REPORT 2016-07-31

We start our bulletin this week again with weather news. The cut-off low pressure cell stationary over the centre of the country for most of the week resulted in dramatic weather. Last weekend’s severe weather warning told us to expect heavy rain in the centre of the country, spreading westwards, and they weren’t wrong. Large areas of KwaZulu Natal were hit by downpours in the region of 250mm of rain within 24 hours, starting on Monday evening.

Keith Lowes ZS5WFD posted pictures of flooding in Amanzimtoti, and a bakkie stranded up to its windowsills in water in a street there. Other pictures of Amanzimtoti showed the railway station totally submersed, and low-lying gardens in the South Coast areas were knee-high in water. All the local streams and rivulets were turned into raging torrents as the water sought escape routes.

And as predicted the rain spread Westwards, and the Eastern and Western Cape were lashed by heavy rain on Tuesday. Slopes of Table Mountain and Devils Peak received around 140mm of rain in 12 hours, and low-lying informal dwelling areas suffered severe flooding of their houses.

The mountains of the central Eastern Cape, Southern Free State and Lesotho continued to receive snow, and passengers on flights between KZN and the Western Cape were treated to the sight of a carpet of white covering the mountains on their routes.

Meanwhile, a tornado hit Tembisa on Tuesday afternoon, injuring 20 people. Some heavy transport vehicles were overturned by the wind, and part of the roof of Phumulani Mall was ripped off during the storm, while a local garage’s mini-supermarket was totally wrecked by the wind, and ambulances at the Tembisa hospital were damaged by fallen trees. Houses in Ekhuruleni were also severely damaged, and the community continues to count the cost.

All in all, a violent week, and the only comforting feature is the fact that dams are starting to fill in drought-stricken areas.

An article on victims of climate in Inter Press Service News Agency notes that climate change and related extreme weather events have devastated the lives and livelihoods of tens of millions of most vulnerable people worldwide – by far exceeding the total of all the unfortunate and unjustifiable victims of all terrorist attacks combined. However, the unstoppable climate crises receive just a tiny fraction of mainstream media attention. “Every second, one person is displaced by disaster,” the Oslo-based Norwegian Refugees Council reports. “In 2015 only, more than 19.2 million people fled disasters in 113 countries. Disasters displace three to ten times more people than conflict and war worldwide.”

As climate change continues, it will likely lead to more frequent and severe natural hazards and the impact will be heavy, warns this independent humanitarian organisation providing aid and assistance to people forced to flee. “On average, 26 million people are displaced by disasters such as floods and storms every year. That’s one person forced to flee every second of every day.”

“Climate change is our generation’s greatest challenge,” says Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, which counts with over 5,000 humanitarian workers across more than 25 countries. The climate refugees and migrants add to the on-going humanitarian emergency. “Not since World War II have more people needed our help,” warned Jan Egeland, who held the post of UN undersecretary general for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief from 2003-2006. Food for thought indeed.

I remarked in a previous bulletin on work being done to provide VHF and UHF radios with digital voice capabilities satisfying protocols for all the different systems in the same radio. As NW Digital’s John Hays K7VE has said in talks at several ham gatherings, the protocols are “95% the same, and 100% incompatible.” They all rely on the same AMBE vocoder to encode and decode the digital voice, but they all package it differently.

In the ideal universe, it would be great to have one radio capable of running all the digital voice modes, along with analogue FM. That radio will hopefully soon exist.

An SDR radio, called Katena, is being developed by Bruce K6BP and Chris KD2BMH, to have as many digital modes as possible, but especially a version of FreeDV for VHF/UHF, using the open source CODEC2 vocoder and also the AMBE chip to do the other modes. In its third iteration, it is still encountering difficulties, so progress is slow.

Meanwhile, Wireless Holdings has announced the DV4mobile, which is a 20 watt mobile, on 144, 222 and 440 Mhz, with FM, C4FM, D-Star, DMRplus, dPMR, P25 and possibly NXDN. It will also include an LTE radio for connection to the cell network, and the software to let you keep using the digital modes through their networks the same way you use the various dongles now. However, the company is keeping their product under lids at present, so more detail is not yet available.

