Adult Radio Orienteering Classes

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ARDF Coordinator

Dec 5, 2022, 9:40:28 PM12/5/22
The following is a summary of beginner radio orienteering classes Nadia and I organized in late October 2022. The classes were intended for those wanting to have their first introduction to radio orienteering. No age restrictions were placed on who could enroll, but most of those who attended were adults, with just a few minors who attended with their parents. We hope some of the information below will be helpful to others wanting to hold beginner classes for adults. 

Our local orienteering club (Backwoods Orienteering Klub, of Raleigh, NC) sponsored the classes, providing advertising, some competition-grade receivers, and requisite liability insurance. The classes were held separately from any other orienteering or radio orienteering activities, in a local state park. There were three class sessions held on consecutive Saturdays at noon. Each class lasted approximately 90 minutes, but additional time at the end of each class was allotted to accommodate anyone who wanted more time to practice their new skills.

Classes were conducted similarly to the youth classes held in July (described in a previous posting) but at an accelerated learning pace. Radio orienteering on the 80m band was taught. Transmitting equipment was FlexFox transmitters running 5W into a tuned vertical dipole antenna. Course lengths increased with each class, starting at ~1.5 km for the first class and progressing up ~4 km. Constantly-transmitting foxes, each on its own dedicated frequency, were used for the first class, with cycling (1 minute on / 4 minutes off) transmitters used for the remaining classes. Students were each provided with their own (loaner) R3500D radio receiver and over-the-ear headphones for the first class. Then they were introduced to tuned-loop competition-grade receivers for the remaining two classes. Note: orienteering maps were presented, and their use was discussed with the students attending the second and third classes, but maps were not used by the students when they traversed the training courses: the emphasis was placed on having students learn to use and rely on the receiver. 

We had four (4) students attend the first Saturday, twenty (20) on the second Saturday, and six (6) on the final Saturday. All students were invited to continue in the sport and attend regular BOK-sponsored events. Of the thirty students who attended one or more beginner classes, four (4) attended the next BOK regular radio orienteering event held one week after the third class. All four of them, participating in their first "regulation" classic course, found all three of the foxes they attempted and successfully finished within the time limit. Their performance was much better than the typical first-timer and hopefully resulted in much less frustration than most people experience their first time on a course.

Class Syllabus

Saturday #1
Three foxes and a finish beacon were placed in the woods to create a simple 1.5 km course. The finish beacon was placed about 200m away from the parking area where the class commenced. The foxes used very short (2m tall) vertical dipole antennas, limiting their range. The finish beacon used a standard (7m tall) vertical dipole antenna, making it the strongest signal on the course. The finish beacon flag was hung prominently near its antenna. The foxes were marked by a flag laid flat on the ground nearby, making them a little more challenging to locate visually. The beacon operated at 3600 kHz, with three foxes on 3540, 3560, and 3580 kHz.

1. Introductions were made as students arrived, and class started promptly at noon.

2. A brief introduction to the sport was presented (~10 minutes), and questions were fielded.

3. R3500D receivers were distributed, and their operation was explained in detail: Turning on the receiver; Volume control; Tuning to different frequencies; Finding the fox frequencies and recognizing the fox patterns; Determining the null directions; Determining which null direction is toward the fox

4. Initial practice:
   o As a group, we walked toward the finish beacon (200m in the woods) with everyone (including the instructor) carrying their own receiver. The null bearing direction was used to locate the finish flag.
   o Along the way, anyone experiencing difficulty operating their receiver was given additional instruction.
   o When everyone arrived at the finish location, the transmitter and its antenna were revealed, and the purpose of the finish beacon was discussed.

5. Finding their first fox:
   o Everyone moved away from the vicinity of the finish beacon to escape its interference. Then, as a group, everyone tuned to Fox 1 (located about 300 meters away), determined the correct null direction and proceeded toward the fox. Students were encouraged to go at their own pace and wait near the first fox after finding it.
    o Along the way, anyone still experiencing difficulty operating their receiver was given additional instruction.
    o Some students might overlook the fox flags lying inconspicuously on the ground. This provided a learning opportunity: when to use the sense button to confirm the fox isn't behind us!

