Amateur Radio Licenses include three classes: TECHNICIAN, GENERAL, and AMATEUR EXTRA. All of these classes are permitted to use the frequencies normally used for SAR activities in Tucson. Permissions on frequencies below 30 MHz (“HF Freqs") are minimal for TECHNICIAN and complete for AMATEUR EXTRA. There is one multiple-choice written examination for each class, 35 to 50 questions each.
All local SAR HAM activity uses VHF and UHF frequencies. Any of the license classes include all of the privileges that are used by HAMs for local SAR purposes. So, only the one written TECHNICIAN exam is required for new SAR Hams.
Online ham classes and practice exams are available online for Technician, General and Morse Code at HamWhisperer.com. Online practice exams are also available at eHam.net Practice Tests, QRZ.com Practice Tests and AA9PW Amateur Radio Practice Tests.
Ham License Testing
Amateur License testing is provided under the auspices of Volunteer Examiner Coordinators (VEC), by authority of the FCC. Several VEC groups have been providing testing in Tucson. In addition to the scheduled testing sessions listed below, other sessions may be available, such as at many “Hamfests" (HAM-oriented swap-meets).
All amateur examination applicants are now required to provide an FCC Registration Number (FRN) to the Volunteer Examiners (VEs). Your FRN is used to interact with FCC for license queries and updates. Click here for FRN Registration Instructions.
Each applicant will need to bring two forms of identification, one with a photograph. Be ready to pay the required testing fee (where applicable). Licensed applicants will also need to provide the original and one copy of their license and/or CSCE. The FCC form is provided at all test sites.
Cholla Amateur Remote Base Association (CARBA) (ARRL VEC)
Lighthouse YMCA, 2900 N Columbus Avenue
First Thursday of the month. Sign-in 7:00 to 7:30 PM
Walk-ins are OK; preferred if you EMAIL for a reservation.
Fee: $15.00 (Cash only)
Contact: Matt Grossman AC7IL, (520) 750-7189, veregistration @ rstclub.org
Radio Society of Tucson (RST) (Laurel VEC)
Hardesty Mid-Town Police Building, 1100 S Alvernon, Tucson, AZ 85711
(Northwest quad of Alvernon and 22nd)
Second Monday of each month at 7:00 PM
Walk-ins are OK
Contact: Diane Zimmerman AA3OF, (520) 219-0452, dzimmerman2002 @ gmail.com
Oro Valley Amateur Radio Club (OVARC) (ARRL VEC)
Oro Valley Police Department Emergency Operations Center, 1920 E Tangerine Road, Oro Valley
(This is in the Oro Valley Marketplace on the corner of Tangerine and North Oracle Rd in Oro Valley. Go to the rear of the building just west of Wal-Mart)
First Saturday of each month. Sign-in 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM
Walk-ins are OK; preferred if you email randy @ w0hf.com.
Fee: $15.00 (Cash only)
Contact: To schedule an exam or for more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Catalina Radio Club (CRC) (ARRL VEC)
Jacobs Park YMCA, 1010 W Lind
(Corner of Lind and Fairview)
Third Saturday of the month at 9:00 AM, (no tests in June, July, November or December)
Walk-ins are OK; preferred if you call for a reservation.
Contact: Fred Hill K7OFA, (520) 403-1893, K7OFA @ Arrl.org
Tucson Area Search and Rescue Ham Frequencies
Search and Rescue people typically monitor and use the N7SAR Lemmon UHF repeater. Occasionally another repeater will be better suited for coverage of the area of interest. The lists below include the repeaters most likely to be used in and around the Tucson area.