FreeDV is receiving attention from other developers as well, and will be a game-changer if it is successful. It is a bit narrower in bandwidth than D-Star, and uses TDMA as does DMR, technology which is already well developed.

A radio like this in the hands of a HAMNET rescuer would give him or her a huge advantage when it comes to providing communications on all systems needed.

I’ll mention the report by Dave ZS2DH, on the VW Rally held over the weekend of 15th and 16th July in the Eastern Cape in next week’s bulletin.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

REPORT 2016-07-24

Weather is the theme of this week’s bulletin. HAMNET is here to extend a hand of help if neighbourhoods or bigger areas are overwhelmed by floods, snow, power losses, and vehicle accidents associated with all of the above, hence the subject.

Since Wednesday, the SA Weather Service has been posting alerts, warning of rough seas and storm conditions, gale force winds and storm surges along the Eastern coast, as a result of Spring tide conditions adding to the frontal weather now passing. These coastal conditions are set to continue into the middle of the coming week. After the heavy rain of the end of this last week in the Western Cape, the Eastern Cape is warning residents of possible heavy snowfalls in the Eastern high ground tonight, as well as heavy rain along the Southern coast from Monday onwards.

Then the Snow Alert forecasts snow occurring on the Western Cape ranges from Saturday morning, starting to spread to the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu Drakensberg and high ground around Kokstad, and to the KZN Midlands by Saturday evening. Today, the snow will spread further into the Northern Drakensberg. Heavier falls in the KZN Midlands, the entire KZN Drakensberg, most of Lesotho, and Western KwaZulu Natal will occur this afternoon, and the Eastern half of the Eastern Cape.

Piet Badenhorst has posted a summary of the forecast in the van Reenen’s Pass area on Hamnet’s FaceBook page. He says sleet will fall this afternoon, turning to heavy snowfall this evening and tomorrow, possibly closing van Reenen’s Pass to traffic by lunchtime today. Falls of up to 1.5m may be experienced in the Drakensberg, and motorists and long-distance truckers should avoid van Reenen if possible, to avoid being stuck in stationary queues. He also says the extreme weather is due to the faster than expected passage of the cold front that hit the Western Cape on Wednesday evening, across the country.

Some of the snow in the KZN Midlands will be replaced by rain on Monday and Tuesday, but Lesotho, the KZN Drakensberg and the Hogsback area will not be so lucky. By Tuesday, it could start snowing on the Western Cape peaks again, spreading to the Sutherland area and possibly Calvinia, but slowly clearing by Wednesday.

Bearing all this threatening weather in mind, and further bearing in mind the tragic violence that has been playing out internationally, and which has the potential to spread to South Africa, it occurs to me that all HAMNET members, and in fact all radio amateurs, should never be without our handheld radios as we go about our daily lives, to be another chain of contact in case of local or general catastrophe. And if we are not out and about, but at home keeping warm, we should have our VHF radios on and programmed to the local emergency traffic repeater, or simplex channel, and our HF radios monitoring 3770kHz and 7110kHz lower sideband all the time, to catch that call for help when it comes through.

Our new HAMNET website, at, carries an interesting account of a motorbike accident rescue achieved by Matt ZS1MJJ and Paul ZS1V. Matt says he encountered a riderless motorbike flying through the air as he drove on the way to Gordon’s Bay this past week. Stopping to investigate, he found the rider some 10 metres away, lying face down in water, and unconscious. Matt called for assistance on the 145.600 repeater, and Paul heard him, disabled the link of the 145.600 repeater to the entire South and West Coast chain by using the correct DTMF tones to isolate that specific repeater, and called through to the Somerset West Neighbourhood Watch Control Room, who then called an ambulance service and the Police, both of which quickly arrived on the scene. Thus was the rider’s life saved, thanks to a working repeater system, a pair of reactive HAMNET members, and the assistance of the Neighbourhood Watch Control Staff. Well done, Gentlemen!

A report-back of the major earthquake disaster exercise held on the West Coast of the USA has been published on several sites. A Magnitude 9.0 earthquake and resulting tsunami was announced to have struck the Pacific Northwest, causing a blackout of all conventional communications channels. ARES and RACES organisations in Oregon and Washington states, the ARRL’s headquarters’ station, and stations in Langley, British Columbia, which was holding its own coastal exercise, were all linked.

