Ham Radio and Emergency Communications in the bush.

Submitted: Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 20:11
ThreadID: 55875 Views:8920 Replies:9 FollowUps:16
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It’s time to kill the idea that getting an amateur license and a “ham” radio will solve all our communications needs in the bush. That commercial type approved radio equipment is over priced (by the way, what is the life of you and yours worth?)

Looks good, doesn’t it. Around six hours study (Foundation license) and a ham set will be far cheaper than the “overpriced” commercial things.

Now there are few hobbies as engrossing as amateur radio, and I can recommend it to anyone. There’s nothing quite like it, and the areas that you can experiment in are almost limitless. On HF, the amateur bands encompass a far greater range of frequencies than any other service than the military. Amateurs talk to overseas stations on a daily basis, and many friendships are formed. There have been many famous amateurs, kings and paupers, and a few scoundrels like any walk of life.

Let’s take a look at what actually goes on in these bands of frequencies. There are people talking to people about everything and nothing, night and day depending upon the band. All over the world, but you will only be able to hear some because of propagation.

These hams derive a great deal of satisfaction from working distant stations, building and modifying equipment and aerials etc. Great stuff.

But lets see what might actually happen when you have an emergency, or come across one in the bush.

Commercial radio.
Press selcall or Emergency call button. If there’s no reply try a different channel. Someone will respond, state your emergency and you will be put in touch with the RFDS or details passed to the police. This is done in a calm friendly manner, even though your snake might have chosen 11pm to strike.
This operation should take less than thirty minutes and perhaps as little as five.

Now let’s take a look at the same thing on ham radio.
There are traveler’s nets, but only at specific times. At other times you’re on your own.

Try the RFDS…that’s funny, nothing. They are only activated with a 2 tone call that no amateur transceiver comes with. Oh!

You try and call the 737 (for example) network. Someone hears you and selcalls the base for you. You explain your problem and the base says Ok, give me 5 and I’ll selcall you back. No can do. No selcall number or facility. Hmm…starting to get messy and the clock is ticking. Can you use their phone system to talk to a doctor at a hospital? Possibly, assuming that you are on frequency and don’t have a weak signal because of the amateur aerial that you are using.

So you have a mate looking out for you. Ok. Now lets assume that your mate can hear you, good start. (Let’s not assume that he’s asleep, crook, hanging out the washing etc). He might have tired of the static, as many amateur sets do not have an effective voice or selcall mute facility. You state your emergency to your mate, perhaps several times because non-licensed people are interfering with your transmission. Hams are not always the only ones in these bands.
He has the details, so he rings the police who put him onto the communications centre if he’s gotten past first base. He explains that he’s a ham and that he’s received and has a call for help from you.
First thing, what’s a ham? CB? No? So how did you get this message? Who’s it from ? Let’s establish your credentials. Now, what sort of emergency is it again? Hold the line while we talk to their nearest police station…they don’t seem to be answering but we’ll ring you back.
So your mate calls you back...but can’t hear you. He has no idea if you’re still hanging on in there, or have bumped the dial and changed the frequency etc.
Vital minutes have elapsed, and you’ve got nowhere. Your mate is starting to become very worried so they ring the police back. They inform him that others have contacted them with almost the same information. One chap said it was in Victoria, one said Queensland etc. So our well-meaning friends have mis heard the details. How does the officer know that the details he gave are correct? He goes through the same process all over again.

Yes it’s a hypothetical situation, but most hams are not used to dealing with emergency situations on a daily basis. Nor are they usually well known at the local police station that has to deal with all kinds of strange people at times. You might be a fine upstanding citizen but you’ll have to convince the officer on the ground at the time of that fact.
How do I know this? Because I’ve been there and done that more than once.
Valuable time is lost. Up to, in some cases, an hour. Or more. And if the police put you in touch with another agency or business then the same process can happen.

Please note. I am talking operational differences in emergency message handling.
My knowledge of the differences between commercial HF and amateur HF radio equipment is well documented elsewhere.

No I’m not trying to sell you an overpriced commercial HF set, as some would have you believe. All I’m saying is that if you believe some well meaning hams around here, then you could be in for a nasty surprise.

PS. Most commercial equipment will also work extremely well on the amateur HF bands, so there's no need to carry both.

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Reply By: Member - Doug T (FNQ) - Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 20:25

Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 20:25
Ohhhhh is this going to open a can of worms.

Ya got my full support by the way.

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Follow Up By: Footloose - Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 21:13

Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 21:13
Doug, it shouldn't. If things have changed so dramatically that I'm wrong, and I rekkon a snowflake you know where has a better chance, then I'll be the first to say so.
Anyway, someone has promised to ignore me :)))
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Reply By: Member - John (Vic) - Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 20:41

Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 20:41
Good Thread Footy.

