Richmond Amateur
Telecommunications Society

W4RAT · Richmond, Virginia

Celebrating 50 Years · 1972 - 2022 

Repeater Usage Guide for New Hams

Welcome to the W4RAT Repeater System!  Since 1971, the 146.88 repeater has been serving the Richmond area and central Virginia.  What started with an antenna 80 feet above the corner of Lombardy and Overbrook in Richmond has grown to a system of three wide-coverage repeaters, a network of APRS digipeaters, and an experimental high-speed wireless mesh network.  RATS systems and services continue to evolve with times and technology.  We look forward to serving the area for many years to come and we're excited to have you along for the journey.

The RATS Technical Committee works hard to provide a high quality repeater system for all to enjoy.  Whether you're a first-time repeater user or a seasoned pro that's new to the area, we recommend you take a few minutes to review the information here.  The RATS Control Operators believe proper repeater usage requires as much training as any other aspect of amateur radio, but we have found in recent years many new hams are getting their licenses and going on the air with little or no training on proper repeater operation.  Also, years of experience have shown that practices and preferences vary from area to area.  This guide will give some insight into some of the local preferences for repeater operation and should help new hams use the repeater with confidence.

RATS Repeater List

RATS currently owns and operates three voice repeaters:

  • The W4RAT 146.88 repeater, which transmits analog FM and accepts either FM or C4FM (Yaesu Fusion) digital input.  This repeater is not linked to any other system.
  • The W4RAT 442.55 repeater, which operates primarily in C4FM (Fusion) in & out, but is also capable of carrying local analog FM traffic.  The digital portion of this repeater is on the WIRES-X network and normally stays linked to several other repeaters around Virginia.
  • The W4RAT 443.5875 repeater, which uses the DMR digital standard.  DMR uses two-slot time division to carry up to two simultaneous voice transmissions at once, or one voice and one low-speed data transmission.  This repeater is on the DMRVA statewide network and offers instant-on access to over a dozen repeaters in the region.
Repeaters are expensive to build and maintain.  If you make regular use of the RATS repeaters, a club membership or donation would be appreciated.  The same applies to any repeater you use regularly:  if you can, support the repeater and the organization that runs it.

    The Repeater Team

    The RATS Technical Committee is in charge of the operation and maintenance of all club radio systems and most other technology.  Periodic system maintenance, upgrades, equipment selections, purchase, installation, etc., are all within the scope of the Technical Committee.  This includes the RATS repeater systems.

    RATS-operated repeaters carry the club's W4RAT call sign.  All club call signs have a trustee -- a designated individual who is responsible for operations under that call sign.  As is typical with many large repeater systems, day-to-day supervision and control of the system is shared with a handful of control operators.  The trustee, control operators, members of the technical committee, and others in the community all work together to ensure successful operation of the system.

    With respect to repeater operation, our trustee and control operators have four main functions:

    1. Serve as a resource for users needing assistance with repeater operation or features.
    2. Ensure the system is in good working order and note performance issues to be addressed by the Technical Committee.
    3. Help users operate legally and play by the rules.
    4. Monitor and address issues relating to improper or illegal operation on the repeater.

    First and foremost, your control operators are here to help.  We like to be engaged with our users, so if we don't reach out to you first, please feel free to call for a control operator with any questions about how to use the repeater.  It may not always be possible for a control operator to respond, or it may take several minutes for us to get back to you.  If you don't get a response and still need help, you can send an e-mail to the RATS Technical Committee.

    Setting Up Your Radio

    In this section, we'll briefly cover the basic setup of a typical FM transceiver for use on our repeater.  The setup of digital modes such as Fusion and DMR are outside the scope of this guide.

    Virtually all radios on the market today have hundreds or thousands of available memories for storing your favorite repeaters and simplex frequencies.  While it's usually possible to do this programming by hand on your radio's keypad, that gets old in a hurry.  It costs a few extra bucks but do yourself a huge favor:  get a programming cable if one wasn't already supplied with your radio.  PC programming really is the way to go.

    Some radios -- especially digital-capable models -- now come with a cable and programming software inside the box.  Two popular sources of software for analog transceivers are RT Systems and CHIRP.  In some cases these applications may require the use of specific cables - be sure to check these details before making a purchase.