“Overall, our objectives of being able to communicate with external agencies via voice and Winlink were achieved,” Monte Simpson, ARRL Western Washington Section manager said. “It was great to be able to participate in an exercise of this magnitude to get a feeling of what it would be like to have this many people trying to send and receive data. All of our operators felt this was very beneficial.”

Simpson said that including Amateur Radio as “an actual functional part” of the exercise was a big plus, and that the participants felt they were “actually part of the team and not some auxiliary group that was being tolerated.”

Among his recommendations, Simpson said there should be more standardization on language and forms, as well as coming up with a method of establishing contact with communities that lack communication if repeaters go down. He also advised that ARES and RACES teams exercise their equipment on a regular basis, to avoid unexpected outages and failures during a real-world event. Good advice that we here in South Africa should follow too.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.



HAMNET Field Station/Hammies outing

A view of the antenna and the field station in the background

A view of the antenna and the field station in the background

25 June 2016

Van Stadens flower reserve

The weekend of the 25th of June fell squarely in the middle of the SARL Top Band QSO party and overlapped with our plans to deploy for the Top Band QSO party. It also clashed with another of the ZS2Fun projects – Hammies. As if that was not enough, it was also Andrew’s turn to read the PEARS news bulletin on Sunday morning, so a full weekend!

Not to be deterred, however, a plan was made to operate a field station from the famous Van Stadens Flower Reserve during the normal Hammies time slot – 14:00 to 16:00 SAST on the Saturday.

Having never actually been to the flower reserve myself I was looking forward to it. Incidentally, this is only a few Km from the venue we used for the “Hamnet Blackout” last year.

Living in town has it’s disadvantages from a ham perspective and one of the main disadvantages is the electrical noise. Andrew and I both have S-9 level noise at our respective QTHs. In the Van Stadens area this drops away a lot! So much so, that when Andrew set the radio up he thought it was broken until we found a talking station!

ZS2DH operating the field station.

ZS2DH operating the field station.

The plan to get out there and set up for a 14:00 start was thwarted somewhat with a variety of challenges, but we managed to be on the air by 14:10 SAST. Setting up the “SOTA-style” station was nothing new to us and even the Hammies can do it with their eyes closed now. The inverted-V hanging from an “improved commercial swimming pool mast”-about 6m off the ground, the Kenwood TS-50 running off the good old faithful 100AH battery and we were on air pumping out about 80W of Hamnet Awesomeness!

The Hammies had come along as well and Ashton, in particular, needed to run around a bit. Andrew set up the GPS points and hid some point markers. The Hammies were given the coordinates, along with a brief explanation of how the GPS works, and told to get the code words which had been hidden with the point markers. They had to radio these back to “base control” as they found them. This was a great activity for the Hammies as they got to report over the radio, but also explore the reserve and improve their mountain rescue skills. We had to eventually cut the activity short as the park was closing and we had to get back to town! This proved even more popular than the fox hunt we did some time ago.

Andrew running the field station

Andrew running the field station

Taking turns between operating the field station, operating “base control”,and chatting to our guests, kept us all busy. Juanita and Thato (one of Andrew’s students from work who had joined us for the day) were a great help. I think they enjoyed it at least as much as the kids did – if the laughter was to be believed!

Our guests included a few passing tourists and Treffor Lloyd from the Mountain Club Search and Rescue team.

Our field station made a good impression too – hitting ZS1 through ZS6 as well as making contact with Athol Masdoll, Z21LV in Zimbabwe, Vince, 3DA0VV in Swaziland, and Dieter Hoffman, A25RX, a local lad currently working in Botswana.

Naturally, as man cannot live on radio alone, we had a fully catered service with tea, coffee, hot chocolate, cooldrink, and biscuits. By the time we had to leave, there were still some supplies, but the cooldrink and biscuits just seemed to have evaporated!

In short, we got out into the open air, played radio, practised our skills, gave the Hammies a good afternoon of fun, and all went home a little more tired.

