Monday, July 07, 2008

ARRL Field Day

Once a year I let my more geekish nature take over. Ok, actually much more often than once a year! Anyway, the fourth weekend in June brought the annual American Radio Relay League's field day amateur radio contest.  This annual event is a 24 hour contest for amateur radio operators to demonstrate their emergency preparedness by setting up communication operations and trying to make as many unique contacts in a single day as possible. Additional points are available for using emergency power, receiving press coverage, having an elected official show up, etc. I participated as part of the HP Boise Amateur Radio Club's operations.

A team or individual can choose which class to participate in.  The classes are determined by how many radio stations you have on the air and what type of operation it is.  For example, we participated as a 3A club.  This means we were operating three primary radios on alternative power. Other classes would be for mobile operations, home operation, or participating from an emergency management office.  You can score contacts from any class, but your point totals are only compared to teams operating in the same class.  The most ridiculous club I connected to was operating as a 23A. Twenty three transmitters all on emergency power.  I am sure they won their class (probably the only competitor).

The Bureau of Land Management was kind enough to allow us to operate from Bonneville Point near Boise.  The park is usually closed after dark, but they wrote us an exception letter. Our primary power supply was a solar/battery trailer borrowed from Idaho Power. Much thanks to them as well. This was augmented with solar capacity from my van and some other portable solar panels as well. We were allowed to operate lights and computers on generator power, but the radios themselves could not be. In addition to the three primary operating station we were allowed to have an additional station to get non-licensed individuals on the air.  Contacts on this station count for double points. It was a good thing that we had lots of scouts and other visitors to help on these points.

It ended up being a fairly elaborate setup.  We raised two portable towers and also used a number of wire antennas. In all, about 20-30 people participated. I operated one station from noon until 4pm, making radio contacts to California, Nevada, Utah, Texas, Missouri, Minnesota, Virginia, Florida, Tennessee, and Hawaii.  I would operate more later in the evening.  Being a morning person, I decided to sleep early and take the morning shift. I slept from 10pm-4am and then got back on the air operating until 8:30 in the morning.  It was a beautiful morning sitting high on Bonneville point and watching the sun rise over the mountains. Most everyone else had stayed up late and slept through the sunrise.

In the end, the event was very successful.  We won't know how we really did until later when all of the results are in.  We usually end up in the middle of the pack. Most importantly we all practiced our emergency communication and proved our various equipment was up to the task.

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