October 12, 2022

Two-Way Radio Communication for Scouts

Radio and scouting are a great combination.  Scouting recognizes the interest of scouts in radio and reflects this in the annual Jamboree on the Air (JOTA) and the Radio Merit BadgeJOTA is the world's largest scouting activity.

Scouting is the ideal time to earn an amateur radio license.  Making your first amateur radio contact with your own call sign as a scout is amazing experience. Making contact with your other scouting friends is even more fun.

Scouts BSA Radio Merit Badge

A two-way radio is also an important piece of communication and safety equipment on backcountry outings where mobile phone coverage is absent.  Scouts can use FRS walkie-talkies to communicate with each other while at camp or hiking with no license required.  Amateur radio licensed scouts can use their own amateur radio two-way radios.  Regardless of the class of equipment, it is important for scouts to learn good radio operating practices.  Here are some helpful guidelines to good operating practices based on the Scout Law.

Good Operating Practices

  • Be prepared - Think about what you are going to say before transmitting.

  • Be trustworthy - Take care of troop radios and return them in the same condition they were issued.

  • Be loyal - Keep your antenna in a vertical position and elevate it to improve signal strength.  If you are in a structure, try moving near an open window or moving outdoors to improve signal strength.

  • Be helpful - Press the push-to-talk button and pause one second before speaking.  There is a short delay before your radio begins transmitting.  Pausing will prevent your message from being cut off.

  • Be courteous - When initiating a transmission, first identify your intended recipient then identify yourself.  This avoids confusion on shared frequencies.  Example: “Jill this is Jane, do you copy?”

  • Be kind - Give the person you are calling time to respond.  Remember, they may have heard your call and are unable to respond immediately.

  • Be thrifty - Use short, clear, and concise messages over the radio to save battery life.  Repeat essential parts of the message to help make sure it is understood.  Keep your radio on and monitor for safety, accountability, and patrol/troop messages.

  • Be clean - Speak across the radio microphone rather than directly into it in order to produce a clear undistorted message.

Scout radio operations also benefit from the use of standardized vocabulary of basic radio terms.  These terms are known as pro-words.

Radio Pro-Words

  • Mayday - Used as a distress call in an emergency situation.  When used, repeat three times: mayday, mayday, mayday.

  • Correction - I made an error in this transmission.  I will continue with the last correct word.

  • Radio check - This means, “What is my signal strength and readability?”  Responses include: “Loud and clear” (or 59), “Weak but readable,” “Weak and distorted,” “Strong and distorted.”

  • Over - I have finished speaking.

  • Say again - Please repeat your last message.

  • Stand-by - This means, I acknowledge your transmission.  Please wait for me to respond.

  • Go-ahead - I am listening and can respond.  Please proceed with your message.

  • I spell - Say this prior to spelling a difficult or ambiguous-sounding word.

  • Read back - Please repeat my entire transmission back to me.

  • Roger - Message received and understood.

  • Affirmative / Negative - Yes / No

  • Out - Our conversation is finished.

The ability of Scouts to communicate using radio under difficult conditions is enhanced by having the ability to spell words using the international phonetic alphabet.  There are times when our spoken words cannot be understood when transmitted over the radio.  This can be caused by a weak signal or high noise levels.  Often, our words can be understood via radio by spelling the words out using the phonetic alphabet.  Knowing how to do this is a critical survival skill for Scouts.

Phonetic Alphabet

A Alpha

E Echo

I India

M Mike

Q Quebec

U Uniform

Y Yankee

B Bravo

F Foxtrot

J Juliet

N November

R Romeo

V Victor

Z Zulu

C Charlie

G Golf

K Kilo

O Oscar

S Sierra

W Whiskey

D Delta

H Hotel

L Lima

P Papa

T Tango

X X-ray

Have fun in the outdoors and be prepared.  Having a radio transceiver and knowing how to use it is an invaluable asset since it provides additional options to communicate in the event of an emergency.

Good DX and 73, NJ2X

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