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Tracy
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SJC EMCOMM Freqs
SJC1 - 147.210 + 114.8 Stockton (Stockton Pri)
SJC2 - 146.655 - 100.0 Tracy (County Pri)
SJC3 - 145.210 - 100.0 Tracy (County B/up)
SJC4 - 147.090 + 114.8 Lodi (North Pri)
SJC5 - 146.985 - 100.0 Manteca
SJC6 - 147.165 + 107.2 SDARC
SJC7 - 147.015 + 114.8 Copperopolis
SJC8 - 147.105 + 94.8 Stockton
SJC9 - 146.895 - 114.8 Mt. Oso - Disabled
SJC10 - 444.400 + 114.8 Copperopolis
SJC11 - 444.325 + 94.8 Stockton (Stockton Pri)
SJC12 - 443.825 + 107.2 Mt. Oso
SJC13 - 444.575 + 107.2 Stockton
SJC14 - 444.850 + 114.8 127.3 Tracy 
SJC15 - 444.500 + 114.8 Stockton
LLNL - 146.775 - 100.0 Livermore


TAC1 - 146.550

TAC3 - 146.535
TAC4 - 146.430
TAC6 - 156.565
TAC7 - 146.595
TAC8 - 146.445
All simplex
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N5FDL/CEVOL Repeaters

Stockton: 147.210 + N5FDL and 444.500 + K6TRK Both PL 114.8 (linked)

Copperopolis/Gopher Ridge: 147.015 + and 444.400 +  (not linked) N6GKJ 

Mt. Oso: 146.895 - N5FDL and 443.825 + PL 107.2 (not linked)

Tracy: 444.850 + KB6EMK PL 127.3

Affiliated Repeaters

Bear Mtn.: 146.090 + and 444.250 + WB6ASU Both PL 114.8 (linked)

Mt. Delux: 145.210 - PL 100.0 WA6SEK (10mi S of Tracy)

All repeaters are open to all users.

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Monday
Apr152013

Time to Revise the Wilderness Protocol? Or Just Do Away With It?

An article in the April issue of CQ Magazine wonders aloud whether it is time to rethink the ARRL’s “Wilderness Protocol,” something I bet most hams have never thought about at all. It’s not just a protocol for the wilderness, but lives in the wilderness, too.

The Wilderness Protocol is intended to help someone needing wilderness rescue to find help using ham radio. The protocol prescribes particular times and VHF/UHF frequencies where those needing help should transmit and us would-be rescuers should listen. It never made much sense to me and was, basically, impossible to remember, much less implement. It is certainly time for a change.

Here’s the protocol:

The Wilderness Protocol is a suggestion that those outside of repeater range should monitor standard simplex channels at specific times in case that others have priority calls.

The primary frequency is 146.52 with 446.0, 52.525, 223.5, and 1294.5 Mhz serving as secondary frequencies. This system was conceived to facilitate between hams that were hiking or backpacking in uninhabited areas, outside repeater range.

However, the wilderness protocol should not be viewed as something just for hikers. It can (and should) be used by everyone anywhere repeater coverage is unavailable. The protocol only becomes effective when many people use it.

The Wilderness Protocol recommends that those stations able to do so should monitor the primary (and secondary, if possible) frequency every three hours starting at 7 AM, local time, for 5 minutes starting at the top of every hour, or even continuously.

Priority transmissions should begin with the LiTZ signal. CQ like calls (to see who is out there) should not take place until after 4 minutes after the hour.

OK, five frequencies, top of the hour, every three hours, beginning at 7am, for five minutes. You can immediately see why this has been such an incredible success. Besides, who wants to wait three hours to radio for help if you miss the magic five minute window? However, if your battery is headed south, could you afford not to wait until the appointed hour, hoping someone is actually paying attention to the protocol?

LiTZ, by the way, is not a reference to my friend John Litz NZ6Q, but the idea that transmitting a “Long Tone Zero” (no idea where the “i” arose from) could be used to trigger decoders or just grab the attention of someone able to summon help.

As an EMCOMM guy and HamCram organizer located 100 miles from Yosemite, I am frequently asked about using ham radio in the wilderness. Here are my suggestions:

  1. Ham radio cannot be counted upon to summon help in an emergency, unless you are certain someone is listening and will actually be able to hear you. Wilderness Protocol? Fail.
  2. If you want a 911 service for the middle-of-nowhere, buy a SPOT GPS Messenger capable of transmitting your location, a request for help, status reports and even text messages, depending on the model you select. Add a solar panel for recharging and you ought to be set.
  3. If you were part of a group someplace really in the sticks, you might also bring a QRP CW rig. This is probably the smallest, least expensive way to send an SOS that is likely to bring a response. You will also need a GPS, however, to provide a location to the place of your rescue. Knowing how to send and receive CW would also help.