|Lemmon||449.775||444.775||-5.000||107.2||N7SAR||Primary SAR repeater|
|RACES LMN||448.550||443.550||-5.000||110.9||N7OEM||Secondary SAR repeater|
|Tucson Mountain||442.150||447.150||+5.000||110.9||AB7AA||West side callouts|
|Tucson North||448.300||443.300||-5.000||107.2||W7RAP||CARBA members only|
|OVARC Tucson Mtns||444.100||449.100||+5.000||156.7||W7AI||Tucson Mtns, linked|
|OVARC Catalina||440.400||445.400||+5.000||156.7||W7AI||Golder Ranch Rd, linked|
|Elephant Head||449.375||444.375||-5.000||107.2||Green Valley||Elephant Head, Santa Ritas|
|KC0LL Lemmon **||444.975||449.975||-5.000||100.0||KC0LL||Mt. Lemmon, linked|
|KC0LL Keystone **||444.875||449.875||+5.000||100.0||KC0LL||Sierrita Mtns, linked|
|EAARS Helio||440.700||445.700||+5.000||141.3||EAARS Network||Pinaleno Mtns, Safford|
|** Frequencies swapped to high input.|
|RACES LMN||146.880||146.280||-0.600||110.9||N7OEM||Mt. Lemmon|
|OVARC Oro Valley||147.320||147.920||-0.600||156.7||W7AI||Oracle Rd & Magee|
|OVARC Keystone||146.620||146.020||-0.600||156.7||W7AI||Keystone Peak|
|TRA Tucson||146.820||146.220||-0.600||110.9||K7TRA||KVOA Ch4 Studio|
|EAARS Helio||146.860||146.260||-0.600||141.3||EAARS Network||Pinaleno Mtns, Safford|
|EAARS LMN||147.160||147.760||+0.600||141.3||EAARS Network||Catalina Mtns, Tucson|
We have enough amateur radios that we have begun to discourage the use of repeater output frequencies for simplex use, except for brief traffic. Frequencies designated for simplex use will be more useful, and will not be covered by repeater traffic. We will use both UHF and VHF frequencies as we determine which will be more useful. Only UHF frequencies have been specified so far. While these frequencies are allocated for simplex use in the national ARRL Band Plan, local jurisdictions may adopt a variation as has been done in Arizona. If coordinated repeaters interfere with our simplex use, or we interfere with them, then WE are obligated to change.
|–||–||–||–||–||None specified yet.|
|–||–||–||–||–||–||None specified yet.|
NOTE: Volunteers of SARCI component groups who intend to use a personally-owned radio to transmit on a SAR channel (“Pima SAR" and “State SAR") MUST use a model of radio that is “Type Accepted" under FCC Part 90 Regulations. Also, SARA is licensed by FCC on these channels, and SARA must authorize each radio in writing to transmit. Personal Radio Authorization forms are available on the SARCI data page.
Newer radios may be programmed from a personal computer. A special cable for that radio is generally required. Mykle has several cables for Icom, Kenwood and Yaesu radios, portable and mobile, amateur and commercial. The lists of frequencies will be whatever has been used in the past, but the lists can be customized with a little more work.
Most people have purchased Icom radios, so sharing experiences with others is easier. But there are many other brands and models available. More recently, a number of Alinco UHF handheld radios have been purchased, mainly because of a price less than $100. As long as you recognize the limitations of any radio, it will work fine. You can find lower prices by mail-order, but you may have service and options more available locally.
For those who need to program their radio manually, there are alot of functions available on most radios that just confuse users. Think of the following steps, then use those that you need.
- Receive frequency – You listen to the receive frequency.
- Offset frequency – The difference between the receive and transmit frequencies. UHF= 5.000 MHz and VHF= 0.600 MHz.
- Offset direction – Plus, minus, or none (for simplex). Icom radios: the DUP function cycles between (blank, DUP, -DUP), or (blank, +, -). UHF is typically minus around Tucson. VHF is + above 147 MHz and – for 147 MHz and lower frequencies.
- Tone frequency – Select the tone frequency required for that repeater or application. There is a relatively short list of tones, including 88.5, 100.0, 107.2, 110.9, 162.2.
- Tone squelch – Encode, Decode with alarm, Decode, none. Icom radios: the TSQL function cycles between (blank, T, TSQL(*), TSQL.
All radios hear everything on the frequency to which you are listening. The normal squelch control allows the user to squelch all signals that are too weak, like background noise. This is called AUDIO SQUELCH. We are sharing our frequencies more and more, so other users may be heard on frequencies we use.
The tone system (called PL by Motorola, Channel Guard by General Electric, and Quiet Channel by RCA) was developed to provide another method for controlling what signals are heard on your radio speaker. Almost all radios today can transmit a selected tone, and can pass to the speaker only signals that include the same tone. We call this TONE SQUELCH, since all signals without the correct tone are not heard on your speaker. The tone itself is simply a single note of a specific frequency (from a list of recognized tones), that is transmitted while the radio transmits. The volume of the tone is set very quiet, so that users should not be able to hear the tone, but the radios can. So it is also called a “sub- audible" tone.
While many radios will be set up to transmit a tone, it does not have to squelch signals without the correct tone. That is usually the users choice. On Icom radios, the T indicates that a tone will be included with all transmissions. The TSQL indicates that both the tone will be included, and that signals heard without the correct tone will NOT be heard on the speaker. The terms ENCODE and DECODE are the same as T and TSQL. HAM repeaters usually use the tone system to reduce the amount of radio noise that is passed by the repeater. Users are required to set their radios to transmit the appropriate tone when accessing a repeater. Many repeaters will also transmit the same tone, so that users can turn on their tone squelch. Many radios have difficulty filtering out other strong off- frequency signals, and the tone squelch can reduce the bursts of noise. If you use a repeater output frequency for simplex contacts, you should also transmit the repeater tone even on simplex, so that those radios that are using tone squelch will be able to hear you.