    We refer to each memory position as a channel.  A channel is defined primarily by frequency, offset, and squelch settings.  We'll talk more about those in a moment.

    You can find the parameters for repeaters in your area using a repeater directory such as Repeaterbook.

    Here are some of the most frequently used FM repeaters that cover* the metro Richmond area, as of July 22, 2023:

    Call Sign
    W4RAT Richmond
    146.8800 (-)
    Wide coverage - Fredericksburg to near Emporia, Newport News to Charlottesville
    W4RAT Richmond
    442.5500 (+)
    Wide coverage - Richmond metro, surrounding counties; primarily C4FM digital use
    145.4300 (-)
    Wide coverage
    147.3600 (+)
    Metro Richmond coverage - Ashland to Petersburg
    146.7150 (-)
    Wide coverage - Fredericksburg to Williamsburg, Short Pump to Tappahannock
    147.3150 (-)
    Midlothian and points west
    147.3900 (+)
    Wide coverage - Richmond to Emporia, Farmville to Newport News
    146.7600 (-)
    Wide coverage - east end to Hampton
    147.1950 (+)
    Wide coverage - Charles City to Chesapeake
    * repeaters listed here reliably offer at least partial coverage of the metro Richmond area for fixed or high power mobile stations

    Repeaters operate by simultaneously listening on one frequency while re-transmitting on another.  The two frequencies are defined as the input frequency and output frequency.  The input frequency is the frequency on which your radio transmits to the repeater.  The output frequency carries the repeater's signal back to your radio.  Combined, the input and output constitute a repeater pair.  The difference between the two frequencies in a pair is called the offset or sometimes shift.

    The offset may be either positive or negative, relative to the output.  On 2m repeaters, a 600 kHz offset is standard.  This means the input will almost always be 600 kHz away from the repeater's output.  On 70cm repeaters, a 5 MHz offset is used.  In which direction?  By convention, 2m repeaters with an output of 146.995 MHz or below will use a negative offset, while repeaters with outputs 147.000 and above will use a positive offset.  70cm repeater offsets are almost always positive.

    An older way of expressing a repeater pair is in the form of xx/yy or xx-yy, where xx represents the input frequency, and yy is output.  In this format, the RATS 146.88 repeater would be called the "28-88" repeater - 146.28 in, 146.88 out.  The VDEM 146.94 repeater would be the "34-94" machine - 146.34 in, 146.94 out.  It's rather uncommon to see this nowadays, but it may turn up if you're reading some older publications from back in the 1970s when there were relatively few repeaters and only a few common repeater pairs.

    The local repeater coordinator (in our area, that's the Southeastern Repeater Association) assigns repeater pairs and coordinates offsets to minimize interference between adjacent systems.  Sometimes that means using a non-standard offset, or reversing the input and output in a pair, so there will occasionally be some deviation from this standard.  The offset is usually expressed as simply plus or minus after the repeater's output frequency, like "146.88 (-)".  Your radio or programming software may have an automatic repeater shift or ARS that will try to set the input frequency for you based on the conventional offsets.

    For interference reduction, most FM repeaters require the use of a tone squelch system for access.  There are two main forms.  The most common is Continuous Tone-Coded Squelch System (CTCSS), also commonly called a PL tone - from Motorola's "Private Line" squelch system.  With CTCSS/PL, your radio continuously transmits a sub-audible tone of a specific frequency which is used to unlock the receiver's squelch at the repeater end.  Similarly, most repeaters will transmit this same tone back to your radio.

    Digital Coded Squelch (DCS), sometimes called Digital Tone Coded Squelch (DTCS) or Digital PL (DPL) does the same thing, but uses a pair of alternating tones instead of one single tone.  It's less susceptible to false positives caused by RF noise or certain digital transmissions, but anecdotally it's less reliable with weaker signals.  Very few repeaters use one of these squelch types.

    Your radio's CTCSS, PL, DCS, DTCS, or DPL encode squelch settings determines which tone squelch method will be used when transmitting to the repeater.  The decode squelch settings determine which tone squelch to use when listening to the repeater's signal.  In most instances, a repeater that requires a PL also transmits the same PL.  There are some uncommon exceptions though.  There may be two different tones, or a tone required for input but not transmitted on the output.

