ARRL Field Day on the fourth full weekend of June every year is the opportunity for thousands of amateur radio enthusiasts throughout the U.S and Canada to set up temporary communications stations and make contact with like-minded people. Licensed radio operators (often called “Hams”) spend the weekend practicing community outreach, emergency preparedness, and technical skills. It’s basically radio heaven.
A contest is held each year with individuals, clubs and teams trying to make contact with as many stations as possible over 24 hours. Field Day 2020 will take place on June 27 and June 28 with over 35,00 people expected to take part. It begins at 18:00 UTC Saturday and runs through 20:59 UTC Sunday. Pack your camping equipment, throw up some temporary antennas, and spin the dials on your radio, because this not-to-be-missed event is rich in history, tradition and technology..
History of ARRL Field Day
The first ARRL Field Day was held on the second Saturday in June 1933. The winner of the contest was the W4PAW team who scored 1876 points. The initial event, organized by F. E Handy, was such a hit with the amateur radio community that it became an annual tradition, with 1942 through to 1945 being the only years that Field Day hasn’t been held, due to World War II.
For many, the big draw of Field Day is the competition–a high-frequency dash to make contact with as many stations as possible. The rules state that if setup commences before the contest starts then participants have 24 hours to chase their contacts, whereas those who commenced set up as the contest started have 27 hours. In 1968 the rules were changed and it became mandatory for everyone to set up within the 27-hour timeframe, but the change proved unpopular and it was readjusted again in 1969 to the rules that are used today.
Each station will exchange information with other participating stations. For the North American Field Day, the exchange consists of the station call sign; the name of the ARRL-recognized section from which the station is operating (called Grid Square); and a class designator which indicates the type of location (whether in a vehicle, outdoors, or in a home), the number of people operating and number of transmitters being used, plus information about the type of electrical power source connected to (conventional or emergency sources like batteries, solar, generator, wind, etc.). The event is now widely sponsored by the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) and has begun to spread its wings overseas in many countries.
The contest portion of Field Day has two purposes: The primary purpose is to test the group’s ability to plan operations that can be effective for an entire twenty-four-hour period, including operator endurance and adequate numbers of operators for a shift operation. The secondary purpose is to demonstrate the technical proficiency of the station that has been quickly constructed for the contacts: In theory, a better station will be capable of emergency operations in dire conditions; such a station will also be capable of making more contacts during the contest portion of Field Day. Point systems are structured to motivate emergency preparedness activities, such as designating a safety officer for the station or incorporating auxiliary power capabilities.
Although many amateur radio enthusiasts work hard to win the contest in their entry category, the social side of the event has grown over the years too. Camping and cookouts are commonplace, with those operating the radios in rotating shifts to keep the stations on the air.
Field Day is frequently used to attract significant publicity for amateur radio, and some clubs simultaneously demonstrate technologies including single-sideband voice, Morse code, older and new digital modes alike (such as RTTY, PSK31, and FT8, among others), and even two-way communication via amateur radio satellite.