Are You in Control?

With Field Day just two days away, I thought it might be a good idea to review the concept of the control operator. It seems to me that there’s some misconceptions out there about this topic, and a lot of amateur radio clubs get a little loosey-goosey with the concept of the control operator on Field Day.

So, the question is what constitutes a control point? How close does a control operator need to be?

I liked the reply of Tim, N9PUZ. He wrote:

I can provide one opinion.

I am the trustee for W9SPI, the call sign for our local ARES group. One of our board members is a volunteer ARRL legal counsel, and his opinion is that since ultimately I am responsible for operations carried out under that call sign, I and I alone have the final decision on how to interpret what constitutes a “control operator.”

It is my position that a control operator needs to be able to monitor/observe first hand how the particular station is being operated and be close enough that he/she can immediately take it off the air if there is a problem with either equipment or the person physically operating. As for “how close?”, I like to see the CO close enough that they can reach across the table, walk across the room or tent, reach down and disconnect the power, etc. If they need to go to the porta-potties, head out to their car, go to the food tent, etc. then someone else with the appropriate level of license needs to become the CO for a while.

I think it’s perfectly okay for there to be a lot of control operators and just note who is in charge if it changes a lot.

I’ve seen some pretty loose interpretations of “control operator” at some Field Day events. I have heard some clubs say that as long as there is one Extra class operator within the circle (1,000 ft?) that everyone on site can operate with Extra class privileges. Not on my watch.

Another ham expressed a more practical viewpoint:

Many control operators trust the operators that are operating stations under their supervision. If I’m trustee, and I know that I’ve got a bunch of people that I trust either operating or watching over other operators, I feel that I’ve fulfilled the requirements of the regulations. Do I feel that I can adequately stop transmissions if I’m a half mile away in an adequate time? Sure.

There’s not that much difference in the control of an HF station and the control of a repeater station. As long as everyone is operating within the designated parameters, the FCC stays happy.

This has been discussed and fought over thousands of times for many years, and I’ve yet to hear a control operator or trustee chastised by the FCC for any reason, except for flagrant and repeated violation of the rules.

He’s quite right to say that no one’s been cited for a rules violation, at least I can’t think of anyone who’s been cited, but I’m not sure that make it “right.”

The relevant rules are 97.103(a) and (b). They read:

Station licensee responsibilities. –
(a) The station licensee [In the case of a club callsign, the licensee is the trustee...Dan] is responsible for the proper operation of the station in accordance with the FCC Rules. When the control operator is a different amateur operator than the station licensee, both persons are equally responsible for proper operation of the station.
(b) The station licensee must designate the station control operator. The FCC will presume that the station licensee is also the control operator, unless documentation to the contrary is in the station records.

So, in the end, from a practical point of view, if you are the trustee of a club call sign being used during Field Day, I think it’s a matter of how much you trust the operators that will be using the call sign. In none of the Field Day operations that I’ve been part of has the trustee designated specific control operators, nor have the control operators been recorded anywhere.

That being the case, the full responsibility falls on the trustee. Should something bad happen, he or she would be completely responsible. That’s something to consider if, like me, you’re the trustee of a call sign being used on Field Day.

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