by Stan Zawrotny, K4SBZ
The ARRL Field Day rules say that you can operate on the “160, 80, 40, 20, 15 and 10 Meter HF bands, as well as all bands 50 MHz and above.” That’s a big help – anywhere except the WARC bands (60, 30, 17 and 12 Meters). But where should you actually operate? And when? Which modes?
Let’s start off with a general rule for HF: You should operate on the higher bands (20, 15 and 10) during the daytime. At dusk, move to 40 meters. After dark, operate on 40, 80 and 160 Meters.
To narrow that down a little more, 20 Meters is the “Money Band” during the day. 40 and then 80 are the best choices at night.
But, if you want to make the most contacts in the most ARRL and RAC sections, you need to have all of the bands in your arsenal. Here is a band-by-band synopsis of the current band conditions, as I see them. “Your mileage may vary” – by mode, time of day, changing propagation and capabilities of your station. A summary of the band’s frequencies and modes follows each band’s forecast.
20 Meters: As previously mentioned, 20 Meters is the “Money Band” during the day. It is also the busiest. That’s because you can work the world on 20 Meters. Don’t expect to hear many locals here. Their signals are going over top of you to the ionosphere to be reflected down hundreds of miles away. It’s difficult to work Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina on 20. Most of your contacts will be west of the Mississippi or north of the Mason-Dixon Line. 20 may be a little slow during the middle of the day and then pick up after 3 pm. After sunset, 20 usually closes down, but has been known to be open all night.
20 Meters starts at 14.000 MHz and extends up to 14.350. As with most bands, CW occupies the lower end, from 14.000 to 14.150 MHz. Only Extra Class operators are allowed in 14.000 to 14.025. Imbedded in the CW band are “watering holes” for PSK31 (14.070), FT8 (14.074), FT4(14.080) and RTTY (14.083 to 14.110). Voice (SSB) occupies the upper end of 20, from 14.150 to 14.350. General Class operators must stay above 14.225 MHz. The band will be busiest between 14.225 and 14.300. If you are looking for an opening to call CQ, you stand a better chance of finding one above 14.300 MHz. Avoid the SSTV watering hole at 14.230. You should probably also avoid 14.280 which seems to be a favorite for Latin American hams.
15 Meters: 15 Meters is an alternative to 20. It is also a longer distance band with the West Coast and South America most common. 15 is more likely to be open during mid-day, closing around 4 pm.
The range for 15 Meters is 21.000 to 21.450 Mhz. CW occupies the lower end up to 21.200 MHz, with the first .025 MHz reserved for Extras. Technicians may operate CW, but not voice, on 15 Meters. You will find PSK31 at 21.070, FT8 at 21.074, FT4 at 21.140 and RTTY from 21.080 to 21.110 MHz. SSB starts at 21.200 with Generals restricted to above 21.275 MHz.
10 Meters: During this low sunspot period, 10 Meters has mostly not been open except for short periods. However, during the early summer months, 10 has been known to be open for long distances, with the skip usually favoring the West Coast and South America. This usually occurs during late morning and early afternoon. However, at the time of this writing (two weeks before Field Day), 10 has been open later. I have made FT8 contacts around the clock.
The 10 Meter spectrum is quite large: from 28.000 MHz to 29.700. The lower end, up to 28.300 is for CW. The PSK31 sub-band is at 28.070. RTTY starts at 28.080. FT8 is at 28.074 and FT4 is at 28.180 MHz. Voice starts at 28.300 with no sub-band set aside for Extras. It’s important to note that Technician Class may operate up to 28.500 MHz.
40 Meters: 40 Meters is actually open most of the day for short-range contacts, so you will nearly always find a little activity there. 40 opens up right around, or just before, sunset. As the Gray Line moves westward, so does the range for 40 until it reaches the West Coast or beyond. From sunset on, 40 is very crowded.
40 Meters is the 7 MHz band, extending from 7.000 to 7.300 MHz. CW occupies the lower end up to 7.125 MHz, with the usual .025 beginning reserved for Extras. The PSK31 watering hole is at 7.080 (note that the “.070” pattern is broken here). RTTY starts at 7.0430, FT8 is at 7.0740 and FT4 is at 7.0475. Technicians have CW privileges along side the Generals on 40. SSB starts at 7.125 for Extras and Advanced Classes and at 7.175 for Generals. The range from 7.175 to 7.200 is the busiest. Look out for the “Good Ole Boys” who occupy 7.200 MHz. They don’t take kindly to anyone encroaching on “their” frequency. The section above 7.200 also has a couple of European shortwave AM stations. Remember that from 10 MHz down, SSB is Lower Sideband. Doing “search and pounce,” it’s easier to start high and tune down into the signal.
