There are two main ways a QSO via the repeater can be started.
Firstly, to simply put a call through the repeater stating your
callsign and announce you are ‘monitoring’ or ‘listening’,
for instance “G8CAB monitoring” and wait for a response.
There is no need to repeat this call in the same manner as a CQ
call on HF, once every few minutes is sufficient. If you are unfortunate
to get no response then that probably means that no one is actually
listening. Don’t be dismayed, sometimes there is nobody listening!
The second way to initiate a QSO is a direct call, such as “G0ABC,
this is M1CBA calling”. In this scenario M1CBA is trying to
contact G0ABC specifically. This kind of call is not generally a
call anyone other than G0ABC should respond to. However, after sufficient
opportunity for G0ABC to respond, if they do not return then a call
back to M1CBA from yourself, along the lines of “M1CBA, this
is G8CAB calling”, may initiate a QSO.
If there is a QSO already happening on the repeater – LISTEN!
Well, listen first before trying to join, and then only join if
you can participate in the conversation. The correct way to join
is to wait for the courtesy tone of the repeater after someone’s
over and announce your presence by stating your callsign. The station
next in line will acknowledge you and fetch you into the group.
This is where the importance of listening comes into play. You can
choose the right moment to break in so that you can give your input
to the right person without disturbing the order of the group and
pass it to the station next in line.
There may be a time when you have made arrangements to call another
station or there is an important call you need to make, but there
is already a QSO on the repeater. It is not the end of the world,
nor do you have to wait until the existing QSO is finished. Amateur
radio enthusiasts are in general a nice bunch of people that will
allow you a few moments to make your call. Once again, listen and
choose your moment to interrupt after hearing the courtesy tone.
The word ‘break’ is normally used for this purpose;
the next station should acknowledge your presence and ask you to
come in. At this point you should identify yourself, explain that
you need to make a call and continue to do so. It should go something
“Break station acknowledged, this is G0ABC go ahead”
“G0ABC, this is G8CAB making a call, sorry to interrupt. M3BAC,
this is G8CAB calling”
Should M3BAC answer, then make the contact as brief as possible
and arrange to QSY to a simplex channel if you need to hold a QSO,
not forgetting to thank the other stations for allowing you to interrupt.
If M3BAC does not respond, then make sure you acknowledge the fact
that the existing stations have allowed you to interrupt to no avail,
thank them as manners cost nothing and sign to allow them to continue.
Often there are more than two stations holding a QSO on the repeater.
This ‘group’ will have a direction it is travelling
with respect of who is to take an over next. When involved in a
‘group’, it is always courteous to maintain the order
and direction as this enables everybody to have their fair share
of overs, prevents doubling and enables stations that are waiting
to join to pick their moment to interrupt. Make yourself aware of
who is going to pass the key to you and where you have to pass it
Again, listening first before joining pays dividends! During these
QSO’s just because you are always passing the key to the same
station doesn’t mean you cannot ask other stations questions
or provide information to them. You will just have to wait until
their turn on the key for the response! Breaking the order of the
group is not a crime, but it does start to cause confusion if the
order is not regained at the earliest opportunity. So if you need
to speak to a station within the group before they clear then it
is acceptable to direct the key to them before they do sign, but
they should revert the key back to where it should have been so
the group can continue.
In the same manner as you would during a simplex QSO, you must
identify your station at regular intervals. This is also a condition
of your licence. There is no requirement to give your callsign every
over whilst on the repeater, but this does make it easier for listeners.
Also, remember when you were training to become a qualified amateur,
when you direct the key or make a call, your callsign comes second.
If you are in a QSO, whether it is with one station or within a
group, it is not necessary for you to identify the station which
has passed you the key, just yourself, e.g. “M3BAC returning…“.
Try avoiding constant use of phonetics unless there is a misunderstanding
of callsigns or important information. When phonetics is used, stick
to the standard phonetic alphabet and not the European/USA/CB version
that is creeping across the HF bands.
With the mention of CB, try to use plain English, the kind you
would expect to hear on prime time television before the water shed.
Avoid ‘radio-ish’ many Hams graduated from CB, both
have their own language style, the difference being you have had
to learn and qualify to call yourself a competent Amateur Radio
Licensee. Amateurs have ‘names’, they ‘listen’
or ‘monitor’, they ask for ‘signal reports’
and they ‘sign’ at the end of QSO’s. Unlike CBers
who have ‘handles’, ‘sit on the side’, get
‘rig checks’ and ‘back on out’ when they
have finished chatting! You worked hard to pass your licence –
be proud of it and comply with its protocols.
