CW) and headphones so I don’t bother the neighbours. If I feel really energetic I’ll take down the G5RV-JR and set it up in the front yard from a tree to the roof of the house and feed it into an LDG autotuner run off the 12-volt battery. Now I’ll have two antennas.

For lighting I’ll use either a flashlight or headband light.

It doesn’t get much simpler than that but I’m anticipating having a blast.

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About Peter West

I am retired. I'm invested into bike riding, guitar playing, yoga and Ham Radio. I am a former photojournalist, newspaper and magazine editor and public relations practitioner with national, regional and local experience. A long-time member of Toastmasters International and an active Amateur Radio (Ham) operator here in Canada I am taking on new challenges.

One thought on “Tips for Field Day

  1. Great Field Day primer Peter. How much trimming on the 40m end of the PAR antenna was required? I have one of these but it’s still in the box and want to get it tuned up for Field Day this year.

    Bob VE3MPG

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