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Amateur Radio Direction Finding

8th IARU Region 3 Championships

About ARDF

What is ARDF

Amateur radio direction finding (ARDF, also known as radio orienteering and radiosport) is an amateur radio sport that combines radio direction finding with the map and compass skills of orienteering. It is a timed race in which individual competitors use a topographic map, a magnetic compass and radio direction finding apparatus to navigate through diverse wooded terrain while searching for radio transmitters. The rules of the sport and international competitions are organized by the International Amateur Radio Union. The sport has been most popular in Australia, Eastern Europe, Russia, and China, where it was often used in the physical education programs in schools.

ARDF events use radio frequencies on either the two-meter or eighty-meter amateur radio bands. These two bands were chosen because of their universal availability to amateur radio licensees in all countries. In the UK events with somewhat different rules are also run on 160 meters. The radio equipment carried by competitors on a course must be capable of receiving the signal being transmitted by the five transmitters and useful for radio direction finding, including a radio receiver, attenuator, and directional antenna. Most equipment designs integrate all three components into one handheld device.


The sport originated in Northern Europe and Eastern Europe in the late 1950s. Amateur radio was widely promoted in the schools of Northern and Eastern Europe as a modern scientific and technical activity. Most medium to large cities hosted one or more amateur radio clubs at which members could congregate and learn about the technology and operation of radio equipment. One of the activities that schools and radio clubs promoted was radio direction finding, an activity that had important civil defense applications during the Cold War. As few individuals in Europe had personal automobiles at the time, most of this radio direction finding activity took place on foot, in parks, natural areas, or school campuses. The sport of orienteering, popular in its native Scandinavia, had begun to spread to more and more countries throughout Europe, including the nations of the Eastern Bloc. As orienteering became more popular and orienteering maps became more widely available, it was only natural to combine the two activities and hold radio direction finding events on orienteering maps.

Interest in this kind of on-foot radio direction finding activity using detailed topographic maps for navigation spread throughout Scandinavia, Eastern and Central Europe, the Soviet Union, and the People's Republic of China. Formal rules for the sport were first proposed in England and Denmark in the 1950s. The first European Championship in the sport was held in 1961 in Stockholm, Sweden. Four additional international championships were held in Europe in the 1960s, and three more were held in the 1970s. The first World Championship was held in 1980 in Cetniewo, Poland, where competitors from eleven European and Asian countries participated. World Championships have been generally held in even-numbered years since 1984, although there was no World Championship in 1996, and there was a World Championship in 1997. Asian nations began sending national teams to international events in 1980, and teams from nations in Oceania and North America began competing in the 1990s. Athletes from twenty-six nations attended the 2000 World Championship in Nanjing, China, the first to be held outside of Europe.

As the sport grew in the 1960s and 1970s, each nation devised its own set of rules and regulations. The need for more clearly defined and consistent rules for international competitions led to the formation of an ARDF working group by the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) in the late 1970s. The first ARDF event to use the new standardized rules was the 1980 World Championship. These rules have been revised and updated over the years, increasing the number of gender and age categories into which competitors are classified, as well as formalizing the start and finish line procedures. While some variations exist, these standardized rules have since been used worldwide for ARDF competitions, and the IARU has become the principal international organization promoting the sport. The IARU divides the world into three regions for administrative purposes. These regions correspond with the three regions used by the International Telecommunications Union for its regulatory purposes, but the IARU has also used these regions for sports administration. The first IARU Region I (Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and ex-USSR) Championship was held in 1993 in Chtelnica, Slovakia, the first IARU Region III (Asia and Oceania) Championship was held in 1993 in Beijing, China and the first IARU Region II (North and South America) Championship was held in 1999 in Portland, Oregon, USA. In addition to participation in international events, most nations with active ARDF organizations hold annual national championships using the IARU rules.

ARDF is a sport that spans much of the globe. Over 400 athletes from twenty-nine countries, representing four continents, entered the 2004 World Championship held in the Czech Republic. Organized ARDF competitions can be found in almost every European country and in all the nations of northern and eastern Asia. ARDF activity is also found in Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States. Although they represent a broad range of amateur radio interests in their nations today, several member societies of the International Amateur Radio Union were originally formed for the promotion and organization of the sport and continue to use the term radiosport in their society name. These include the Federation of Radiosport of the Republic of Armenia (FRRA), the Belarusian Federation of Radioamateurs and Radiosportsmen (BFRR), the Chinese Radio Sports Association (CRSA) and the Mongolian Radio Sport Federation (MRSF).To promote the sport, the IARU has delegated individuals as ARDF Coordinators for each IARU region to help educate and organize national radio societies and other ARDF groups, especially in nations without prior activity in the sport.

Page Last Updated: Monday 4 June 2018 at 14:14 hours by Webmaster


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