80/75 Meters: After dark, 80 Meters starts to open up and remains open all night. 80 is not as crowded as 40. Many hams fill their logs on 40 Meters, then move down to 80. Most activity will be East Coast and Mid-West.
80 Meters (3.500 to 4.000 MHz) is so broad that it is sometimes broken into 80 Meters (3.5 to 3.7 MHZ) for CW and 75 Meters (3.6 to 4.0 MHz) for SSB. It is sometimes difficult to get an antenna tuned to both ends of the band. The 80 Meter CW band has the first .025 reserved for Extras. Generals and Technicians share the rest. PSK31 occupies 3.580 MHz, RTTY is from 3.590 to 3.600, FT8 is at 3.573 and FT4 is at 3.575 MHz. On the 75 Meter Band, SSB starts for Extras at 3.600, for Advanced at 3.700 and for Generals at 3.800 MHz. You will encounter a lot of rag chewers in the General portion of the band. They don’t like “contesters.”
160 Meters: This is known to many as the “Top Band.” 160 is definitely a nighttime band, not opening up until well after dark. It is also a high QRN band, especially during the summer months and any other time when there are thunderstorms. Another factor resulting in low activity is the size of an antenna resonant at 160 Meters. Most multi-band antennas do not include 160.
The entire length of the 160 Meter band from 1.8 to 2.0 MHz is both CW and SSB with no sub-bands for Extras. There is a PSK31 watering hole at 1.838. FT8 can be found at 1.840 MHz. There are no watering holes for RTTY or FT4.
6 Meters: Most HF rigs also have 6 Meter capability. 6 Meters, the “Magic Band,” is best during the summer months, especially June. During the ARRL VHF June Contest, June 13 and 14, the FT8 sub-band was as active as 20 meters. While the propagation favoring 6 Meters usually occurs during the day, the band was open to some degree all night long from Tallahassee to New England and the Mid-Atlantic during the contest. Many multi-band HF antennas will operate on 6 Meters. In a few hours, mostly on Sunday, I was able to make 77 contacts in 17 states, mostly in the Southeast, Mid-West and New England. Reports on 3830Scores.com from other hams indicate that CW and SSB were also active. Please note that I was using a multi-band HF OCF dipole, not a beam antenna. There have been recent reports of 6 meters being open to Europe for short spells.
Although 6 Meter extends for 4 MHz from 50 to 544 MHz, activity is mostly on the first MHz. CW will mostly be found from 50.0 to 50.120. 50.125 is the SSB calling frequency. You will find SSB CQs from 50.120 up to 51.000 MHz. The primary FT8 frequency is 50.313, with some activity also on 50.323. 50.318 is the FT4 sub-band. You can use FM simplex from 51.1 to 52.0 MHz. From 52.05 to 53.0 MHz, FM simplex shares the band with FM repeaters.
You can use any authorized mode for Field Day. However, most of the activity will be CW or SSB. RTTY is fairly active on FD. PSK31 will have some activity, however, PSK31 operators usually don’t understand about contests and FD, so you may find them sending their “brag” reports rather than the FD exchange. If so, try asking for the necessary information. They won’t know their class, but most will be operating 1D. FT8 and FT4 have both been very active in contests recently. Because of their weak-signal capability, FT8 and FT4 may be active even when CW and SSB fade out. A Field Day reporting feature is now built into WSJT-X.
Many hams report (“spot”) their contacts to the DX clusters. You can monitor a DX cluster to see who is active on what frequency. Be aware that the DX clusters are world-wide, so a spot may be by someone in Europe and not workable by you. You can usually filter the clusters to give only the modes, bands, and reporting stations that you need. There are a number of DX clusters available. One popular cluster is DX Summit at http://www.dxsummit.fi/#/.
Most of the contesting software packages provide a direct link to a cluster and also show a band map with the stations heard on the band that you are on. If you have activated the CAT capability, linking your rig to your computer, you can click on the callsign and the logger will change your rig directly to that frequency. Check your logger’s user guide for specifics.
Monitoring the DX cluster will also enable you to tell which bands are open. When you see only a few spots on the band that you are on, it’s a good time to move to another that shows more activity.Please feel free to contact me or any of the TARS Field Day coordinators with any questions that you may have. My email address is K4SBZ.Stan@gmail.com