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Radio Operators Needed, Texas Water Safari


It's that time of year again!! Ham radio operators in South Texas are gearing up to provide communications for the Texas Water Safari, also known as the World's Toughest Boat Race, 260 miles of paddling from San Marcos to Seadrift. The event takes place every June on the second full weekend, starting Saturday morning and running through Wednesday, and it takes many dedicated ham radio operators, placed at each checkpoint along the rivers, to coordinate the passage of race information and assist in the coordination of services in the event of an emergency. Radio operators use many tools, besides their radios, to ensure the accurate transmission of data down the river. Many operators use a digital radio format called "packet". Several people have built an Excel spreadsheet that interfaces with a packet radio to enter race information. Other operators, without the capability of packet, use Google Sheets to record and share similar data. We also use voice communications for those who do not have access to either of these digital formats. Using all of these technologies allow ham radio operators and other race officials to ensure that all of the race participants finish the race as safely as possible.

Some people may ask why ham radio operators are so important when every one has a cell phone. Firstly, as the Crossroads Area discovered recently, cell phones don't always work, and reception can be spotty along the river. Secondly, ham radio operators are trained in a communication format known as a "net" which allows for the transmission of information in an organized manner so that no information gets lost in the jumble of transmissions, much like a police department dispatcher. This communication format is also used in emergency situations such as hurricanes, floods, large fires, etc. In a net, one person is designated net control and is in charge of making sure that all communication, called "traffic", gets to it's destination. A net may be conducted in a relaxed manner, where all participants are free to pass traffic among each other but much relinquish the frequency to the net control upon request. In a structured net, all traffic must pass through the net control. When using the relaxed net format, if the net control determines that is is necessary, the format can be changed to a structured format for as long as it takes to handle the emergency situation that has arisen. Participation in events such as the Texas Water Safari help ham radio operators keep their communication skills sharp so that they are ready when an emergency arises.

The Coleto Creek Amateur Radio Club and the Victoria Amateur Radio Club provide communications for the latter half of the race, from Hochheim to the finish at Seadrift. San Antonio and other clubs in that area provide communications from the start of the race, in San Marcos, through Gonzales. For the past few years the Gonzales Checkpoint has been manned by a Boy Scout troop who use the event to help them obtain their radio merit badge. However, there are usually a few checkpoints that are difficult to get covered due to lack of available operators. An operator is not required to be a member of a club to participate in this event, anyone with a valid license is welcome. Since UHF and VHF frequencies are the only ones used for this event, Technician level operators are encouraged to participate. If you would be interested in volunteering to help with the communications for this event, contact the Communications Director, Harvey Babb - WB5MCT, by e-mail at harvey.babb@gmail.com or by phone at (361) 676-0356. We hope to see everyone on the San Marcos and Guadalupe Rivers in June. 73 and have a great day, KD5QHH & KD5RIF.


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