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Random Lessons from 30+ Years of Field Days

by: Tom Schaefer, NY4I

First, these are my own opinions, but I thought the club might enjoy some things I have picked up over the years. I have seen all of these things actually happen.

  1. Going to Field Day is the best ham radio best decision you will ever make!
  2. This one is only half-joking…The most dangerous place to be is between the Field Day site and the parking lot at 1759z on Sunday afternoon. Teardown starts at 1800z so it is the really committed (and tired) that hang around to help teardown.
  3. You should rarely get to operate your own station. This is about elmering. The best Field Days are when you have new people that you help operate your radio or an adjacent station.
  4. FD is a collective event. It is not 3 station members that bring their radios, man them around the clock and don’t let anyone else operate.
  5. If you are afraid someone might break your radio, leave it at home. Field Day is a place the new people that may not be experienced on HF get to press the buttons and twiddle the dials on different radios. Your Icom 7851 does not belong at Field Day. Your radio will get dusty, there will be BBQ sauce on the display and it may need some cleaning when you are done. This is Field Day after all and things happen. Leave your prized possessions at home and bring your backup rig—but at least the one with good filters.
  6. “Take my ball and go home” has no place at Field Day. If you lend your radio, antenna, generator, etc, it’s in it for the duration. If you get mad, go home and come back at 1830z on Sunday to get your stuff.
  7. Someone will transmit on the same band on which another radio is receiving. It will happen. There are ways to prevent this (such as assigning radios to bands) but refer back to the item that all radios are shared resources used by whomever happens to be operating 20m at the time. Your job is to train them to operate and hand them the mic. Hang around to help answer questions but let them drive.
  8. If you don’t plan out your antenna layout, the 20m CW station antenna will be too close to the 20m SSB station antenna. Interference is no fun but solving it is part of Field Day.
  9. Mosquitoes suck!
  10. Cigar smoke chases away mosquitoes. Find someone in the club that likes a good Fuente and sit by them. Just no Swisher Sweets—they stink.
  11. It will rain. Plan accordingly.
  12. If you do not reserve a year in advance, one of your kids will have the nerve to pick the fourth Saturday in June for a wedding.
  13. You will learn things about what you can do under less than ideal circumstances. FD brings out the MacGyver in every ham. Solve some issue with the coax. Make a new coax choke when the balun fails. Twist wires together when the connectors come off the power supply wire.
  14. Field Day is not a clean room. Perfect is the enemy of Field Day. Perfectionism has no place at FD. Save perfect for your shack at home. Yes, 100 feet of LMR400 technically has less loss than 100 feet of RG-8X, but at Field Day, we just don’t care. 89 watts out of 100 is better than having to drive home for the roll of LMR400 to put 93 watts to the antenna.
  15. If you have booze, someone will get drunk. You have to deal with all its requisite issues.
  16. Sitting on a run frequency calling CQ and working stations for an hour straight is just magic. You will never have an operating experience like running from a well-equipped FD station (meaning a good antenna).
  17. The newspaper or TV station reporter you invited will arrive at Sunday morning right in the middle of your aforementioned 180 QSOs/hour run.
  18. Everyone at the site should know to whom to refer the reporters when they arrive. Coherence and CW signals make good B-roll.
  19. The bonus points will only materialize if you designate someone as the Bonus Point captain. Their job is to make sure someone gets all the bonus points.
    • Did the satellite station make a contact AND give you the log?
    • Did someone copy the W1AW bulletin? Exactly who is doing it and do they know to bring you the text?
    • Does a specific person have the solar charged battery to make the alternate power contacts?
    • Is there a sign-up book?
    • Does everyone know they should direct new people to the check-in table?
  20. FM Transponders for the satellite contact are useless. You will not get into the repeater. Use FO29 or another linear satellite with SSB or CW.
  21. The more complicated the satellite antenna system, the less likely you will make a contact. The Az/El rotator with the dual beams on an H-Frame is cool, but an Arrow antenna or eggbeaters will do just fine.
  22. In Florida–and the rest of the South–it will be unbearably warm and muggy. At 8000 feet in the mountains of Utah, you will need a coat and gloves as it will be freezing at night—yes, after attending Florida Field Days for years, I laughed when they told me to bring a coat at my first Utah ARC Field Day in in the mountains above Payson, Utah.
  23. You are going to have to talk to strangers. Field Day is about emergency preparedness (and contesting) but it is mostly a very public display of amateur radio. If you see someone new, get up and talk to them. Invite them to the check-in table; ask if they are a ham; do they want to operate? If they are new, give them a brochure for the club.  If you are not all that outgoing, make sure there is always someone that can answer questions. Be inviting and open to new people. Field Day is not the time for cliques.
  24. The generator will run out of gas at the worst possible time.
  25. The camaraderie you will experience is unique to Field Day. Field Day is a way for us to work together for a common goal. We all share a love of radio. Field Day allows us to hone our own skills, help others better their skills and test our endurance under less than ideal conditions. We all love to talk about the emergency aspects of ham radio when we need it for things like the Amateur Radio Parity Act, but you cannot say you are an emergency communicator if you cannot pull off Field Day. Field Day will test you, it will make you sweat but it will give you much in return.
  26. Going to Field Day is the best ham radio best decision you will ever make!


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