    Many FM repeaters are single-mode, FM-only repeaters.  That's all they do.  FM in, FM out.  They might be a standalone repeater or part of a digitally linked system, but the end-user modulation scheme is standard analog FM.

    It's increasingly common for FM repeaters to have some sort of dual mode configuration.  A dual mode or mixed mode repeater offers both FM and one of the various digital voice modes like DMR or C4FM/Fusion.  Usually this means if you transmit C4FM/Fusion, you'll come out C4FM/Fusion, and if you transmit analog FM, you'll come out analog FM.  Some repeaters, like our VHF system, only transmit FM but will listen for both analog or digital traffic.  (There's an experimental tri-mode analog/Fusion/DMR system in Hampton!)

    If you're using a dual mode or mixed mode system, you want to be sure your radio is set to utilize a PL on the repeater's output frequency.  This will ensure that your radio stays quiet while digital traffic is being handled by the repeater.  Otherwise your radio will pick up all the digital transmissions as well.  Here's what C4FM/Fusion and DMR sound like on an analog radio, from the W2SJW Radio Sounds web page.

    Note that dual/mixed mode repeaters can only handle one type of traffic at a time.  If there's digital activity and you're on an analog radio, you'll need to wait for a period of inactivity before making your call.  Digital users won't hear analog users, and analog users won't hear digital users, but both may exist, and only one can use the repeater at a time.  Your radio's busy channel lockout function or careful observation of your radio's receive indicator can prevent accidental transmission over a digital signal.

    As you can see, setting up your radio may require some understanding of the system you plan to use.  A good repeater directory should give you all of the information you need.

    Other Repeater Terms

    Short transmissions without identification or other meaningful content -- quick presses of the PTT button simply to activate the repeater without intent to speak -- are called kerchunks.  Kerchunking is a nuisance to other users and is not permitted on the RATS FM repeaters.  If you need to make a test transmission to see if you're able to reach the repeater, you should announce your call sign followed by "testing."  Repeaters should not be used for routine testing, diagnostics, and tune-up of radios or antennas.

    The repeater's transmitter will remain on the air for a brief period after an incoming signal ends.  This brief period of silent carrier is called hang time.  Many older repeaters also use a courtesy tone.  This is one or more tones that played immediately after an incoming signal ends, but before the hang time carrier drops.  Its purpose is primarily to induce a pause between transmissions.  Here's what one of our old courtesy tones sounded like back in 2012.  The squelch tail is the very short burst of white noise heard at the end of an FM transmission.  Some radios and repeaters have a reverse burst or squelch tail eliminator feature that suppresses this noise.  The RATS repeaters achieve this by use of an audio delay circuit on the repeater's receivers.

    Where equipped, a courtesy tone tells you that the repeater's timeout timer has been reset.  Most repeaters have a timeout of between two and three minutes.  If a signal is continuously received beyond the timeout period, the repeater's carrier will drop and it will cease to relay traffic until all incoming signals end.  If your repeater uses a courtesy tone, wait for it to finish playing before responding to the other station, otherwise you're at risk of timing out the repeater.  It's not a huge deal -- everybody times out a repeater eventually -- but this can mostly be avoided by setting your radio's built-in timeout timer (TOT) to a shorter value (90 or 120 seconds) along with good operating practices.

    On repeaters that don't have a courtesy tone, such as the RATS repeaters, you must wait for the hang time to drop before responding.  Replying before the hang time ends and the repeater stops transmitting will prevent the repeater's timeout from resetting, leaving you less time to talk before getting cut off by a timeout.  Most dual-mode or digital-capable repeater systems do not use courtesy tones, and often have far shorter hang times than conventional all-analog systems.  This is due to differences in the repeater controllers used for each type of system.

    Courtesy tone or no courtesy tone, you should always leave a pause of at least a few seconds between each transmission to allow another user to join the conversation or make an emergency call.  Transmitting too quickly behind another station is referred to as quick-keying.  This behavior monopolizes the use of the repeater and is disrespectful to other users.  Don't do this.