In the event of malicious interference on the repeater, such as
rude comments, ‘jamming’, use of touch tones during
other stations QSO’s, etc. DO NOT ACKNOWLEDGE IT! As far as
is possible, continue your QSO in a normal manner. If the interference
becomes too great, where it is impossible to carry on, simply end
the QSO as you would normally. Try and avoid any kind of conflict
on the repeater. If you find yourself in amongst such a debate which
is becoming heated for some reason, then just simply change the
subject. If this does not work, sign off and go to a different frequency
and let the situation cool off. If you experience this type of behaviour
on the repeater, make detailed notes, such as time, date, nature
of interference, callsigns if available and if at all possible a
signal report on the repeater’s input frequency.
These details should be made known to the repeater keeper, as this
type of information can be used to form a dossier against the culprits.
The worst course of action you could take is to engage the station
who is causing the problem - this only encourages them to continue,
as they are getting the desired result, a reaction.
Use the lowest, comfortable amount of output power possible to
ensure that your overs are readable. Doing this ensures that the
station(s) you are talking to don’t need to struggle to understand
you as you fail to open the squelch of the repeater. Also it means
you are not causing undue interference to nearby stations and other
repeaters on similar frequencies by running 100+ Watts!
It is easy to tell a station that is running insufficient power
to operate the repeater correctly – their signal carries an
excessive amount of noise. This can be demonstrated by using the
repeater with a handheld with the standard antenna and then attaching
an external antenna. Even though the actual output power is the
same, because a more efficient station is being used the effective
power is greater.
Do not be scared of informing fellow amateurs of a noisy or difficult
to understand signal, I for one appreciate it as it helps me to
discover if something is going wrong!
Considering the potential problems of accessing the repeater with
poor signals, mobile and portable stations take preference over
fixed stations as they may only be in range for a relatively short
period, and it is not so easy for them to try alternatives to access
the repeater or to hold a QSO.
Many unidentified stations can be heard ‘keying’ the
repeater to test their ability in operating it. This is known as
‘kerchunking’ and is in breach of your licence! If you
want to know if you can work the repeater you have two options.
Firstly you can just test, something like “M3BAC test”
or “M3BAC checking access”. This will fire the repeater
into life and enable you to hear the courtesy tone unless your signal
is not sufficient then you may get just a carrier in return or at
worst case, nothing at all. The second way is to ask for a report,
“M3BAC, can someone give me a signal report please?”
The reply should be in the normal, recognised RST format, (obviously
without the tone (T) figure), but this only tells you the quality
of the signal being retransmitted by the repeater. So, if the station
that responded to you is in a poor position to the repeater the
signal may not be as good as you expected. Stations more familiar
with repeaters and repeater use may give you an additional signal
report, one that is your signal as heard on the input frequency.
This gives you a better idea of the quality of your signal, but
may also be unsatisfactory as they may be too far away for a good
quality simplex QSO, which is why repeaters exist in the first place,
(enabling stations to hold QSO’s over greater distances than
they could simplex due to terrain, obstacles, low power, etc.).
Fixed stations are discouraged to use repeaters as test beds and
targets for their radio experiments as this limits other stations
from using the repeater properly. It goes without saying that you
should never be so rude as to interrupt an ongoing QSO just for
a signal report!
I cannot emphasise enough the importance of listening before calling
on the repeater. The repeater has many users from all walks of life,
young, old, male, female, some just listen and others can be found
talking on there all day long! Be careful with the topics you discuss
– if you wouldn’t discuss it in a bus queue, then don’t
discuss it over the air, you never know who is listening! Remember,
allow others to join in, they may be able to help you or have some
useful knowledge to share. Leave them plenty of opportunity between
overs to make their presence known, and make sure they have their
fair share of overs in the group.
Finally, in no way do I confess to being an expert operator, nor
do I cover every eventuality in this document. This is just a piece
of literature about some of the more common areas of failure on
repeaters, which may be of some use to people new and experienced
in the hobby. There is no substitute for experience, but don’t
follow others bad habits! I am sure we can all spot ourselves in
the words above.