Net Protocol, procedures and practices
March 24 2018 - N3PKJ (Todd)
A radio net is three or more radio stations communicating with each other on a common channel or frequency. A net is essentially a moderated conversation conducted over two-way radio, typically in half-duplex operating conditions. The use of half-duplex operation requires a very particular set of operating procedures to be followed in order to avoid inefficiencies and chaos.
Nets operate either on schedule or continuously (continuous watch). Nets operating on schedule handle traffic only at definite, prearranged times and in accordance with a prearranged schedule of intercommunication. Nets operating continuously are prepared to handle traffic at any time; they maintain operators on duty at all stations in the net at all times. When practicable, messages relating to schedules will be transmitted by a means of signal communication other than radio.
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The International Amateur Radio Union defines six different types of nets in its IARU Emergency Telecommunications Guide:
Other Amateur radio net types
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Now that we know what an Amateur Radio Net is and the different types of nets. There is going to be a few words or abbreviations used during a net that you will hear that we need to go over. After determining which type of net you may be involved in. It will be a good idea to take note of such words, such as “Traffic” which is a formally handwritten message or other related information pertinent to the net, as a whole. I'm sure you will hear other words used during a net that will be important. So I suggest to have a notebook handy to write down these words and their definitions. If you have any questions about terminology used during any net don't be afraid to ask!
A net manager is the person who supervises the creation and operation of a net over multiple sessions. This person will specify the format, date, time, participants, and the net control script. The net manager will also choose the Net Control Station for each net, and may occasionally take on that function, especially in smaller organizations.
Radio nets are like conference calls in that both have a moderator who initiates the group communication, who ensures all participants follow the standard procedures, and who determines and directs when each other station may talk. The moderator in a radio net is called the Net Control Station, formally abbreviated NCS, and has the following duties:
The Net Control Station will, for each net, appoint at least one Alternate Net Control Station, formally abbreviated ANCS (abbreviated NC2 in WWII procedures), who has the following duties:
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Now it is time to get into the nitty-gritty of the net which is the net structure, how to check-in and Dos and Do nots during the net. All of these things are very important in keeping the net running smoothly. Please keep in mind that the main purpose of any net is to pass communications in the most upward efficiency as possible with the lack of chaos and confusion, especially in an emergency. I suggest to use any net as training for an emergency. Keeping in mind that no matter how laid back the net you might be involved in is, treating it as an actual emergency. This is for the purpose of keeping fresh in your mind good clean net procedures and practices. Also how to transmit and when.
Nets can be described as always having a net opening and a net closing, with a roll call normally following the net opening, itself followed by regular net business, which may include announcements, official business, and message passing. Military nets will follow a very abbreviated and opaque version of the structure outlined below, but will still have the critical elements of opening, roll call, late check-ins, and closing.
A net should always operate on the same principle as the inverted pyramid used in journalism—the most important communications always come first, followed by content in ever lower levels of priority.
Each net will typically have a main purpose, which varies according to the organization conducting the net, which occurs during the net business phase. For amateur radio nets, it's typically for the purpose of allowing stations to discuss their recent operating activities (stations worked, antennas built, etc.) or to swap equipment. For Military Auxiliary Radio System and National Traffic System nets, net business will involve mainly the passing of formal messages, known as radiograms.
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Lots of stuff to cover here, but we'll start with the obvious, the net opening. As stated above this outline is for Military nets although Amateur Radio net structure is very similar. We will use this outline for the simplicity of it.
The call to action of the net is very important. This will tell you a lot of information. When the net meets, what the net is being called into action for and the net structure. All of this information needs to be listened to, which brings me to another major point. Listening to a net and the Net Control is as important as transmitting! I'll repeat. Listening to a net and the Net Control is as important as transmitting. Good practice in a net is listening to everything being said and more importantly following the Net Controls' directions. As for most nets are a “Directed Net” which means all traffic and contacts to other stations are made through Net Control only. Also good practice is only speaking when spoken to, which this goes back to the very definition of a “Directed Net”, unless you have something for the net, which can be emergency traffic, time valued traffic, other important information related to the net or any other information that may need passed on to another station, participating or not participation in the net, or to another net.
Onward to the check-in time. State your callsign and if you have any traffic. Now when checking into a net it is important to realize that you may double with another station, which at times is editable to happen. Doubling with another station is just part of radio it happens and no way to totally stop it. To help avoid this situation takes some practice. However here are some guidelines to practice with:
The Net Business is the most important time to listen. As for this is when all the important communications for the net happens. Of course unless you have related traffic or other communications pertinent to the net. Then pass that along to the net in a short as possible and to the point transmission.
After the Net Business some nets may have an optional time for free time for use for conversation or other communications not pertaining the stated purpose of the net. This time may be referred as the “informal portion” the net.
The net closing is the portion of the net used for last call check-ins or if any station may have any other communications pertaining or not pertaining to the net. Once that is done the Net Control Station will close the net returning the frequency back to normal Amateur Radio use.
I hope this clarifies any or all questions about a net and good operating practices and procedures during a net. This all takes a bit of practice, although I'm sure once you get involved with the nets that you want to participate in that you catch on to what to do and not do during any Amateur Radio net. As I said if you have any questions about a net that you might be involved with ask the Net Control station or any other parties that participate in that net. Please realize this article is just a general guideline to use and not all information in this article may pertain to the net(s) you may participate in.