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 will take place on June 24 and June 25 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.
ARRL Field Day timeline
The first ARRL Field Day is held on the second Saturday in June.
The event is temporarily suspended due to World War II, returning in 1946.
For the first time, a team makes more than 10,000 contacts during a contest.
The global health pandemic led to event organizers declaring it is ‘time to adapt,’ encouraging participants to try a new approach to their station for Field Day 2020 to meet public health guidelines.
ARRL Field Day FAQs
When is Field Day?
ARRL Field Day is held on the fourth full weekend of June every year.
What is Ham Radio Field Day?
Field Day is an amateur radio event held in June. The event serves as an emergency preparedness test, as well as a contest between radio enthusiasts across the U.S. and Canada.
Where is Field Day celebrated?
Amateur radio operators participate from locations throughout the United States and Canada.
ARRL Field Day Activities
Experiment with radio
If you’ve never really played around with radio communications, then this is the perfect time to do so. Not only is knowing how to operate a ham radio a useful skill to have, but its also a great learning experience, career stepping-stone, and a lot of fun too. You might be surprised to learn that many SpaceX engineers are also ham radio operators. So do some research online and find a local club to help you get a license.
Camp with the pros
If you know anyone who takes part in ARRL Field Day or can make contact with a team, then why not camp out and join them? It will be a great opportunity to learn all about Field Day and pick up a few radio tips while you’re at it.
Listen to the fun on a shortwave receiver that you might have in the attic
Many people actually have a multi-band radio that can pick up short-wave frequencies. All you typically need then is a long piece of wire attached to the antenna terminals on the back of the radio. Go ahead and search the amateur bands for conversations during the contest.
Five Fun Facts About Amateur Radio
You may have noticed that the contest winners we mentioned earlier had team names that just seemed like a random selection of letters and numbers. Well, this is their call sign and every licensed amateur radio operator is given one.
Want to learn more about amateur radio operation but don’t know where to start? Well, you need an Elmer. “Elmer” is the name given to experienced radio operators who offer to mentor those who are starting out.
Love and Kisses
The original amateur radio operators used only Morse code. To save time, many abbreviations were used. So, for example, if you were talking to a “special someone,” you would sign off with the number 88, which means love and kisses.
It is estimated that around two million hobbyists participate in amateur radio. That’s a huge community to join, learn from, and make new friends.
Why the name, “Ham radio”
Over one hundred years ago, some of the amateur stations were very powerful, and commercial radio operators, frustrated with amateur radio on-air interference, began referring to amateurs as “hams.” Ham was a derogatory slang word derived from the phrase, “ham actor.” Amateurs adopted the word and began using it to describe themselves and their hobby.
Why We Love ARRL Field Day
Field Day has been ongoing for almost a century and continues to carry on from its strength of adaptability. It’s great to see traditions like this presently dealing with current Covid-19 restrictions, while continuing to provide fun, education and emergency preparedness as it continues to be passed along and trains future generations.
Amateur radio enthusiasts form a friendly community. ARRL Field Day isn’t just about the radios and the contest, it’s a chance for friends and family to spend some time together (whether physically or virtually) and do some activities that everyone enjoys.
For an emergency
This is the aspect of ARRL Field Day that is very important to our safety. When disaster strikes, amateur radio operators are always on the scene to help spread crucial information, provide coordination, and help in many other capacities across the country. Cell communications are not immune to disaster.
ARRL Field Day dates