Using Repeaters While Traveling

I just want to let everyone know that this is one of the requested topics from our weekly net participants. If there is a topic you want me to address, please remember to let me know and I’ll add it to the schedule.

For tonight's topic I’m assuming you are traveling in the USA and Canada in your vehicle or RV. With easy modifications you can use most of this information when flying and taking a smaller portable radio like a handheld with you.

Before going any further let’s take a few minutes to refresh our memory on

Recommended Repeater Operating Procedures

Use simplex wherever possible freeing the repeater for necessary uses. Important on busier repeaters in more populated areas.

Monitor the repeater (listen) or determine if the repeater is in use and if there are any peculiarities in its operation. After listening for a few seconds, key, ID then, un key and listen to see if it was quiet for a reason and to allow someone to let you know if there is a reason not to continue (low audio, low signal strength, etc). Then, if all OK, proceed.

Don’t break into an ongoing contact unless you have something to add. Interrupting is no more polite on the air than it is in person. Interruption without identification constitutes malicious (and illegal) interference.

Use the minimum power to key up the repeater. To make contact, simply indicate that you are on frequency. For example "VA7AEJ monitoring". Do not kerchunk the repeater.

Remember Amateur Radio transmissions are being monitored by many non-hams with scanners. Be mindful of your language and your manners. Please don't bring disrepute on the Amateur Radio Service.

Repeaters are intended to facilitate mobile and portable operation. During rush hours, base stations should relinquish the repeater to commuting mobiles. Some repeater owners have strict rules requiring this.

Keep transmissions short and thoughtful. Do not monopolize the repeater. Pause between transmissions to allow other Amateurs to identify themselves if they wish to use the repeater. Pausing also allows the timer to reset, avoiding a "time-out".

Identify legally. In Canada and the US that means at the beginning and end of a contact and every thirty minutes of operation.

Repeaters are installed and maintained at considerable expense and inconvenience. Regular users of a repeater should financially support the individual or club owner in their efforts to keep the repeater working properly.

The Essential Equipment

So you’ll likely need a Handheld with a mag mount antenna and cigarette lighter charger OR a Mobile radio mounted in the vehicle and wired into 12v with a dedicated external antenna mounted.

Optional accessories might be a laptop and programming cable for your radio, a repeater book in paper format, or one of the many repeater apps and websites that you can access on your phone or tablet.

Be prepared

Know your radio, take time ahead of the trip to familiarize yourself with programming a repeater or simplex frequency into your radios memory.

Also, knowing how to operate in VFO (also called frequency mode). This is the mode where you can quickly dial up any frequency, add an offset if it’s a repeater, and maybe add tones if they are required.

Since tones are sub audible it’s tricky to program tones for a repeater unless you know what they are ahead of time, that’s often why memory programming is the most reliable system to follow.


In my opinion every VHF and UHF radio should have some common sets of frequencies programmed into it all the time.

These include any or all of the following

Simplex Frequencies. The frequencies with no tones and no offsets for talking directly to another amateur operator. Often while driving hams might tune their radio to the VHF siplex frequency and leave it there for the duration of the drive. It’s a simple and easy thing you can do, and you never know who you might find on that frequency to chat with. Also in an emergency like a road side flat or mechanical issue another ham might call out on simplex looking for help and you could hear that and assist.

146.520 – National Simplex Frequency for Canada and the USA

446.00 - National Simplex Frequency for Canada and the USA

Another thing about simplex is Amateur sometime put a stick on their vehicle to indicate that they monitor the common simplex like 146.520 for CHF. That’s an invitation for you to try and reach that other driver on your radio if your in the same block of traffic. You may want to consider advertising that you monitor simplex with a sticker on your vehicle.

Other non ham frequencies.

There are other frequencies that you may wish to install in your radio’s memory for listening only. A good example are the weather frequencies or highways alert frequencies. There may be a time when you need that information and it sure is handy when their already programmed into your radio.

Another class of non ham frequencies are the ones that you can monitor, but also under an emergency you might be able to transmit on. There are things like logging road channels, and truckers channels. Remember that transmitting on these non-ham frequencies is only acceptable in conditions of a serious emergency. If you remember from your ham license classes, in an emergency you can operate on any frequency of any band, at any power level IF, and ONLY IF, it’s a life and death emergency.

Repeater Frequencies

Putting all of the repeater frequencies in your immediate home area into your radio’s memories is not that difficult. For smaller trips you can do some additional research, find the extra repeater frequencies information and use your computer and programming cable to get all those memories in your radio in an evening before the trip.

If you frequent cities like Calgary or Vancouver, having blocks of pre-programmed repeaters from those radios will also be very handy.