    Some repeater systems use variable courtesy tones to communicate information about the system or its users.  Some multi-band systems, like the W4VB repeater system in Norfolk, will play a different courtesy tone for each input frequency.  Users on all bands know whether the other station is coming in on 2m, 220, or 70cm.  On other repeaters, courtesy tones may change throughout the day as the repeater goes in and out of drive time mode -- a once-common feature that shortens the timeout to help speed up QSOs and force breaks in transmissions during peak usage periods.  (The RATS repeaters no longer have a drive time mode.)  Sometimes a specific morse code letter or sequence may be transmitted, such as an "N" (dah-dit) to indicate a net is in progress, or "W" (di-dah-dah) to indicate a SKYWARN net is in progress.

    Some repeaters use control codes to operate certain functions.  These are sent using your radio's DTMF keypad or tone generator.  Repeaters equipped with Internet-based linking systems like IRLP and Echolink use DTMF to control link status.  Repeaters on RF linked systems may use DTMF commands to dynamically add and remove repeaters from the linked system.  Often these control codes are limited to certain users like club members or authorized net controls.  Only send control codes you know you're authorized to use.

    A small number of repeaters still offer autopatch services.  Autopatch permits authorized users to place brief outbound phone calls through the repeater.  Autopatch was crazy popular in the 80's and 90's but now it's a rare find.  RATS discontinued autopatch services on its repeaters in 2021, ten to fifteen years after it was decommissioned on all the other local systems.

    Know the Rules of the Road

    Before you try to transmit through one of our repeaters, take a few minutes to read through the RATS Repeater Rules and this repeater etiquette guide.  Relatively few clubs or repeater systems have published specific rules and procedures like we have.  But what we've published are the same basic rules, procedures, expectations, and courtesies that apply to any repeater system anywhere in the US.

    One particularly important part of the RATS Repeater Rules is the last paragraph:

    Like your amateur license, use of the RATS repeater systems is a privilege, not a right.  The RATS Board, trustee, and control operators may prohibit any station from using the repeaters or other club systems at any time.  Illegal, inappropriate, abusive, or discourteous behavior will not be tolerated.

    Don't let that scare you away -- the "repeater police" aren't out to get you.  Quite the contrary, your control operators and the rest of the Technical Committee want to help.  If we notice something that's not quite right about your transmissions or if you seem to be struggling with something, we'll reach out, sometimes off the air by e-mail, regular mail, or phone.

    But over the years, causing deliberate interference to the repeater, recurring use of inappropriate language or content, making unidentified transmissions, or other significant offenses have unfortunately resulted in a very small number of users permanently losing all access to the club's repeaters.  The FCC recognizes the rights of repeater operators to decide who is and is not welcome.  Please use this resource responsibly.  If in doubt, don't be ashamed to ask for for help.

    Making Your First Call

    You should already know that the first thing you do before making a call on any frequency is listen.  Is there a QSO already in progress?  How about a net?  Before you just jump in to the middle of something, take a minute or two to observe what's going on.

    While common in some countries, calling CQ on a repeater in the US is unusual, and a classic newbie move.  Sure, you can call CQ on a repeater, but people may think you're weird.  Instead, on repeaters its more common to simply announce your call sign followed by "monitoring" or "listening."  Hold down your PTT button for a second or two, state your call sign and say "monitoring" then release your PTT and wait for a reply.  Wait a few minutes before you try again.

    If you want to call a specific station, announce their call sign, followed by your call sign.  Yours should always be the last call sign you speak during a transmission.  If AB1CDE wants to talk to K4XYZ, they'd say "K4XYZ, AB1CDE."  When K4XYZ replies, they'll say something like "AB1CDE, this is K4XYZ, hello!"

    What do you talk about?  It's common to start off by exchanging name, location, and a quick tidbit about yourself or your station, and go from there.

    Phonetics in Call Signs

    For the most part, don't use phonetics on FM unless either checking into a net, or another station is having trouble copying your transmission.  "Alpha Bravo One Charlie Delta Echo, this is Kilo Four X-Ray Yankee Zulu" is totally appropriate for single-sideband and HF operations, but it's obnoxious and usually unnecessary on FM repeaters.

    Interrupting or Joining a QSO Already in Progress

    If two or more stations are talking and you need to make a call or wish to join the discussion, simply insert your call sign in-between transmissions.  (For brevity, some operators choose to use only their call sign suffix for this purpose.)  The next station in the rotation should acknowledge your traffic and allow you to join.


