Band Conditions

10 November 2018

Finding Your Local VHF/UHF Net

So you just passed your Technician class license, and bought one of those <$50 HTs that covers the 2 meter and 70 cm bands. Your next step is to check into a VHF/UHF net on a local repeater (network). This is useful because it lets you know that your radio is working well enough to reach something, even if the repeater is doing most of the work for you.

First you have to find a repeater you access. In New England, we have the excellent New England Repeater Directory which you can reach at http://www.nerepeaters.com/. For other regions, you can try https://www.repeaterbook.com/, https://www.artscipub.com/repeaters/, or a search engine.

To get into a repeater, you will need to program in the receive frequency, transmit (TX) offset (which is usually +/- 600 KHz. on 2m or +/- 5 MHz. on 70 cm), and probably a PL/CTCSS tone. For example, my local repeater in Terryville, CT is on 147.315 MHz. with a TX offset of +600 KHz. (147.915 MHz.) and a transmit PL tone of 88.5 Hz. It is also part of a networked repeater system.

For ninety percent of you, finding which repeaters are active is simply a matter of doing a little OSINT research, and performing a point search on a few frequencies. If you are living someplace that lacks the proper OSINT material, then a band/sector search of 144-148 (2m) and 440-450 (70 cm) MHz. over the course of a few days will find what you need.  Even when idle, most ham repeaters will identify themselves every 10 minutes or so.

Once you have some repeaters identified, program the specifics into your radio, key up, wait a second or two, and simply say "<your_call> testing." If successful, you will hear a carrier from the repeater, maybe a courtesy tone, and maybe someone will come back to you with a signal report. If you want to rag chew a bit, just key up, wait a second or two, and say "<your_call> listening (or monitoring)." You usually don't call CQ on a repeater. if someone is listening and wants to chat, they'll come back to you.

So now that you've found a local machine or three, you need to find out when the nets are being held.  The ARRL has a net directory at http://www.arrl.org/arrl-net-directory, and there are, as always, search engines to help you. Usually VHF/UHF (repeater) nets are held in the evenings after dinner. Some nets may not be listed in the ARRL Directory. My local repeater's swap net (Fridays at 8PM) is not. I found it by listening.

When the net starts, listen closely for instructions from net control. Nets all have different check in procedures, and the net control station will tell you everything you need to know. For example, the WyoComm (Wyoming) weekly net on Sunday evenings does check-ins by region (Wind River, Big Horn, et al). The Donkey Dusters (CT) Swap Net takes Echolink check-ins first. RACES/ARES nets usually take emergency and low power (QRP) stations first.

Nets are a good source of information about the local amateur radio community, and something you should participate in even if only by listening. They are also good for setting a specific time to check your equipment.  I'm not normally a VHF/UHF repeater operator, yet among the first things I did  after moving back to New England was dig out an HT, program in the local repeater frequency and start listening.  Last night I heard the swap net start, checked in, and after the net had a quick QSO with a friend who lives in central Massachusetts and can also reach the same repeater network.  When I get some HF gear set back up, and try a sked with the same friend, we'll probably coordinate our HF comms on the same 2 meter repeater network.

With that said, the same local repeater network also has 10m and 6m nodes. When the bands start opening up, feel free to jump on and toss your call out.

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