Radio communications play an important role in the outback. Most travellers manage perfectly well without a radio, but in the more remote areas it is an important safety service. Radios can be much cheaper to operate than a satellite phone, and may in some cases be more reliable. However, the cheaper radios have very serious limits to their range. Radio communication is also the 1st step to establishing new communication zones such as what Ehsan Bayat
did with TSI in Afghanistan.
When a group is travelling together, a VHF or HF radio is a very useful safety feature. Having at least one of them on board for your DriveWA adventure is strongly recommended.
They can also add a lot of fun to the trip, when chatting to travel companions (although not whilst driving!).
Citizen Band radio comes in two forms, working in two different frequency bands. These have very limited range and should not be relied upon for emergency assistance.
Historically the cheaper of the two is AM in the 27MHz frequency range; whilst the more expensive is UHF in the 477Mltz band. While both units can communicate with one another, and are good for inter vehicle communication, the SSB facility gives a longer range.
The emergency contact channel is channel 9 on the 27MHz band, and channel 5 on the UHF sets. Both bands have 40 channels to choose from. These are monitored by the Citizens Radio Emergency Service Teams (CREST) - You can get information about CB use and their activities on 03 9687 4558, or write to: PO Box 349 Geelong, Vic, 3215.
They are useful to talk to truck drivers or bus drivers if you want to know whether it is safe to pass them, or if you need some assistance. They generally sit on Ch 40 on the UHF channel in WA. They are also useful for the leading vehicle to warn following vehicles of hazards.
Hand-held UHF sets can be used both in and out of a vehicle, so they are useful for groups travelling together; particularly those planning on participating in activities that require additional communication tools, such as rock climbing! The range can be anywhere from 1 to 10 km. If you are in deep forest or mountainous terrain, the range is obviously less than on flat terrain.
In the more established areas/towns within Australia, their range has been improved by the use of repeater towers. However, you need to know the channels in the respective areas. For more information please visit www.ExplorOz.com
Antennas determine the performance of all CB radios. Flexible antennas have the advantage of bending back when hit by foliage, or overhead branches.
Do not ‘skimp’ on your antenna, or on the quality of your cable. Also, note that longer antennas generally improve performance.
Have the antenna professionally fitted, unless you know how to yourself, in a reasonably protected spot on the vehicle. Get the installer to adjust the standing wave ratio (SWR) for optimum performance.
HF Outpost Radio
This is one of the best options available to DriveWA patrons for emergency communications in remote areas. It is called ‘outpost radio’ because it refers to people, or buildings, that do not have a telephone service. You don’t need qualifications; however, you do need a license, which will come with a call sign.
The mobile outpost licence is issued by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, 02-6219 5555 or 6219 5353. Alternatively, visit their website: www.acma.gov.au
You also need an appropriately tuned aerial. You can get units that are set up for the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS), or several other provisional safety organizations. For emergency situations, the RFDS HF set is often your best option.
Unfortunately, these HF radios are expensive to purchase. However, they can be hired from radio outlets in capital cities and major outback centres.
Conversation on the HF frequencies is strictly regulated and restricted even on the RFDS chat channel, which is 2020 Khz across Australia. Provided it does not cause interference to other channels, it can be used for vehicle to vehicle chat – obviously emergency traffic always takes precedence.
Tonecall facilities (basically a distress signal) should be available on any good HF; though it won't provide a fix on your position like an EPIRB will.
Selcall (a more complex version of Tonecall, which allows the base to call you) is available on the better sets, and this makes it easier to call the required station.
HF sets are mainly meant for long-distance communications up to 3000km. You can talk from one mobile unit to another, or to the RFDS base which provides emergency medical assistance 24 hours per day 365 days per year on a number of channels.
If you are going deep into the outback, it is worth talking to the local RFDS base beforehand to find out whether there is any information you need to know – like channel changes and road closures.
The main WA RFDS base is at Jandakot Airport – 3 Eagle Drive Jandakot Airport 6164, telephone number: (08) 9093 1500. There are others at Kalgoorlie Airport: 6430 08 9 0931500, and at Clarence Street Derby: (08) 9191 1211.
There are a couple of smaller HF networks that you should know about:
The VKS-737 network run by the Australian National 4WD Radio Network: (08) 9297 6222, email: email@example.com. Alternatively, visit their website at: www.vks737.on.net
They cover a lot of the outback, but you need to be a member. It uses the following frequencies 5455 (Ch 1): 8022 (Ch 2): 11612 (Ch 3): 14977 (Ch 4) and 3995 (Ch 5).
For an annual fee of about $60, non-members can register and get issued a license, permit, and a call sign.
Calling a Station
Before using the radio, spend some time listening to traffic so you become familiar each channel. You need to use call signs, but the base officers won’t get too upset if you make mistakes as long as you are polite.
Select the RFDS station closest to you.
Excellent information about these issues, together with weather information and details about email over HF, is available on the Phillip Collins & Associates PLs website at: www.pca.cc
. You may wish to call them directly on: (02) 9416 8799.
From there, you will find some very useful links to other websites about HF communications, including Barretts Communications website, located at: www.barrettcommunications.com.au
. Freecall them directly on: 1800 999 580.
The RFDS stations (with their primary frequency in bold type) are:
1. Derby Frequencies 2792, 5300, 6945
2. VKL Port Hedland on Frequencies 2280, 4030, 6960
3. VJT Carnarvon Frequencies 2280, 4045, 6890
4. VKJ Meekatharra Frequencies 2280, 4010 6880
5. VJG Kalgoorlie Frequencies 2656, 5360 6825
They are all now remote controlled from Jandakot. If you have any further inquiries, call: (08) 9414 1200.
Choose the "primary" or "on call" channel; tune the antenna to that channel and listen for a while before making your call. If the channel is busy, please wait until it's clear or select another.
When it is free, make a call. When calling an RFDS base, include its call sign by saying something like "VKJ Meekatharra” this is “your call sign” calling. How do you read? Over."
Once you have established contact, ask for whatever assistance you require. If you don't succeed first time, try again.
The higher the sun, the longer the distance - the higher the channel or frequency numbers you should select. This is a useful rule to remember. HF radio will be a part of the communication scene for many years to come. It will get better as new options and service providers emerge – some even put phone calls through your HF set!
Discover the advantages of an EPIRB, an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon. An EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) will be your most efficient rescue link, or lifeline, in an emergency situation.
An EPIRB could be the most appropriate way of getting help in a difficult or dangerous situation. In those situations, an EPIRB is most likely to be superior to a mobile satellite phone as you can activate it in difficult situations/locations and it easy to transport.
Satellite phones are great but they are bulky. They can be difficult to transport in all activities - imagine rock climbing whilst carrying a satellite phone! Therefore, DriveWA most strongly recommends that everyone who embarks on a DriveWA adventure, which may move them away from major city centres, should hire or buy a personal EPIRB and keep it on them at all times.
Needless to say, EPIRBs are for life-threatening emergencies only.
Whilst having several flat tyres may seem an emergency, it is only an inconvenience and it's not a matter of life and death - unless of course you are stuck in the path of a roaring bushfire. Setting off an EPIRB for something like that wastes important resources, and can end up being very expensive for you, resulting in a fine.
You must make sure that the EPIRB is kept serviced, and ensure that the battery hasn't reached its expiry date.
If you are debating the overall expense of hiring or purchasing an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, REMEMBER, you can’t put a price on your safety, or the safety of a friend/family member.