A very important point that some seem to miss is that the VKS network has credibility with the Police within the search and rescue operations across Australia.
It no doubt leads to a very different response when the police are contacted by a VKS operator to report a situation as opposed to some Ham from Denmark.

Also many rural / outback police vehicles are fitted with HF and are able to also work the VKS Frequencies.
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Follow Up By: Footloose - Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 21:14

Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 21:14
Good point, John. I'd forgotten to mention that.
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Follow Up By: Member - Mark E (VIC) - Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 22:10

Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 22:10
All VICPOL vehicles fitted with HF have the VKS frequencies and a look throught the member database will reveal that most other states have come on board.

Cheers and listening....out..

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Follow Up By: Member - John (Vic) - Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 22:45

Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 22:45
Correct Mark.
My 4wd club has had one of the Senior Sargent's from Vic Police S & R lecture at our club meetings from time to time over the years on what they do and how to work with them in an emergency.
(Well worth trying to arrange for any 4wd club with their state police)
Interesting stuff and according to what he said they work closely with VKS in developing protocol between themselves.

I guess largely the point Footloose is making is that some on here have been pushing the Amateur or Ham band wagon without considering the real facts of the bigger picture.
The risk is that someone may read those naive, misguided and uninformed comments and feel that a ham radio will suffice without fully understanding what limitations it may have and when trouble hits they cannot raise the help they need as fast as they can.

Small point that was made is the Selcall ability required to "Wake Up" the VKS base operator after hours as the bases are all connected by telephone interconnects to the out of hours base operator who can call you back from his home.
This allows 24 hour coverage by the network.

Also is the probable point of other VKS Members who can also listen in and provide relay if a person in need of help for some reason cannot get a clear line to a base.

I also believe that if a real need arises then a senior VKS operator takes over control of coordinating the situation and has the ability of "Switching on" all VKS base stations spread across Australia to ensure the station with the best signal can be utilized to work the issue.

Perhaps Darian or one of the other VKS operators who frequent here can explain it better than I can.

Any which way you look at it, the VKS Network does a fantastic job and if a type specific radio (Codan or Barrett) is the only prerequisite and it costs a few dollars more than a "Plastic" ham set then so be it.
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Follow Up By: Stu & "Bob" - Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 22:55

Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 22:55
The Codans used by QPOL are fitted with VKS frequencies as well.
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Reply By: John R (SA) - Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 21:00

Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 21:00
Thanks Footloose. Your comments all makes sense.

It's easy to underestimate how challenging it can be to report an emergency. Easy concept, but if you're relaying info you need an extremely clear understanding of the location and details of the emergency. Then you need to convey your credibility plus the info.

Unfortunately emergency services get enough bogus calls that the speed of response is at times pretty proportional to the perceived credibilty of the person giving info.

For example, today I got a call about a fire, in a pretty well settled part of the world. Directions and details seemed pretty straight forward, but I was extremely careful to check details a couple of times because if I got something basic out (like which way from the highway), if after setting wheels in motion I later discovered I'd misinterpreted something . . . well, it'd be half an hour and many annoyed people later.

Translate that to the outback and I can see just how impreative it is that communications are clear, accurate, and reliable.
I also realise how easy it is to fail on one or all of those criteria.

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Follow Up By: Footloose - Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 21:21

Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 21:21
John, yes well said.
I guess that I was trying to point out that the two can be incompatable in times of an emergency.
Both do an admirable job with what they were designed and sold to do. I sometimes miss having the "Big Knob" , meters and switches to play with. They are great, but of little value when your life, or someone else's, depends upon that box.
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Reply By: Member - Michael J (SA) - Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 21:30

Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 21:30

A thought provoking post.

Given that I am about to retire 'with luck' and continue to travel..
what type of communications would you recommend I carry with me?

I have decades of HF experience with aviation.......and I know it is not the same etc.... etc. Worked RFDS for years on HF so know the vagaries associated with it.

What do suggest I take with me?? Barret or Codan??

Have the usual UHF stuff etc.

I listen and learn.


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Follow Up By: Footloose - Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 21:43

Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 21:43
Michael, that's a tough question :)
I have to declare my affiliation with amateur radio and a particular brand of radio.
However, I'm not one eyed. Both Barrett and Codan are fine radios. Performance wise, there's little between them. The Codan NGT is more like a phone, whilst the Barrett 2050 is still a radio in the traditional sense. Both use DSP etc and both have an enviable reputation in the bush.
May I suggest that you take a peek at both and see what you think suits you? There's not an awful lot in the prices when new AFAIK.
Good luck with your decision.
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Follow Up By: Member - John (Vic) - Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 21:45

Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 21:45
Michael maybe start with a read here
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Follow Up By: The Landy - Tuesday, Mar 25, 2008 at 07:47

Tuesday, Mar 25, 2008 at 07:47
Hi Michael

I previously had a Barrett in another vehcle and currently have a Codan in another my rebuilt Landy. I also had a Barrett in our aircraft previously. If I had to lean one way it would definetely be towards the Codan NGT; it is an easy unit to use and does the job - exactly what you want at a time of need!