    The word "break" has two specific meanings in ham radio depending on how it's used.

    When used to interrupt a QSO, "break" and "emergency" have the same meaning.  Unlike CB radio and other services, do not use the word "break" to interrupt a QSO on any amateur repeater, anytime, anywhere, unless you have priority or emergency traffic that must be handled immediately.  Upon hearing the word "break" or "emergency" the next station in rotation should acknowledge and immediately yield to the emergency traffic.

    When used at the end of a transmission, "break" means "I'm going to un-key the microphone for a moment, but I have more to say."  This is usually done to avoid timing out the repeater during longer transmissions.  Example usage:  "...and that concludes this week's announcements, more information in a moment, break."


    It is usually unnecessary to say "over" at the end of a transmission through an FM repeater, and is typically considered bad form.

    10 Codes

    This is the subject of some debate, but the RATS position on 10 Codes turns a blind eye to the use of "10-4".  "10-4" is so commonly understood to mean "ok" or "acknowledged" that no reasonable person would consider this some sort of secret code or obscured communication.  However, it's definitely considered bad practice to use 10 codes, even 10-4, on amateur frequencies.  We realize, though, that many hams also use other radio services like CB, MURS, GMRS, or a public safety radio service where 10 codes are a habit, and habits are hard to break. 

    The use of 10 codes, even from the official APCO list, is strongly discouraged.

    Be forewarned, people who use 10 codes on amateur radio are frequently considered a lid -- a ham radio term for someone who is a bad operator or outright inept.  Don't be a lid, try to use plain English.

    Even ham radio "Q" signals are usually unnecessary on FM repeaters.

    Radio Checks, Signal Reports, and other tests

    It's okay to make a call just to ask for a signal report if you have made substantial changes to your station.  Requests for a signal report should be kept to a minimum.  Stations that call for signal reports multiple times a day or on a recurring basis for days or weeks on end (it happens!) will quickly find themselves being ignored.

    Never interrupt a QSO to ask for a signal report.  Wait until the conversation is done and the repeater is free.

    Do not expect a lengthy conversation when asking for a signal report.  The party responding may not be interested in the details of your station or what projects you've been up to.  You asked for a signal report, they delivered, let them move on.  If you want to have a longer QSO, put out a general "monitoring" call.  Along those same lines, if someone says they're "testing" don't be surprised if they don't want to strike up a conversation or if they ignore your reply altogether.

    As mentioned previously, repeaters should never be used for lengthy equipment testing or tune-up purposes.  If you need to tune up your radio or antenna, do it somewhere else.  A low-traffic simplex frequency is the best choice (not a calling frequency like 146.52).  An occasional, properly identified test transmission ("AB1CDE testing") is acceptable.  Repeated transmission of dead air, "test counts", or any other signal through the repeater for testing or diagnostic purposes is not permitted without prior arrangements with the Technical Committee.  There is rarely a valid reason to send those signals through a repeater that covers half the state.

    During Your QSO

    Remember to share the repeater by leaving a pause of a few seconds between each transmission, and take additional breaks very few minutes to allow other stations to join in or make a call.

    It's not necessary to say your call sign during every transmission, but you are required to identify your station every 10 minutes and  during the last transmission in a conversation.

    If you're operating in a public service event you might be assigned a tactical call sign such as Net Control, Rest Stop Two, Medical Tent, etc.  You can use these for calling purposes but you must also use your FCC call sign every 10 minutes and during your last transmission in a conversation.  The calling procedure is the same as using a regular FCC-issued call sign:  the other party's tactical call first, then yours.  If AB1CDE "Medical Tent" is calling Net Control, they'd say "Net Control, Medical Tent" or "Net Control from Medical Tent."  At the end of the conversation, the FCC call sign must be given.  "Medical Tent clear, AB1CDE."

    When you transmit into a repeater, be in the habit of holding the microphone button for a second or two before you start speaking.  All repeaters have some amount of delay before they're ready to relay a transmission.  When you push the PTT button, your radio starts transmitting almost right away.  But the repeater has to detect that signal, decode any tone squelch, and bring its own transmitter up to repeat the signal.  Then, radios on the receiving end also need to detect the repeater's signal, decode the tone squelch, and activate their speakers so you can hear the signal.  Additionally, many repeaters have a kerchunk filter that helps suppress unwanted, short transmissions.  There's also usually an audio delay circuit built into the repeater's controller.  All of this takes time.  If you press the PTT button and immediately begin speaking, the first part of your transmission will almost surely be lost.