The CQ article basically suggested only using 146.520, already the national calling channel, as the ham Wilderness Protocol frequency and didn’t mention the “every three hours” concept. Also suggested was the use of FRS Channel 1 with no tone, already an ad hoc emergency channel for FRS.

The main problem with 146.520, which I have also recommended for wilderness use, is the remote chance of actually being heard. The CQ piece overestimates the chances of another ham being in the woods and listening — by not factoring-in that most hams are too old for wilderness adventures — and still admits help isn’t likely to be listening for your call.

On FRS, the 500-milliwatt power limit and lack of good antenna options are major challenges. If you are on the top of a mountain and a city is beneath you, FRS might work. However, if you are in deep woods, FRS signals will be absorbed before going anywhere.

Also, both Channel 1 FRS and 146.520 are likely to be impossible for potential rescuers to listen to because of all the blather created by other, non-emergency users. They have every right to be there, but if we want lots of ears waiting for a cry for help, the channel needs to be quiet most of the time.

Troubling, in an attempt to promote use of the protocol, CQ suggested hams should post signs when they are in the wilderness — a trailheads, camps, etc. — saying they are monitoring 146.520. And hopefully remembering to remove the signs when they depart. (As though some people won’t have seen the signs, be in the woods, and not be aware the sign-wielding do-gooder had since left the area).

I strongly recommend, if possible, always monitoring 146.520 when out of easy repeater range, but certainly never posting a sign that might lead people to believe in a level of geographic and monitoring time coverage that simply doesn’t exist.

If we promote ham radio as an emergency resource, it must be a dependable resouce, no disappointment of the public or fellow hams allowed. Especially when lives are at stake

And if lives are really at stake, buy a SPOT or similar device and everyone — you, friends, family, even me — will sleep more soundly knowing you aren’t depending on ham help that is unlikely to be there when needed.

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Reader Comments (3)

I think you pretty much hit the nail on the head. Many frequencies to try, not many people listening, long delays, etc. Spot is a much better choice. If you really expect to need to talk to someone, Iridium.
Due to the demise of FM repeater activity resulting from the mass adoption of CTCSS(PL), I listen to 146.52 a lot more, but that only covers a small area, and small times.
Oh, one more thing, 146.52 is the national simplex channel, not a calling channel. In this it differs from other calling channels. People are expected to talk on 146.52 - which is what makes it a better place if you need to make an emergency call -- someone is more likely to actually be there.

Apr 22, 2013 at 5:42PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Larson, wa6azp

Hi Alan:

Thank you for your comments. A couple of responses:

1. ARRL describes 146.520 as the "National Simplex Calling Frequency": so I guess it is both for calling and talking, though it is hard to be both. Hard to listen to a busy calling channel for terribly long.

2. I have no idea what "Due to the demise of FM repeater activity resulting from the mass adoption of CTCSS(PL)" means. Are you talking input PL tones, output PL tones or what? At the very least, all repeaters need PL on the input and output PL tones should be required. Both prevent interference and make frequencies that could not otherwise be used into usable pairs. Your thoughts?

Apr 22, 2013 at 6:40PM | Registered CommenterDavid Coursey, N5FDL

SPOT devices are pretty darn expensive when considering the monthly cost, aggregated over perhaps a 5 year use period. The newer smart-phone enabled ones look pretty fragile as well....probably great for chatty Kathy's who just have to share every step they take in the wilderness via Facebook in real-time, but for most outdoor people, including the Jeep explorer types, nothing beats a PLB for durability and certainty. Current price for a dual freq w/gps PLB is under $300, and they will send the air-cav in quicker than almost any other device.

but ah, don't count out the Ham Radio just yet. I can hit a half a dozen well monitored 2-meter repeaters anywhere I find myself in the SoCal mountains or deserts with my mobile units, and probably at least two of those with a 2-meter HT with a duck... and likely many more with my little roll-up j-pole. While getting a QSO with a stranger on 2 meter might be a little tough sometimes due to social shyness, I assure you that there will be guys doubling all over the place to respond to a true Mayday call... everyone likes to be part of a rescue. Sure, getting a contact when down a deep valley could be tough, especially if we are talking in the middle of a true, highly remote wilderness area such as the Sierras, or [Fill in the Blank with your favorite 50+ mile wide mountain or desert area here], but that is where the PLB comes into play.

Just like modern clothing systems, layering of communication is the way to go... Cell Phone, Mobile HAM, HT HAM, PLB/SPOT, Signal Mirror, Fox40 whistle, and maybe even smoke and flairs.. when I'm in my Jeep in the desert, the only one of those I don't carry is the SPOT, due to long term service cost. When on foot, I leave the mobile rig and the flairs, and carry everything else in with me.

Jun 14, 2013 at 10:39PM | Unregistered CommenterKrakenbound
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