Getting Started in ARDF

Your First Competition

de Ken Harker WM5R

Your first competition might also be your first ever attempt at ARDF. Without significant ARDF activity in much of IARU Region II, many get their start in ARDF by entering their first competition. This might even be a national championship! Do not be shy about entering your first competition, even if you've never tried ARDF before. Your goals for your first competition can be as simple as finding one transmitter and making it to the finish line in time.

Always make sure your receiver is working before the competition. If your receiver uses rechargable batteries, put them on the charger the night before competition. If your receiver uses disposable batteries, replace the batteries with fresh ones for the competition. Dead batteries guarantee poor ARDF performance!

Make sure you understand the rules that the group is using, the frequency of the transmitters, how they are marked, the limits of the hunt area, how much time you have to find the transmitters, and where to go when you are finished. While competitions will be following the IARU Region II ARDF rules, there may be small variations in the particular competition you are entering. For example, the time limit might be extended to three hours instead of two hours, the course length might be a little shorter or longer than the rules specify, or there may be fewer entry categories. The rules should indicate the embargo time, if any, for the event. Embargo times (for example, the six months before the event) are times when competitors are not allowed to visit the competitive terrain.

In addition to the actual rules of the event, the event sponsor might offer course setter's notes. These notes aim to inform the competitors of unique or unexpected features of the competitive terrain. For instance, if there has been a drought in recent months, water features on the map might be drier than the map suggests. If there is a region on the map that is marked off-limits, the course setter's notes might explain why. An example of something that be found in a course note: "The rifle and archery ranges are part of the active courses this weekend (there is no shooting.) You can ignore any signs that restrict entry into that area."

ARDF competitions start competitors in five-minute intervals. If everything is synchronized, competitors will always turn on their receivers when transmitter #1 (MOE) begins its transmission cycle. The winner is not the first competitor to cross the finish line - it is the competitor who finds the required transmitters in the shortest on-course time. This means that when you cross the finish line, unless you've gone over-time, you may not immediately know how you've placed in your entry category. You will not know until either everyone in your entry category has finished, or everyone still on course has been on course longer than you were.

At a meet with more than a few competitors, you may be starting at the same time as other competitors who are entering different categories than you. You will be assigned a start time, specified either as an absolute time (10:00 AM, 10:35 AM) or a relative time from the first start (+0 minues, +35 minutes.) Large formal competition will usually require equipment impound before the event. You will be required to hand in your receiver gear well before the start, and will be given the gear during the start sequence. At smaller, less formal events, competitors may be allowed to retain their receivers, but are always prohibited from turning them on before they start. A typical start sequence would have two stages of five minutes each, and thus require a competitor to be at the start sequence ten minutes before the actual assigned start time.

  • Stage 1: Typically, at stage one, you will be given your receiver equipment out of the impound. You will not be allowed to turn it on yet.
  • Stage 2: After five minutes, you proceed to stage two. You will be given a topographic map of the competitive area. You may be allowed to look at the map at this point, and maybe even to mark on it - for example, to draw exclusion circles around the start and finish points. You may be offered a clear plastic bag to put the map in to protect it from moisture and rough handling. You may be allowed to put on headphones, but only when the start is signalled (by a tone or whistle,) will you be allowed to turn on your receiver.

After the start tone or whistle, you are on course and the clock is ticking. Either remember when you started and know when your time limit is up ("I started at 9:35 AM, and it's a three hour time limit, so I have to finish by 12:35 PM") or plan to set your wristwatch to 00:00 when you start and know that you have until 03:00 to finish (for a three hour time limit.) No matter how many transmitters you find, finishing over-time is a disqualification.

From the start line, there is usually a designated corridor (often on an established trail) to the start triangle. The start triangle is a large triangle marked on the ground, usually in bright neon streamer tape, that is at the exact location as the start triangle on the topographic map. The corridor from the start line to the start triangle will be marked in similar streamer tape or pennant flags. Many competitions will prohibit you from stopping between the start line and the start triangle. Usually, the start triangle is located out of sight of the starting line. The idea is to make it so that you will not stop to take bearings until you are out of sight from the next group behind you waiting at the start line. The next group cannot get an unfair advantage by watching you.

In large, formal competitions such as national championships, the start sequence may vary. There may be three stages instead of two. There may be multiple start triangles, for different competitive categories, and each out of sight of the other. In competitions where there might be teams (such as national teams at IARU regional championships,) additional rules may apply to prevent team members from starting together.

On course, you are on your own. Remember that it is against the principles of good sportsmanship and the rules of the sport to intentionally follow other competitors. If you get completely lost, do not immediately ask for help - consider that almost every map will have a safety bearing. For example, "head east until you arrive at the river" or "head north until you arrive at the road that crosses the map from east to west." Remember to pace yourself to finish on time. Do not allow yourself to become dangerously dehydrated - bring water with you on course if it's a warm day or you expect to be on course over an hour. Carry a safety whistle, but never use it except in a real emergency. Finally, when you do find a transmitter, do not forget to "punch" in!

At the finish, there will be a defined corridor for competitors to enter and run to the finish line. It will be well-marked with streamer tape or pennant flags or something like that. The finish corridor should be highly visible from the finish area and there may be a lot of people cheering you on as you finish. Your course time does not stop until you cross the finish line. When you cross the finish line, you will need to hand in the punch card or punch in your memory device for data downloading. You will not be allowed back on course until the competition has concluded. Typically, a finish area will have water, maybe food, and first aid. Times may be posted at the finish area as the scoring judges periodically compute them.


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Last updated: 8 May 2020