Experimenting with the #HamRadio Wilderness Protocol


After the Titanic sunk in 1914, nations of the world required ships at sea to maintain a mandatory safety watch on certain radio frequencies in the event of emergency or distress. The Silence Periods took place four times an hour, twice each for voice and Morse code.

Silence periods are no longer required because technology has produced alternative automatic watch-keeping systems.

Just as Morse code was fading in the mid-1990s, the American Radio Relay League proposed the Wilderness Protocol as a way for hikers and campers to call for help in remote areas before mobile cell phone coverage became ubiquitous.

The idea is good, but, as Bob Witte writes, “overly complex for practical use.”

On a recent hike of the Shabbona Trail here in Illinois, I gave the Wilderness Protocol a try. Rather than listen at specific times, as the ARRL recommends, I maintained a continuous watch on 52.525 MHz, 146.52 MHz, 223.5 MHz, and 446.0 MHz.

I also monitored two strong repeaters located in Morris, Illinois.

Before my hike, I announced on the Illinois Ham email reflector when I would be hiking and where I would have my radio tuned. I admitted my low power radio would make simplex communication difficult, but asked people to call me anyway.

I worked four stations using the Morris repeaters but no one on the Wilderness Protocol simplex frequencies during my six hour hike.

I called CQ at the top and bottom of the hour on 52.525 MHz and 146.52 MHz, the two frequencies with the best chance of a band opening during the morning hours.

Either no one heard me, or no one was monitoring.

David Coursey has a practical critique of the protocol that I agree with.

Coursey writes,

If we promote ham radio as an emergency resource, it must be a dependable resouce, no disappointment of the public or fellow hams allowed. Especially when lives are at stake.

And if lives are really at stake, buy a SPOT or similar device and everyone — you, friends, family, even me — will sleep more soundly knowing you aren’t depending on ham help that is unlikely to be there when needed.

Food for thought.