    If you are told your signal is noisy...

    Most new hams decide to start off with a handheld radio as their first VHF/UHF transceiver.  These radios are inexpensive and portable, making them quite appealing as a newcomer's first radio.  Unfortunately, few hams live close enough to the repeater that they can clearly communicate through it using just a handheld - especially if they're indoors.  For most new hams, a full-power mobile radio connected, inexpensive switching power supply, and an outdoor antenna may be the simplest, least-frustrating first-time setup.

    Go upstairs, get near a window facing the repeater, go outdoors, go to the top of a nearby hill -- these are all things you can do in a pinch to boost your signal into the repeater.  If you have to use your radio indoors, the UHF repeater will probably work better.

    Manufacturer-supplied HT antennas always leave a lot to be desired.  You'll get a huge performance boost by moving up to something like the Diamond model 77 whip antenna.  (That's the author's go-to recommendation for HT antennas.  There are a few different versions - RH77CA, SRH77CA, SRJ77CA.  The difference is the connector.  Pick the one that matches your radio.)  The addition of a counterpoise wire also helps considerably.  A hand mic can be a useful accessory.  It will allow you to hold your HT high in the air while transmitting.

    If you're more than just a few miles from the repeater, or if your house has aluminum siding or foil-backed insulation, you need an outdoor antenna.  The N9TAX roll-up antennas and Arrow OSJ 146/440 J-pole antenna are two popular commercially-produced antennas that work very well.

    Our monthly club meeting is a good place to ask about antennas and other equipment that may help your situation.

    Extended Conversations/Roundtables

    Once upon a time, hams were taught that repeaters shouldn't be used for long-winded QSOs by fixed (home) stations, or even long QSOs generally.  Repeater traffic today is a fraction of what it was 20-30 years ago.  RATS specifically invites these long-winded QSOs as long as everyone's got good manners:  let other people join or make a quick call if they need to.

    QSOs between two stations are easy:  it's back and forth, back and forth.  It's not terribly difficult to know who goes next.  But when three or more stations are in a conversation, it's important to set up a rotation.  A common rotation goes in order by first name.  Alex first, then Dave, then Jim, then back to Alex.  New users are easily inserted into the rotation.  It's trivial for each station to keep track of who goes next.  Such a sustained, rotating dialog between a group of hams is often called a roundtable.

    Strictly adhering to an established rotation and leaving proper space between each transmission will help avoid doubling -- that's when two stations transmit at the same time.  Often it's difficult to hear what either station is saying while doubling, though if one station's significantly stronger and clearer than the other, they're said to have "won" the double.  Use care not to double with other stations.  Our control operators are likely to intervene over-the-air in situations where excessive doubling is occurring.

    When a new person jumps into a QSO, it's common to have a short back-and-forth between that new station and whoever was supposed to have gone next.  It's necessary for quick introductions and to establish the rotation.  Resume the rotation when possible.

    If it's your turn and you have nothing to add, just pass it to the next person.  "Over to you, Jim."


    In simple terms, a net is a structured, on-air gathering of hams, operating under the direction of one specific station.  On the RATS repeaters, it most commonly takes the form of the weekly RATS club and ARES/EMCOMM nets, but nets are also used for storm spotting, emergency response, and special events.  It's important to be able to recognize that a net is in progress and know how to communicate on the repeater during a net.

    Nets differ from roundtables in that there is a central coordinating body -- Net Control.  Net Control's job is to ensure the orderly flow of traffic through a net.  There are some instances in which Net Control might be monitoring the repeater but not actively calling a net for some reason, such as a low-traffic SKYWARN Net during a minor event, or in the final wrap-up stages of a public service event like a bike ride or marathon.  In these instances, we call it an informal net and stations are invited to use the repeater as normal but should leave some extra time between transmissions for stations to call net control if needed.

