A grid square is a division of the earth into sectors one degree latitude by two degrees longitude. Each one is designated by a four character identifier. For example, I live in EN34
After I wrote my previous post, the official rules for the event were announced. And contrary to my initial interpretation, it is important to work grids on as many bands and modes as possible, since points are awarded for each grid on a new band or mode.
With my modest station, I’m certainly not in the big leagues. But with a very modest effort, I now have 100 grids confirmed, as shown on the map above. And because I have some of them confirmed on more than one band or mode, I have a total of 162 points, placing me in about 1953rd place out of 17287. That places me in about the top 11%, which I consider to be respectable given a modest station and limited time.
Interestingly, on a later update of the Leader Board shortly after writing this, I see that I am now tied with W1AW for 1928th place. Strangely enough, this is the second time I’ve been tied with the ARRL’s Headquarters station:
Points are awarded as the contact is confirmed on Logbook of the World (LOTW). Since confirmations continue to filter in, this score will continue to rise.
Most of my contacts so far came from two contests, the CW and SSB weekends of the North American QSO Party. A majority of contesters seem to participate in LOTW. Therefore, by making as many contacts as possible, the score continues to rise. As you can see from the map above, most of my contacts are from the United States, with a smattering of contacts from Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. The handful of European contacts I’ve made so far have not yet confirmed on LOTW.
So far, I have no digital contacts. So at the very least, I’ll need to get set up for PSK31, which requires only very minimal hardware between the computer and radio. Every contact I make will be worth one point, since I have yet to work any grids in a digital mode.
Two upcoming contests are worthy of note. Next weekend is the Minnesota QSO Party, which has participation in all or most Minnesota counties. It will be a good opportunity to get the 26 grids which lie completely or partially in Minnesota. Other state QSO parties later in the year will provide similar opportunities.
And the ARRL DX Contest (CW in February and SSB in March) will provide a lot of new grids, since almost everything outside the U.S. will be new for me.
To follow your own progress, a good tool is the N1KDO Grid Mapper, which was used to generate the map at the top of the page. When I started as a Novice, one common activity for new novices was to color in a “Worked All States Map,” which was nothing more than an outline map of the United States. The process of coloring in a map can be addictive, and I often find myself refreshing the map to see if other confirmations have come in, with another square turned red.
The American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the national association for Amateur Radio in the United States, announced last week a year-long operating activity for 2018. During 2018, participating hams will be trying to contact as many “grid squares” as possible. The event is called the ARRL International Grid Chase, and will run from January 1 through December 31, 2018.
The main requirement is that for the contact to count, both stations must upload the contact to Logbook Of The World (LOTW). If you’re a ham and don’t yet have one, I encourage you to set up a LOTW account. The process is relatively straightforward. There’s sometimes criticism, perhaps justified, that the process is too complicated. But if you can follow instructions, it’s quite easy to create your account. And once you have it set up, the process of actually uploading QSO’s is even simpler. You do not need to be an ARRL member to set up your LOTW account or participate in the Grid Chase.
The earth is divided up into 32,400 Maidenhead grid squares. Each of these is assigned a unique code consisting of two letters and two digits, and each measures two degrees longitude by one degree latitude. For example, I live in grid EN34. Since my house is less than a mile away from one of the boundary lines, the 45th parallel north, this means that I live right next door to grid EN35. Other neighboring grids, such as EN33, EN44, and EN24, are all within a hundred miles. In the continental united states, each square measures about 100 miles east to west, and 70 miles north to south. As you move closer the equator, the squares get slightly larger and more “square.” As you move closer to the poles, the squares get smaller and more triangular, with the 18 northernmost and 18 southernmost squares actually being triangles, with their points touching at the pole.
The easiest way to find your grid square is the website qthlocator.free.fr. You simply find your location on the Google map, click on it, and you will instantly see your own grid. You can also enter a grid and the map will center on that location.
