Field Day, held on the last full weekend in June, is the quintessential amateur radio event. It includes elements of just about everything that makes amateur radio the great hobby that it is, and you should make every effort to participate in Field Day the first year that you’re licensed.
Field Day got its start in 1933 as an emergency-communication exercise. Ham radio operators dragged their equipment out into a field somewhere and operated using emergency power sources. The aim was to see how prepared amateur radio operators were to respond to an emergency and to learn how to do it better.
Emergency communications preparedness is still the primary purpose of Field Day. Amateur radio operators tune up their gasoline-powered generators and test their solar panels to ensure that they will be ready in case of an emergency. And, by hauling out into the field all manner of radio equipment, we find out what radios will work best in that operating environment.
Of course, the only way to tell how well your equipment will work is to actually operate it. That’s where the contest part of Field Day comes in. Stations score points by making contacts with other stations, and those with the most points win. Other things being equal, the stations that work the best will make the most contacts and score high in the contest.
Many Field Day stations have multiple transmitters, and when you have multiple transmitters, you need multiple antennas. Setting up a multiple-transmitter operation can be a lot of work. That’s why Field Day is often a club activity. For some clubs, it’s the biggest event of the year. In addition to all the technical activities, clubs use Field Day as a social event. There’s food and drink and reminiscing about Field Days gone by. For some hams, that’s more fun than actually operating.
Finally, because Field Day is such a big event, the ARRL encourages us all to use the event to reach out to the public, elected officials, and served agencies, such as county emergency management and the Red Cross, and educate them about amateur radio. Unlike many contests, where you only score points when you make contacts, you score Field Day points for holding your operation in a public place, handing out brochures to interested parties, and having the mayor come and visit your Field Day site.
How to participate
By participating in Field Day, you’ll learn more about amateur radio in a single day than you will doing just about anything else. If you’re a club member, ask how you can help out organizing your club’s Field Day event. That’s sure to win you points, and it will make your Field Day experience that much more fun and educational.
If you’re not a club member, or if you’ll be out of town that particular weekend, you can find a Field Day site closeby, by going to the ARRL Field Day Locator. The clubs that are listed there are sure to welcome you, especially if you arrive early and help them set up.
I hope I’ve persuaded you to participate in the next Field Day. You’ll not only learn a lot, but you’ll have a lot of fun. Don’t forget to take some sun screen and mosquito repellent!