Lessons learned on Field Day 2012

The 15 meter digital station, one cog in our 11A operation. That’s me standing under the tent looking confused. Photo courtesy of Ed, KK4CTP.

With my first summer Field Day in the history books, here are a few observations I made at our club’s 11A event, where I worked 15 meter digital modes. These are in no particular order:

  • Good CW operators are godlike. One of our members racked up more than 100 QSOs in the first hour or so.
  • Bring extra shirts. Half an hour after I arrived on-site, I was drenched in sweat from the 90+ degree heat.
  • Deep cycle marine batteries are awesome for powering gear.
  • The power inverter I used to charge my laptop caused some serious RF interference. S2 background levels jumped to S8+ when that sucker was running.
  • A mechanical filter of some sort would have been very useful with the FT-817 to get rid of strong adjacent signals.
  • It pays to know your software and logging programs. A fellow club member managed to get Digital Master into split mode (He was receiving on one portion of the waterfall and transmitting on another) and reported he’d only made a single QSO as a result. A quick Google search on my phone produced the remedy: Click the yellow lock icon on the waterfall toolbar to exit split mode!
  • Bring first aid supplies. I sliced a chunk out of my index finger while taking down an antenna mast and was bleeding all over the place. That was the about the only thing that went wrong the entire day.
  • Real men operate outdoors! What’s with everyone hiding out in trailers and campers with HDTV, full air conditioning and all the comforts of their home shack? Well, they are smarter than me; that’s what they are. Still, I enjoyed our little pop-up tent station. We were out in the open under a shady tree and as a result, we had lots of visitors coming by to check out our operation. Many folks were interested in digital modes and had never tried them, so we showed off the SignaLink, the software, the radio, and how QSOs are made and logged.
  • Coke Zero is my drink of choice! I drank nearly 90 oz. of the stuff while operating. Probably not the best way to stay hydrated though!
  • Ladder line antennas will have a screwy SWR when connected to an analyzer.
  • It doesn’t make any sense to make a single-band ladder line dipole. Go long or go home!
  • SWR meters work better when they are connected between the rig and the autotuner, rather than between the autotuner and the antenna. (Or, how a $30 MFJ wattmeter had five experienced hams armed with an antenna analyzer completely stumped — yes, this was my fault all along.)
  • The food at Field Day is damned good! Peanut butter brownies are deadly!
  • 15 meters can be a cruel mistress.
  • No folks, we don’t all have to be use N1MM to log. You can use anything you want as long as it spits out an ADIF. It’s amazing how many people don’t understand that.
  • Ham Radio Deluxe’s logbook in conjunction with Digital Master works just fine for me.
  • Taking the time to set up my logbook database and contest macros for PSK31 several nights before was priceless.
  • If the band isn’t hopping, turn everything off and go visit with some other hams for a bit.
  • If you are logging on a computer, bring a USB stick to periodically back up your log onto. When I operate at home I sync my logs with Dropbox before I sign off.
  • My laptop, LDG tuner, SignaLink and FT-817 withstood hours of heavy-duty operating in 90-degree temperatures just fine.
  • A classic Victorinox Swiss Army knife remains my go-to tool of choice after 20 years.
  • Remember to have fun and don’t take the “contest” aspect of it too seriously. I was annoyed we’d only made four PSK QSOs after three hours of operating. Then I heard reports from some of the other guys: They’d only made one or two QSOs and 10 and 6 meter phone/digital was dead. Four QSOs didn’t sound so bad then. After dinner I racked up more than 20 when the band conditions improved. What a difference a few hours made!

I was told that you learn “four times as much” on Field Day as you do from books or operating at home. I must agree!

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