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
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