A recurring theme at Off Grid Ham is the importance of going out and testing your ideas and projects in real world operating conditions. Very few of my schemes have ever worked exactly as planned the first time I tried them. Most needed modifications; a few were complete flops and there was no saving them. Field Day 2016 is coming up June 25-26 and it’s a once a year opportunity to find out just how good your gear and your skills are.
To be clear, Field Day should not be the only time you train for off grid amateur radio. I regularly practice with my equipment and field test every project. You do not want to place yourself in a situation where the first time you are using a radio is when you really, really need it.
As I’ve mentioned previously on this blog, until a plan is successfully tested in real world conditions, it’s just wishful thinking. Training can be done any time, but Field Day is unique because it’s the only day of the year when you can jump on any band with any mode and basically have a 100% chance of making multiple contacts.
The easiest way to participate in Field Day is to find a group or club in your area and attend their event. If you want to bring your own equipment, check with the group at least a few days or so ahead of time so they can accommodate you. If you’re not bringing gear and only want to operate, just show up. No appointment needed.
If you are looking for something in particular (EMCOMM, contesting, kids programs, etc.) then do a little homework before you visit a Field Day station. One way you can figure out what a group is into is to look on the internet and see what they did in years past.
While all Field Day stations incorporate every aspect of ham radio to some degree, some emphasize certain things more than others, and some take their mission more seriously than others. Last year I accepted a last minute invitation from a club I was not familiar with to bring my solar power setup to their Field Day event. They said they were focusing on disaster/emergency communications, and my solar stuff would fit perfectly into their theme.
It turns out their Field Day was under a large pavilion at an exceptionally well kept public park that felt more like a private country club. One of the organizers candidly told me they picked that spot specifically because there were flush toilets on site and a 7-11 not too far away. One dude dragged out a window air conditioner and hooked it up to a tent? Another guy had the back of a large SUV completely stuffed with coolers, chairs, food, bags of ice, pretty much everything except radio equipment.
This bizarre, disconnected from reality scene didn’t matter to me personally because I was just a guest there, but I was rather amused by what they considered “disaster conditions”. I nonetheless had a really good time and made a lot of new friends that day. Better still, I accomplished my goal of putting my portable solar power plant to a very thorough test.
While you should seek out Field Day groups that match your own off grid ham goals, not being able to find anything is not a reason to skip it altogether. Go with the flow and enjoy the people and the day even if it’s not 100% of what you expected. And if you really don’t feel like you have any good options with other groups, then organize your own Field Day. You can even participate as a single operator and you don’t have to stay on the air for the entire 24 hour event.
Be flexible and understand that Field Day means different things to different people. For some, it’s a serious disaster preparedness drill. For others, it’s a contest, a public outreach effort, or a picnic in the park with radios. No matter what it is to everyone else, for you it’s a chance to practice what you know and test your equipment. Of course you can and should train at other times, but Field Day is the main event. At some point reading on line articles and puttering around the shop has to be turned into action. Get out there and actually be an off grid ham.