Orienteering & Radio Orienteering – the Difference

Filed under: Latest News,Radio Orienteering by Joseph on May 20th, 2018

There are differences and similarities between Orienteering and Radio Orienteering.   Radio-O, is commonly referred to as Amateur Radio Direction Finding or ARDF.  Both were developed as a sport after WWII as part of military training.  Orienteering to improve soldiers’ ability to navigate with a map, and Radio-O (ARDF) to locate the enemy when they used a radio to communicate.

Both sports use maps designed to International Orienteering Federation (IOF) standards.  Here is where the big difference shows up:

  • In Orienteering there are circles on the map to show exactly where the controls are located, and the controls are located on a specific map feature that is described in the “Control Description” shown on the map.
  • In Radio-O (ARDF) only the start and finish are shown on the map.  The organizers install radio transmitters anywhere out in the woods.  The event participants use specialized directional radio receivers (which BOK loans out for $5) to locate the controls and then return to the finish.

At the most difficult level competitors have 5 transmitters to find, and also choose what order to take them in.  To make it easier for those learning the sport you are assigned fewer transmitters and also told the best order to find them.  Transmitters are marked with regular Orienteering Control Markers and you use a finger-stick to check in just like in regular Orienteering.

One challenging aspect of the sport is that the transmitters take turns being on.  Each transmitter is on for one minute and then off for 4 minutes while the other transmitters take their turn broadcasting.  While the transmitter you are going to is off you will use your compass and map to navigate closer to it, so that when it comes on again you can find it, or better yet, find it “off cycle” before it comes on again.

The primary challenging aspect is using the map to figure out where the transmitters (also referred to as Foxes) are located.  The first time you hear a transmitter you can draw a line from where you are to the Fox.  Then when you are in a different location and hear it again you draw another line, and the Fox is at the intersection of the two lines.  The trick is to keep track of where you are and to draw your lines carefully.  (One of the saving graces of the sport is, if you totally lose track of where you are, you can put the map in your pocket and just use your compass and the radio signal to find a transmitter.)

Everyone is welcome at our Radio-O events.  We offer instruction throughout the event and always have a transmitter that is on all the time for you to practice on.  This transmitter is called the Beacon and is located at the finish.  If you get lost you can tune in the Beacon (which is on a different frequency from the Foxes) to navigate to the finish.

Unlike Orienteering you don’t need to find all the Foxes to finish successfully.  You only need to find one Fox and return to the finish in time.  Typically you have 2 hrs 30 min to finish the course.  Results are calculated first by the number of Foxes you find and then by how quickly you finished.

BOK is now offering regular Radio-O events and has top quality receivers for you to use.  We look forward to teaching you the skills you need to enjoy this sport.

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