Now imagine inputting all the repeaters along your road trip from Vernon to Las Vegas. That’s a lot of memories in your radio, maybe even more that it can handle.

This is where having a laptop and the right programming cable, software, and services can really speed things up, even from the road.

For the big trips you could consider purchasing some 3rd party programming software from RT Systems. Their software is available in custom versions for most makes and models of radio, they often also offer a programming cable with their bundle for your particular radio and their software. You can order the RT Systems software and cables from dealers like Radio World, and as well you can buy direct from their website.

Now combine the RT Systems software and cable with a subscription to an online repeater database service like RFinder and you have the killer combination. You’ll be able to query the travel route from within the software, download all applicable repeater information, and then push it into your radio with a few clicks of the mouse. If it’s more memories then your radio can handle, then program half and take the laptop and cable with you. Mid trip you can completely reprogram the radio with new repeaters for the reminder of the trip in just minutes.

No matter what method you choose to program your radio memories I suggest a paper copy for in the vehicle. Often the display on your radio only has room for the 6 digit repeater callsign and a memory number, you’ll find the paper copy handy for looking things up especially if you add some additional info to the paper copy like repeater locations, nearby cities, etc.


While rocking down the highway having your radio scanning the memories can work at finding any active frequencies, but what also might happen is your radio will stop on constantly transmitting frequencies like weather channels. I suggest reading your owners manual and programming software to make sure and exclude channels like that from the scanning mode for more seamless operation. Another channel to skip from scanning is the APRS frequency which will just be digital noise.

VFO scanning is an alternative scanning mode where you tell your radio to simply scan every frequency that the radio can receive. Depending on who else is in the vehicle and how well you can all tolerate background noise this may work for you. Personally I’ve only used VFO mode when searching for activity when I don’t know what the frequency is, the radio will scan round and round and then stop each time it lands on any activity, then I’ll record that frequency and program it into the radios membory when I get a chance.

Repeater Guides

Finding relaible repeater frequency information is difficult, but we’re better off today with the Internet and apps on our phones, then hams were 20+ years ago when all there were were books. Sometime it was local or regional books, sometimes it was an encyclopedia sized book printed annually by the ARRL or some other publisher.

Today there are still some books, but as I mentioned there are also apps, websites, and subscription services that you can rely on.

Try out the free services and see how well they work, if your not satisfied or require additional features then a subscription service might improve your exprience.

Linked Repeater Operation

Permanent Linked Repeaters

Where repeaters are permanently linked, your transmissions will be heard on the outputs of all the linked repeaters.

Operation of a permanently linked repeater is the same as a normal repeater, except that the coverage is much greater.

A good example of a linked repeater group is the Papa System in southern California. Almost half of California is covered by the Papa System repeaters and many are linked all the time so you can communicate over a rather wide area by just reaching the repeater that’s closet to you. Keep in mind with more range is more traffic, and you shouldn’t tie up the Papa Systems repeaters for too long unless you can take your QSO to another frequency. Another think to keep in mind is repeater hop, you’ll need to just to a new repeater in the network, each time you drive out of range of the previous repeater. This is when some solid planning on your part makes it much easier.

Code Access Linked Repeaters

Linking codes are required to access the code access linkable repeaters. So even more planning or your part is required, you’ll need to know those codes ahead of time, and make sure you can link and unlink those repeaters while in a strong signal area, you wouldn’t want to link up a repeater network and then drive out go range of the linked network, unable to unlink the system and leave it like you had found it. For this reason alone I suggest linking repeaters only when you are rather stationary, or you have strong knowledge of the repeaters service area and your location within that area.

To use a link, identify "[repeater call sign], [your call sign] then state that you plan to link/unlink the network", and then key in the local repeater's link ON codes. This is normally done from the DTMF buttons on your mobile hand mic or handheld. When the repeater identifies, identify the repeater you wish to call "[distant repeater call sign], [your call sign]", and then key in the distant repeater's link ON codes. When that repeater identifies, you can then call any station in that repeater's coverage area.

You will be heard in the coverage areas of both the local repeater and the distant repeater.

When you have finished your contact, you should identify again, and then turn off the links in reverse order using the distant repeater's link OFF codes, followed by the local repeater's link OFF codes.

Know how to perform a link, and unlink, practice at home on a nearby repeater network like SIRG.

Services like IRLP are also considered as code access linked repeaters, but you are linking the two repeaters not by RF from site to site, but by the internet from repeater to repeater.

That’s it.

We’ve covered

Repeater operating procedures

Essential equipment

Being prepared



Non Ham frequencies like weather and truckers, keep in mind under normal operating modes these are listen only frequenices.

And then Repeater Frequencies


Repeater Guides

and finally we covered linked repeater networks

and finally code access repeater networks