Radio Use Guidelines
Repeaters: How to make a call and be answered.
Many of us Search and Rescue people are used to calling another radio and expecting an answer. That's fine for Rescue radios, which are used mostly during missions and trainings. That also works for Amateur frequencies during SAR missions. But people sound “put out" at other times when they don't get an answer.
Most people “have a life". They don't nurse a radio all the time. Even if they DO have the radio on, it may be sitting somewhere else, or the area may be noisy for whatever reason. You need to be heard thru the competition. Here's a few tips.
- Listen – If you are going to use the repeater, transmit briefly then listen. Is the repeater listening, or is it off for some reason? Can you even hear it? Is the signal strong where you are (many radios indicate the signal strength on the display)? Did you hear a burst of noise when you stopped transmitting, which can happen when the repeater can not hear your signal very well.
- Wait – When the repeater has not been used for over ten minutes, the morse identifier will be transmitted. All of this waiting lets listeners realize that the amateur radio is making noise. They can wander back to the radio, turn down competing sources of noise, turn up the volume, and so on. Some people scan several frequencies, so it can take several seconds to get the radio stopped on the right channel.
- Be deliberate – Transmit for a second or two before you make your call. Then, speak strongly and clearly.
- Call twice – Just like you do on a search, call twice. The first call may get their attention, but the call is not understood because they aren't ready to listen. Maybe it was just someone “goosing" the repeater and not saying anything at all (not fair!). If I'm at work, the volume is very low. I can hear the radio from several desks away, but can't understand anything until I drift back to the desk. I don't know who called whom, unless they make a second call.
Many people make a quick call and are expecting an answer even before the identifier is finished. It's no surprise when they don't get a response.
Repeater use and Simplex alternatives.
Repeaters are used to extend the range of our radios. If you are talking over a relatively short distance, you may not need the repeater, and it is more appropriate to use a simplex frequency (transmit and receive on the same frequency) of your choice. The “band plan" designates appropriate uses for each segment of ham bands, assigning frequencies for use by repeaters and by simplex radios.
SAR hams frequently monitor the “Lemmon" repeater, which tends to be fairly quiet (it is listed as a “closed" repeater). Many people will just turn off the duplex function, and use the repeater output frequency in simplex mode. That just means that they talk on the frequency that others listen to, without going thru the repeater. That is fine, but it gets complicated when one is on simplex, and the other is still talking thru the repeater. It may not be easy to switch between the two, or the person may not recognize what the other is doing. You need to recognize that the repeater does not stop transmitting when a person stops talking. The time between the end-of-talking to the end-of-repeater-transmitting is called the repeater “tail". If the person talking simplex does not wait for the “tail" to “drop", two radios wind up transmitting at the same time, and it is usually the simplex signal that is not heard.
SAR Radio Traffic: An opinion by Mykle
An opinion by Mykle; alternative opinions are welcome.
There is a difference between the use of radios when a SAR mission is or is not in progress. Casual chatter is fine when nothing is going on, but it keeps the frequency busy. During a mission, especially at the start of the call, there is alot of traffic on a number of radios. Many people have just one radio, and they don't hear any other traffic, so they may be more inclined to speak up about the status of the call or about other people responding. This is fine if all the other users are also people with only one radio. The people in the various “official" vehicles have many more radios, most of them require monitoring, several of them require talking, all while they are driving. This includes the Sheriff's radio, MEDS, Rural Fire, Coronado Forest, Saguaro Park, the Rescue frequency, and cell phone, (not all at once, thank goodness).
If the ham radio is busy with “logistics" rather than “tactical" traffic, expect the “official" vehicles to not be listening when someone gets around to calling them. Another way of looking at the problem is to consider what most people are listening for, which is the status of the mission or additional details about the mission. Other radio traffic is expected to be minimized.
If you are talking, you can't hear what's going on, and nobody else can talk. This is especially important when the ham repeater is the one frequency that is heard by the largest number of responding SAR people. The only relevant traffic that most people will have is that they are in route to the call, (not heading for the mission after stopping at the gas station and the store and so on).
Ham Radio Related Web Sites
- American Radio Relay League
- The QRZ Daily FCC Report – Callsign database sites, for calls issued the previous business day.
- Welcome to QRZ – General HAM Callsign Database site.
- FCC Amateur License Service – Common Filing Tasks (License Renewal, Change of Name or Address)
- The Universal Licensing System (ULS) – The “easy, online answer to your wireless licensing and research needs. ULS simplifies the application and licensing processes and provides secure, world-wide access through the Internet. This results in reduced filing time and financial savings for both customers and the federal government."