First Thoughts About Strategy
Unless someone out there has a well-equipped boat, and someone else is prepared to operate from isolated arctic or mountainous areas, it’s impossible to work all of the grids, or even most of them. After all, most of the earth consists of water (but even some of those grids will see some activations by sea or air). It’s unlikely that any grids in North Korea will be activated, although as far as I can tell, there are no grids located entirely within the Hermit Kingdom. PN30 extends a tiny bit into China, PN31, PN41, and PN42 include larger portions of China, and PN52 staddles North Korea, Russia, and China. As far as I can tell, all of the other North Korean grids include either international (but not necessarily friendly) waters, or South Korean soil. It’s unlikely that any of those grids will see much activation, but it’s not an absolute impossibility.
But as a practical matter, it’s safe to say that nobody is going to work all 32,400 grids. In fact, it’s safe to say that even the most successful operators will only work a small percentage of that amount. But there will be some that work a few thousand. I doubt if I’ll be in that category, but I think it can be done by most hams by employing some strategy.
To be at the top of the leader boards, I think will require concentrating on three things, and I want to share my preliminary thoughts on how to accomplish them. I think the following things will be required:
Work all or most of the “easy” grids in North America
Work all or most of the “easy” grids worldwide
Work all of most of the inevitable “grid-peditions” that will take place later in the year.
Working the Easy Grids in North America
Shown here is a map of the grids I worked during 2016. The vast majority of the grids shown here were worked during the National Parks On The Air event. I wasn’t making any particular effort to chase grids, but I did make thousands of contacts, and this is how they were distributed. Some of these grids (like the ones clustered around Yellowstone National Park) were because I worked someone activating a park. But most of them were stations at home who worked me while I was at a park. They are a more or less random sampling of hams, and the ones that I worked were probably the easiest ones to work, because there are more hams there. (You can create your own map for any date range at N1KDO’s site.)
The ones I didn’t work come in two categories. First of all, there is a big gap in places like Iowa, Nebraska, and the Dakotas. This is partly because some of these areas are sparsely populated. But it also shows that I was using 20 meters for most of my activations, and stations in these areas were just too close for me to work. If I had spent some time concentrating on closer states, I probably would have worked many of these grids as well.
But some grids are rare because there are few active hams there. These will be the “rare” grids that will get more attention later in the year. But I think the first order of business will be to work the easy grids first. These will be grids like the one where I live, with thousands of resident hams. I’m sure most active chasers will have EN34 crossed off their list within the first few days.
To get a good start on the event, it will be important to take care of the easy grids as soon as possible. This is important for a few reasons. First of all, it might not be readily apparent which grids are the rare ones. Some might have few hams overall, but they might be very active. So it’s best to figure out as soon as possible what category they are in. Also, they might start out as common, but become rare later in the year. If a grid has just a few active hams, it’s possible that one of them will become inactive, or perhaps move to another part of the country during the year. If you miss them when they are still “easy,” you’ll be behind everyone else, and you’ll need to get them when they are “rare.”
This happened a few times during NPOTA. For example, in April, I worked Kalaupapa National Historical Park in Hawaii. It was a relatively easy contact. But it was also a one-time opportunity, since the park was never activated again later in the year. Another example was Touro Synagogue in Rhode Island. It was a relatively easy contact, but it was only available a couple of times, early in the year. It was easy for me, but it was impossible for someone who got a late start.
And the way to ensure that the “easy” grids get in your log early in the year is through contests. When the ARRL Triple Play Award was announced in 2008, then-ARRL CEO Dave Sumner, K1ZZ, correctly predicted that many participants would get a head start, and possibly complete the award, with three January contest weekends, ARRL RTTY Roundup and the North American QSO Party (CW and Phone).
Contesters happily handing out grid squares. Wikipedia photo by Kenneth E. Harker WM5R, 2001, and is released under the GNU Free Documentation License.
Since the mode is not as important for the International Grid Chase, it probably won’t be necessary to compete in all three contests. But it seems that starting the year with one or more of these contests is a good way to get the “easy” grids out of the way. It is important to work multiple bands. As you can see from my 2016 grid map, I’m missing many easy grids within a few hundred miles of home. I’ll need to work the lower bands to get the close-in grids, and the higher bands to get the ones further away. In fact, to ensure that I have the close-in states taken care of, it will probably be worthwhile to actively participate in the CQ 160 Meter Contest in January and February.
As Triple Play Award participants discovered in 2009, most contest stations upload their logs to LOTW promptly, and most of them include their grid square. So by participating in a few contests and working the major stations, the bulk of your stateside grids will be taken care of easily.
