Technical Articles

Repeater Etiquette: Best Practices, Do’s and Don’ts

The local repeater is often where new Hams make their first contact. I recall feeling a bit nervous when I tuned in to my local repeater for the first time. Would I “do it right?” Would somebody hear me? How should I tell people I wanted to talk to somebody?

I would hope that, as it was for me many years ago, your local repeater has some welcoming folks who use it. There may even be a weekly net you can be a part of. But like other shared resources in our community, we need to use it with others in mind. Here are some basic rules you can use to make your time on the repeater pleasant for you and your fellow Hams.

Before Transmitting

As with other aspects of Ham Radio, always listen before transmitting. If somebody else is using the repeater, and you don’t have an emergency, wait until the repeater is free before making your call. When you do, ask if the repeater is in use first.

Soliciting a Call

The best way to make a call is simply call the station you’re trying to reach—“N0AX, this is KX9X calling.” If you’re just looking for a conversation, simply announce you are available for a call. Some examples are “KX9X monitoring 146.760” or “KX9X monitoring… anybody free to chat?” One thing to not do is call CQ; it is generally frowned upon to call CQ on a repeater. Except under circumstances where you know who you are talking to, it’s a good practice to use phonetics on a repeater, especially during a net.

Many repeaters have what is called a “courtesy tone” or “courtesy beep.” You’ll also notice that many repeaters stay active for a few seconds after somebody stops talking. Be sure to leave some space in the conversation to let the repeater stop transmitting. This helps prevent the repeater from “timing out” due to too long of a transmission. It also leaves room for another person to jump in if they have an emergency.

Try not to interrupt an ongoing conversation. It’s not pleasant to be interrupted in real life, so please avoid it on the repeater as well.

Lastly, remember that there are people of all backgrounds that could be listening to your conversation. Just as when you are in public, use conversational, polite language. You never know when you may speak with a Ham who doesn’t care for bad language or has small children who are listening.

In general, be polite and use common sense and common courtesy.

Jumping into an Ongoing Conversation

You may encounter a situation when you either want to jump into a conversation or need to use the repeater while it is already in use. In those circumstances, wait until there is a pause in the conversation, then send your call with a short explanation of why you are chiming in. Some examples are, “This is KX9X, may I join this conversation?” or “KX9X here, may I make a quick call?” Wait for a response. If you need to make a call to another user, make the connection and relay your traffic as quickly as possible. If you are going to need more time, tell the person you’re speaking with to wait until the current conversation is over, or make arrangements to move to a different repeater or another frequency where you can keep talking.

Emergency Traffic

If you have a genuine emergency and a repeater is your only means of communication, use the word EMERGENCY. If the repeater is free, keep it simple: “KX9X EMERGENCY” or “KX9X with emergency traffic; somebody please respond.” If the repeater is in use, wait until there is a pause in the conversation and then jump in using your call and the word “emergency.”

Nets

Whether it is for a health and welfare event—such as an ARES activation or severe weather—or merely a weekly on-air gathering of club members, nets are more structured and follow a protocol. Every net will have a Net Control Operator who takes the primary role of coordinating stations participating in the net. Nets have a format; most nets will read the format over the air at the beginning of the net, outlining how to check in and when you will be called on to speak to the net. Other nets will post their format on a website. If you’re still unsure how your local net functions, ask Hams in your area who participate in nets for guidance before checking in. Listening to the net and how people are checked in can provide answers, as well.

If a net is for severe weather or some other emergency, do not check in or transmit to net control unless you have valuable information for the net or net control has asked you for something. Seconds count in emergencies and unnecessary traffic ties up the net. Feel free to listen, but don’t check in if you don’t genuinely have something to offer the net. Always listen to net control’s instructions during an emergency net.

Other Good Practices

Sometimes Hams simply hold down their mic for a second and let go, just to see if they are able to access the repeater. This is known as kerchunking. It’s bad practice to kerchunk a repeater. If you want to see if you’re hitting the repeater, simply say your call: “KX9X testing.” If you hear the courtesy tone when you let off your mic, you’re making it into the repeater. And by giving your call, you may spark a conversation with another Ham!

There may come a time when you need to know if your radio sounds good into a repeater; perhaps you’re having a technical issue, or you’ve made an adjustment to your radio. It’s perfectly fine to get on your repeater and ask for assistance. For example, “KX9X testing; can anybody give me a signal report?” will do nicely. Be mindful of the time and don’t tie up the repeater too long trying to diagnose a problem. If there’s a lingering issue, move to a simplex frequency to continue diagnostics.

Earlier I noted that repeaters have a “time out” feature. The repeater will stop transmitting after a certain amount of time if it has been engaged without a pause. Three minutes is a standard timeout setting. Ensure that your transmissions aren’t so long that you risk timing out the repeater. Enjoy your conversation, but keep an eye on the clock, too.

Finally, repeaters are a social hub of your local Ham community. Be courteous and friendly. If you hear a new Ham on the repeater, welcome them and help make them feel at home.

Repeaters are still the backbone of many a club, offering a genuine public service to your community. Do your part to help keep the repeater an inviting hub of activity in your area. Join your local club; dues often help keep a repeater on the air. If you’re ever in Champaign, Illinois, you can find me on the K9CU 2 meter repeater on 146.760 MHz, PL 162.2. Let’s chat!

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