    Most of the time, though, you'll hear a directed net.  When a directed net is in progress, all transmissions should take place at the direction of Net Control.  If you have traffic for the net or for someone who's participating in the net, you'll call Net Control.  Everyone needs permission from Net Control in order to use the repeater, even stations that otherwise aren't directly participating in the net.

    On some repeaters, you'll know a net is in progress when you hear the special net mode courtesy tone.  It's typically a Morse code "N" (dah-dit) tone played after every transmission.  When you hear that, it's your cue a net is in progress.  You need net control's permission to use the repeater.  Many repeaters are equipped with this feature, but not all are.  The RATS repeaters used to have this ability but it's not supported by our current hardware.  You should always listen for a reasonable amount of time before making a call on a repeater to ensure a conversation or net is not in progress.

    RATS requires that all social nets such as the weekly club net, weekly ARES/EMCOMM net, and routine SKYWARN activations operate as open nets.  Check-ins and participation will be accepted from all properly licensed amateurs.

    There are narrow exceptions:  if a net is handling high-priority emergency traffic directly related to the protection of life and property, such as summoning emergency assistance for an individual in need, the repeater may be briefly closed to non-emergency traffic.  For example, SKYWARN net control may temporarily close the repeater when there is an active tornado warning with a threat to a populated area.  The only transmissions that should take place during that time would be for emergency traffic or reports related specifically to that tornado threat.

    SKYWARN Nets

    When severe weather threatens the area, Wakefield SKYWARN volunteers monitor the 146.88 repeater for reports from trained spotters.  In some areas, when the repeater is being monitored or a SKYWARN net is active, a SKYWARN mode courtesy tone will play.  It's a Morse code "W" (di-dah-dah) after each transmission.  Here's a sample from an actual SKYWARN activation.  (Related videos here and here, for the curious.  Content warning: Language.)  The RATS repeaters used to have this capability but it is no longer available.  Listen closely for other signs that a net is in progress.

    When widespread or high impact severe weather events are about to impact the area, a SKYWARN net may be called.  Net Control will explain how the net will work and the type of reports they're looking for.  You do not need to be a trained spotter to participate, but obtaining free SKYWARN Spotter training is fun, informative, and very beneficial.

    The primary objective of SKYWARN nets is to collect reports in real-time from the amateur radio community.  Events meeting SKYWARN reporting criteria are relayed electronically to the National Weather Service where the reports are used in the warning decision process.  Reports should be factual and first-person (meaning you saw it with your own eyes).  SKYWARN nets also disseminate watches, warnings, and statements from the National Weather Service when possible.

    Social Nets - Weekly RATS and ARES/EMCOMM Nets

    Recurring weekly weekly nets invite participation on a number of topics.  These nets are open to all properly licensed stations who wish to participate.  If you wish to join the net, wait for Net Control to call for check-ins.  Please listen to Net Control's instructions.  They may want specific information from you when you check in.  Net Control will compile and prioritize the check-ins, and then begin working through the list.

    Our Nets page has a lot of great tips to help you get started with these nets.

    Check-ins to these nets are usually once-and-done:  you check in once, you are called for comments once.  If you wish to make additional comments later, wait for Net Control to call for check-ins, and then do a "recheck."  Net Control will insert you into the rotation once more.

    Special Events

    There are a number of public service events that use our repeater system throughout the year such as bike rides, marathons, and the Virginia Special Olympics Summer Games.  We'll mention these on the front page of our web site.  Our repeaters are usually considered temporarily "closed" to non-event traffic while these activities are in progress.  These events always need volunteers and we encourage you to participate.  If you can't participate, listening from home is often enjoyable as well.

    Getting More Help

    If you're left with questions after reading all this, the best thing to do is ask.  Nobody expects you to sound like a seasoned professional when you first get on the air, and we all make mistakes - even those of us who have been doing this for decades.  Pobody's nerfect.  We hope this guide has given you a better understanding of the basics.  Come to a club meeting, hop on a net, or just ask your questions on the repeater.  You can also e-mail our Technical Committee for pointers.  We want to help.

    Feedback, Corrections

    Like so much other stuff on this web site, this guide is written and maintained by Steve Crow KG4PEQ.  Please direct any questions, comments, and suggestions here.

    Richmond Amateur Telecommunications Society, Inc. (RATS) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. PO Box 70613, Henrico VA, 23255
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