Working the Easy Grids Worldwide
I’m not a big “DX” operator–in other words, I don’t concentrate exclusively on getting rare countries confirmed on every possible band and mode. But I also recognize that only 488 of the 32,400 grid squares are located in the Continental United States. Even if I work every last one of those 488 (which might be a personal goal), I won’t be even close to the top of the leader board. To do well in this event, it will be necessary to work some DX.
But just like with the United States, there are plenty of “easy” grids to work. There are thousands of hams in places like Japan, Europe, and Latin America, and it will be easy to color in those parts of the world. And once again, the easiest way to do this is with contests. And probably the best way to get off to a good start will be to include the ARRL International DX contest, which runs two weekends in February (CW) and March (Phone).
Chasing and Activating the Rare Grids
After these “easy” grids are out of the way, it will be important to remain active on the air and watch cluster spots for unworked grids. When you look at a map such as mine above, there’s a natural tendency to color in the empty boxes. There will still be some “easy” ones remaining, and it will be important to keep working them. During NPOTA, there was a very active Facebook group providing encouragement and spots of stations as they showed up on the air. The International Grid Chase has its own Facebook group, and it’s likely that the leaders will take full advantage of it.
Operating from grid EN12 Iowa, October 2016.
I think that within a few weeks, it will start to become obvious where the rare grids are. There are many parts of the country with few active hams. As the year goes on, and maps like mine have blank spots on them, two things will happen. First of all, local hams will be encouraged to get on the air and make contacts. Being on the receiving end of a pileup can be exhilarating, and many hams will get the chance.
I also predict that there will be “grid-
Activating grid EN00, Nebraska, Aug. 21, 2017.
peditions.” Grid chasing is already a popular pastime for VHF and satellite operators. And there are a few grids with no resident hams. One of these is CM79, the vast majority of which lies in the Pacific Ocean. But a tiny piece of the California coast is within the grid, and can be accessed over rugged terrain. The video below shows KB5WIA doing a satellite activation after a long hike:
There are many hams who are active in Summits On The Air, an activity in which hams operate from mountaintop locations using portable gear. The equipment required for an HF activation is much less than shown in KB5WIA’s video. I predict that we’ll see many such activations this year.
Many rare grids, however, don’t require this much exertion. Many grids, while sparsely populated, are easily accessible. There should be many opportunities for hams wishing to do a mobile activation and generate big pileups. For example, there are a number of grids in Minnesota that I have never worked, and are within a few hours’ drive.
One particularly intriguing one for me is EN67, shown here. It lies mostly in the waters of Lake Superior, but also includes the town of Copper Harbor, Michigan, population 108. There does appear to be one active ham in town, but I suspect another station operating portable there will do well later in the year.
There are many other such grids in the U.S. and Canada, that are located mostly in the water, but with a piece of land from which a portable station can be operated. For hams living near the coast or the Great Lakes, there is probably an opportunity like this waiting for you.
Of course, many roads run through sparsely populated areas. So if you are traveling at any time during 2018, it will be worthwhile to keep track of your grid, and try to get on the air as you pass through. And even if you don’t have HF mobile capability, simplex contacts on VHF and UHF count. If there’s another ham in the area, and you can encourage him or her to upload the contact to LOTW, you might wind up with having an almost unique one in the log. And if you have more than one ham in the family, there’s no reason why you can’t get out your handhelds and work each other. As long as you both log the contact, you will have credit for the grid. (If you don’t have other hams in the family, this would be a good opportunity to get them licensed. If they read my Technician Study Guide, they’ll pass the 35-question test with little difficulty. If they don’t have a radio, you can set them up with a Baofeng for practically nothing, and they can work you on 2 meters or 70 cm.)
Interestingly, this happened at least once during NPOTA. National Park of American Samoa had a grand total of 6 QSO’s, made by two hams who were there on vacation with their handhelds. They were the only ones to get credit for the park, which was well within the rules. There’s no reason why family groups can’t take advantage of the same rule to bolster their count. Of course, if others want to work you, then you should give them the opportunity. But if you’re the only two within range, then you should get credit for the contact.