6. Finishing the course: Adults who were now comfortable using their receivers were encouraged to go ahead independently at their own pace and find the remaining foxes, waiting near the last one. Those wishing to remain in a group were provided with assistance while traversing the course.

7. Final exam: Once everyone reached the final fox, any remaining questions were addressed, and then everyone was instructed to tune in to the finish beacon and use its signal to navigate back to their cars.

Saturday #2
The first class was offered each Saturday, so first-timers could attend any of those three days. Those who returned for a 2nd or 3rd class were provided with more advanced instruction using five cycling (1 min on / 4 min off) foxes set out on a ~3 km course. The cycling foxes operated at 3520 kHz, running 5W into standard 7m-tall vertical dipoles. The same finish beacon transmitter was used for both courses. 

1. The class started promptly at noon.

2. Competition-grade tuned-loop receivers were distributed to each student and the instructor. A reverse-rose compass was attached to each receiver to facilitate taking bearings. The operation of the receivers and compasses was demonstrated and explained.

3. The instructor briefly explained how to complete a radio orienteering competition from beginning to end: what to do at the start, during the first five minutes, while traveling between foxes, and to the finish line. The use of a map and compass was explained and demonstrated.

4. Then, the students and instructor proceeded as a group to find the first two foxes, with the instructor demonstrating each step. The students emulated the instructor, confirming that they could obtain similar bearings and draw logical conclusions from those bearings and the observed signal strengths.

5. After the first two foxes had been located, the students were allowed to lead the search. For the last three foxes, the instructor observed and corrected any student errors while the students took bearings and navigated to each fox.

6. After the last fox, everyone tuned to the finish beacon and used it to navigate to the finish.

Saturday #3
The same course types were set up as on Saturday #2, but with different transmitter locations and optimum orders. The course length with five cycling foxes was increased to ~4 km. 

1. The class started promptly at noon.

2. Competition-grade tuned-loop receivers were distributed to each student.

3. The instructor reviewed the lessons from the first class.

4. Those who felt ready were encouraged to complete the course independently. The others remained in a group with the instructor, who assisted only as needed while they navigated the course.

5. After the last fox, everyone tuned to the finish beacon and used it to navigate to the finish.

At Their First Regulation Event

Students participating in their first radio orienteering event were briefly introduced to the map and sports rules just before they departed for the starting line. This covered:
   o Map symbols - particularly major trails, start (triangle), finish (concentric circles), exclusion zones around the start and finish, and keep-out areas.
   o Basic course rules: minimum separation between foxes, the significance of exclusion zones, flag placement relative to antennas, etc.
   o How to clear and use the SI finger stick.

Upon completing their first course, the students officially graduated as "intermediate radio orienteers."


   o Many who attended seemed to be doing so out of idle curiosity. The classes were offered free of charge, so why not? We want to encourage such participation since that’s how some people will discover a passion for a new sport. But it also may help explain why only four of the ~30 students graduated to “intermediate” status. We hope a few more will appear at future radio orienteering events and classes - the enthusiasm expressed by some students suggests they will.
  o The signals of the continuously-transmitting foxes operating into short antennas should have been made a little stronger for better reception by the R3500D receivers.
  o The frequency separation of 20 kHz between transmitters was sufficient, even for the R3500D receivers.
  o Continuously transmitting foxes identified with Morse patterns “ME”, “MI”, “MS”, etc., making them easily distinguishable from the cycling transmitters that used the traditional “MOE”, “MOI”, “MOS”, patterns. This seemed to work well.

   o 90 minutes seemed to be about the right length for the classes. Only a few students stayed longer, attempting to find some cycling transmitters independently after completing the first class.
  o Having a contact phone number attached to each receiver, and encouraging students to carry cell phones, is an excellent way to reassure those who might be nervous about searching independently. But we never had anyone get lost. The finish beacon is also good insurance.
  o Offering beginner training at all regular radio orienteering events seems a good strategy. This will provide first-timers with a convenient opportunity to gain the basic radio orienteering skills that will help them avoid frustration the first time they attempt a regulation course.

   o Intermediate and advanced radio orienteering classes might be needed next. We are hoping so!

Charles - NZØI

Vadim Afonkin

Dec 5, 2022, 10:19:46 PM12/5/22
to ARDF Coordinator, ARDF USA
Great achievement!

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