We investigate the effects of ambient field from the gate and drain contacts on the current-voltage characteristics of a vertical nanowire field effect transistor having a lightly doped ungated length near the drain. Such a device is suitable for high voltage (tens of volts) applications. It is shown that the ambient field enhances the carrier concentration and divides the ungated region into gate-controlled and drain-controlled sections, controllable by the drain contact size and bias-voltages. These phenomena have a significant impact on the drain breakdown voltage, saturation voltage, saturation current and output resistance. The effects are established with the help of measured data and numerically calculated current-voltage curves and field lines. © 2011 American Institute of Physics.