Directed Net Operation

What is a directed net? The definition is quite simple. It is given every day in most net preambles. For example, from the SATERN net preamble: “This is a directed net. All communications will go through the net control station.” The wording is clear and direct: ALL communications WILL go THROUGH the net control station (emphasis mine). However, some net members either have not heard it, don't understand the wording or wilfully ignore it.

The overall meaning is the net control station has the duty to control the net session and does so by requiring ALL communication on the net frequency to be directed by net control. This means if you come to the net frequency and hear nothing, don't announce your presence. Wait until you hear the directive from the net control station asking for check-ins or someone net control has asked to relay check-ins.

Notice the preceding sentence said a station “net control asked.” That means stations should refrain from responding to anyone unless the NCS specifically asked you to respond. Everyone wants to help but unauthorized transmissions such as “I need a relay” and “I hear you Bill” violate the directed net rule of going THROUGH net control station and create interference on the net frequency. “All” means “the whole of,” not some of or most of, the communication.

Included in this area are those who take it upon themselves to assist net control when they haven't been asked. For example, NCS calls W1ABC for his comments and you don't hear W1ABC respond so you, without being asked, call W1ABC. Meanwhile, several other aspects of the situation maybe occurring. First, perhaps W1ABC responded to NCS and you didn't copy him. Your transmission interfered with W1ABC. Secondly, NCS may ask someone else to call W1ABC and now Sam has two stations calling and he may not be sure who to respond to. This may not cause a problem in a casual net but in an emergency such an incident can be critical. Instructions from two sources simultaneously is confusing and can cause serious problems as well as create uncertainty regarding net operation..

Another operative word in the definition of a directed net is “will.” “Will” is used in product specification when no alternative is allowed. The contracting officer attempts to negotiate all will statements while contractors try to get them all 'shall” which is a weaker word than “will.” “Shall” leaves room for interpretation, “will” doesn't. No communication is to take place on the net frequency unless authorized by the NCS.

A call is a communication whether it is answered or not. This means blind calls for the NCS, side QSOs, etc. If you don't hear the NCS or an authorized assistant, wait until you do. Perhaps propagation is poor between you and the NCS or the frequency has been turned over to someone you can't hear.

When the NCS asks someone for assistance, that station temporarily takes over the NCS function under the guidelines of the NCS. All stations must follow directed net protocol including the NCS while the assistant has control of the frequency. The assistant is only authorized to perform the function asked for by NCS. Any further action requires NCS approval. For example, if you have a relay and net control asks you to get the check-in, you are only authorized to do that. You are not authorized to call for additional check-ins unless authorized by NCS directly.

If you arrive at the net frequency and several minutes pass in which you hear nothing , tune above and below the net frequency. The net may have moved because of QRM. Remember, the published net frequency does not belong to the net. If someone was using the frequency when early check-ins began, the NCS will move the net to another frequency. No one should ask an interfering station to move unless net control asked you to and, only in rare instances, will an NCS do so.

When a DX station is working split and is listening on the net frequency, there will be stations calling who are transmitting on the net frequency but their receivers are tuned 5 kHz lower. Having net stations calling them is a waste of time because their receivers are elsewhere. The same is true of someone who tunes up near the net frequency is often 1 to 2 kHz away from the net frequency. Unauthorized calls create more QRM on the net frequency and the tuner doesn't hear you.

The tuning may be intentional interference. All intentional interference should be ignored since what they want is attention; don't give it to them. In fact, the way to handle all of these situations is to ignore them and work around them using the tools you have (notch filters, IF shift, bandwidth) and develop new ones thereby becoming a better operator. It is the responsibility of the NCS to determine what action is necessary to conduct net business.

Following the directed net protocol may mean you don't get checked in that day. If so try again tomorrow. Ionospheric conditions are variable. Another action you can take is improve your signal by determining what antenna improvements you can make. A better signal will not only improve your ability to check-in but will enhance all of your amateur radio experiences. Also, if you have a directional antenna know where the net control station is located and point at the NCS. Currently, for example, on the SATERN net on Monday and Friday point to the Midwest, on Tuesday and Thursday at the Pacific Northwest, and on Wednesday and Saturday at the Middle Atlantic States.

Net control is in charge of all net operations and decisions. He may try to get everyone checked in whether he can hear them or not. If this is the NCS choice, he will ask for other stations to collect calls for the check-in list. Station taking check-ins should get the callsign, name, and location of the station and relay that to net control. If there are multiple stations await NCS OK to call them. Perhaps NCS heard a number of them and will check them in himself. Since the NCS is in control of net operation., it is always preferable to have net stations check in directly.

A directed net is orderly and efficient. Daily practice will ingrain the protocol and make operation in emergency situations easier and make the net professional in character to any observer and perhaps save lives or, at a minimum, ease the mind of someone that a loved one in the disaster area is safe.