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Net Operation

What is a net? I joined ham radio because I am tired of fishing!!

A net is essentially an on-air meeting of a group of ham operators. The purpose of such meetings is widely varied from common say hello nets(called rag-chews) to actual emergency operations. The net 'protocol' is basically a system of procedures to allow orderly and efficient communications when there is a large number of operators on the same frequency.

The best way to learn net operations is to listen and participate, but I encourage you to read through this article. I hope it will help you understand what is happening, and give you the confidence to make your first check-in!

While participation is very much encouraged, it is important to mention that a net could be an actual emergency situation. It is every radio operators responsibility to avoid interfering with any emergency communications. An actual situation is not the time to check in for practice. If you are part of the situation, of course you should establish communications with net control - but otherwise you should remain clear of the frequency until the situation is cleared.

Remember, the reason for practicing anything is to learn to do it well; so do not be offended or worried if net control points out something you should do differently. They are not 'giving you a hard time', they are offering their experience for you to learn from.

Check-In

At the beginning of a net, the net control station will put out a call to all stations that should be a part of the net. For an informal net, this is likely to be all radio operators in range. The net control will include information about the net in this initial call, including the purpose of the net, the net control operators personal identity(call sign and name), what information he/she would like given in a check in call, etc.

If net control is expecting a large number of check-ins, it will commonly ask for certain groups to check in, and then move on to additional groups.

One way that a net control station might specify groups is by call sign. You should listen carefully to the net control's directions for this, as sometimes they will specify call signs beginning with (often called prefix) certain letters. Other control stations may use the group of letters after the number in your call sign (called a suffix) and request stations with suffixes of some letter thru some letter.

Following this call, participating operators will briefly transmit the requested check-in information. This is typically nothing more than the station's call sign; but at request of net control might include name, location, non-FCC ID numbers, etc. You should limit your check-in to only what is asked for; or possibly a very brief comment concerning your check-in such as no traffic (meaning you have no information to share), or if you have an emergency need to communicate.

Use care during the check in stage; there is no way for net control to separate stations until he/she has a list of participating(checked-in) stations. That is the reason for keeping the check ins short, and for net control to request check-ins by groups.

Listen carefully right before you key up to make sure someone else hasn't already started. In addition, listen carefully right after you let go of the mike for a station in the middle of its check-in - this will tell you that you 'doubled', so be prepared for net control to ask you to repeat if he/she heard the double - or to miss you entirely if he/she did not hear it.

Net control will take several check ins in a row, and then read them back. Listen for your call sign in the read-back to be sure you were heard by net control.

If you miss your group, just wait a bit. Don't try to check in with the next group. Net control will ask for any missed stations or late check ins as the last group he calls. In addition, net control will occasionally ask for additional check ins throughout the net.

Passing Traffic

Following the check-in stage, net control will call each station in turn to hear its 'traffic'. This will typically be in the order that the stations check in; however priority will sometimes be given to certain stations. Some examples of priority stations might be supervisory stations, short of time stations, and of course any stations with emergency needs. Regardless, once checked in, net control will call you when it is your turn to speak. It helps to know when to expect that to happen, but once you check in it is expected that you will be available whenever called; and that you are listening to whatever information is presented.

Once called, you should transmit whatever information is appropriate for the net's purpose. For a rag chew net, this might be an interesting event in your day, a change you made to your station, or just a general hello to everyone. Other nets might have certain information they are collecting. For example, a Skywarn net will be looking for severe weather reports. Net control will normally specify what type of information they are looking for.

By good operating practice, and FCC law, your transmission needs to end with your call sign. It is typical to say something like 'This is (your-callsign) back to net control'.

Rechecks

If, during a net, you find that you have additional information, you would generally wait for net control to call for new requests; and then transmit something like "(your-callsign) recheck". You would then wait for net control to call you for the additional traffic.

If you have an emergency need arise during a net, you will have to use good judgment as to whether you wait for a check in call. Consider whether net control is likely handling multiple urgent traffic, whether your needs are time sensitive, etc. Regardless, you should still only make a brief transmission to alert net control of your need to speak. It will do no one any good if you are transmitting your full message without being recognized; as there will likely be two stations transmitting. Generally, that results in neither station being heard.

I welcome feedback on what would be helpful to cover here! (Email is callsign at cfl.rr.com) Replace callsign with AJ4DT