.....good write-up Footloose....
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Follow Up By: mike1289 - Wednesday, Mar 26, 2008 at 13:53

Wednesday, Mar 26, 2008 at 13:53

Although they focus more on military export sales these days, worth looking at Q-MAC HF radios. If you just want it just for an emergency they do a "minipack". A 50w HF Radio, battery, charger and broadband wire antenna in a "1200 Pelican" case. Can be kept under your seat for when you need it. And of course easily removed for security when not travelling. Also the easiest to use out of all the radios.

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Reply By: Gramps (NSW) - Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 21:47

Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 21:47
This could get interesting

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Follow Up By: Footloose - Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 21:58

Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 21:58
Whatever makes you say that, Al? :)
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Follow Up By: Gramps (NSW) - Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 22:06

Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 22:06

Jus sumfin in me warta (written especially for RK)

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Reply By: Member - Davoe (Yalgoo) - Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 22:14

Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 22:14
could be wrong but from all the links I saw the biggest difference was
A comercial set was kinda like a car fridge, Engla waeco etc. Purpose built
whereas the ham set was more like an LG bar fridge

Yep just add an inverter and there will be no difference they will both keep things cool.
Which one still goes in 10-15 years of 4by operation could be another matter
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Reply By: Steve from Top End Explorer Tours - Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 22:37

Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 22:37
Hey Footy.

I have chosen to go the Iridium Phone as a second unit.

I have thought about HF radios but in reality I may have 5 cars this year and that would equate to a minimum $12.500 were as the sat phones would be $1150.

I appreciate your input.

But the silence is deafening on the other front.

Hey Mike it seems like it is time to put up or shut up.

Cheers Steve.
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Follow Up By: Footloose - Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 22:49

Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 22:49
Steve, although I'm not walking in your shoes, I think it was the right decision.
That person has two problems. And the first is that there's nothing to put up :)
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Follow Up By: Steve from Top End Explorer Tours - Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 22:58

Monday, Mar 24, 2008 at 22:58
Hey Footy.

It is simple you either have the facts, or you talk bullsh1t.

A bloke who talks straight and plays straight is worth his weight in gold, but a bloke that talks sh1t is only worth his weight in it.

Cheers Steve.
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Follow Up By: Member - John (Vic) - Tuesday, Mar 25, 2008 at 17:50

Tuesday, Mar 25, 2008 at 17:50
The silence is deafening :-)
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Follow Up By: Member - Kim M (VIC) - Tuesday, Mar 25, 2008 at 22:52

Tuesday, Mar 25, 2008 at 22:52

Appears there's a couple of fellas who have a problem and are starting to act like shirlas. Tell them to take the fight to the paddock and get it over and done with!

Christ almighty a man has plenty of teeth to give LOL


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Reply By: MEMBER - Darian (SA) - Tuesday, Mar 25, 2008 at 08:14

Tuesday, Mar 25, 2008 at 08:14
I know zero about amateur radio use..............years back I decided to put my outback communications eggs (its Tuesday now :-o) in the HF basket - simply because of the numbers of bases and users available - strength in numbers is the attraction for me. We VKS volunteer operators (g'day Dave) can dial in to any network base out of sked hours and employ any of the 5 frequencies (at some bases we can remotely choose alternate types of antenna too).......as long as the 'client' has a decent setup, the chance of being able to effectively comm with someone in difficulty, from one or more of the bases, is quite high IMV........ a phone call or two will see others ops up on channel anyway....... you soon get quite a few ears bent in the direction of the caller and the 'cross referencing' usually does the trick.
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Reply By: 80seriescruiser - Tuesday, Mar 25, 2008 at 18:33

Tuesday, Mar 25, 2008 at 18:33
Very interesting post.

I have Sat phone that I leave off and only occassionally turn on just to test it.

Never had to use it in an emergency yet thankfully but cost about $1,200 - cheap insurance.

Reception is fine anywhere in central aust i have been but in the Vic High Country you can't be in a valley/gorge or you cant get a signal. It needs clear view of the sky.

As opposed to other communication devices, I pop the phone in my pocket when i walk off from camp, so no matter where i am, i can call, dont have to be at the car/camp to make an emergency call.
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