Some of our guests - Treffor Lloyd and Gert (ZS2GS)

Our guest – Treffor Lloyd and Gert (ZS2GS) and Andrew (ZS2G)

The Hammies with the Hamnet guys

The Hammies with the Hamnet guys

Motorcycle accident

On Monday afternoon 2016-07-18, Matt ZS1MJJ observed a riderless motorcycle flying through the air in the vicinity of the N2 between Somerset West and Gordon’s Bay. He stopped to investigate and found the rider lying 10 meters away from the motorcycle. The rider was in the water, unconscious, and would have drowned. Matt tuned to the local 145.600 repeater and called for assistance. Paul ZS1V was mobile elsewhere in the Helderberg and responded to his call. Matt informed Paul of the location and situation. Using the local Neighbourhood Watch commercial repeater, Paul called the Somerset West Neighbourhood Watch Control room, which has links to the local security companies, paramedic services and SAPS.

The control room operator soon returned with a message indicating that an ER24 ambulance and a SAPS vehicle were en route.

The entire incident lasted less than 10 minutes, nevertheless a number of learning points can be extracted:
1. If you are making an emergency call, make it clear that you are transmitting emergency traffic by using the word “emergency” or “priority”;
2. Listen on the repeater before transmitting and if you hear someone transmitting emergency traffic, do not attempt to make another call on the repeater until the emergency is over;
3. Know the DTMF codes for changing the repeater linking, or have them handy. Paul was able to isolate the 145.600 from the linked network in order to complete the emergency call without further interference from other stations attempting calls on the linked repeater system;

Well done to Matt for his quick thinking and willingness to stop and quite likely save a life, and to the Somerset West NHW for their assistance.

REPORT 2016-07-17

National Director Paul van Spronsen ZS1V has announced the new-look HAMNET website, accessible at A basic description of emergency communications is provided on the home page, the weekly news bulletin you are listening to now is printed on the news page, a page for news from all the divisions is next, to be populated with news by a designated reporter from each division, and then a page for operations reports and another for event reports. Calls for volunteers to help with activities may be placed here too. The website is open and available for all to read, and we hope you will learn to access it regularly to keep up with HAMNET news in South Africa.

A very clear and concise discussion of the types of solar panels available and their uses has been provided by Chris Warren, who runs a blog called “Off Grid Ham”. He notes that hams are not well versed with the attributes of the 3 types of solar panels available: Monocrystalline, Polycrystalline, and Thin Film.

Monocrystalline panels use high quality silicon cut into individual cells, attached to each other and seen as small separate patches on the panel with electrical connections. Polycrystalline panels have molten silicon poured into a mould. They have thin metallic wires dividing the panel into cells, but are in actual fact one single large patch. Thin film panels have a silicon photo-reactive semiconductor applied to a substrate, usually thick plastic. These latter are flexible and may be rolled up.

Monocrystalline panels are more efficient than polycrystalline panels, producing 4% more wattage per square metre, and have a longer service life and a greater tolerance for extreme temperatures, but the differences do not justify the extra price per square metre of panel, not in the kind of sizes used by radio amateurs. Both systems’ service life can run over two decades, more that you might ever need.

Thin film panels are inexpensive when used at low power levels, and are freely available. Their flexibility also carries an advantage if you are doing a Summit On The Air activation and want to carry them up a mountain! They are usually below 10% efficient, compared to about 13% for Polycrystalline and about 19% for Monocrystalline panels.

On balance, you will get the most wattage for your sized total panel layout per Rand spent on a polycrystalline panel system, their slightly lesser performance compared to monocrystalline panels more than offset by the reduced cost. And if you’re thinking of spending money rigging up a sun-following panel system, let me tell you that it would be cheaper to buy another polycrystalline panel or two and gather more sunlight that way, than to have your smaller layout follow the Sun.

Thanks to Chris Warren for the concise summary.

This week’s ARRL newsletter carries a mention of a training Webinar set for 24th July, hosted by Ward Silver N0AX, entitled “Contesting as Training for Public Service”.

“Think of contests as a ham radio fitness centre,” Silver said. “Public service teams are always looking for enjoyable activities to improve operator skills. Just as sports provide good physical exercise, contests are great at developing radio skills, and both are a lot of fun.” Silver pointed out that contests originated as a way to hone traffic-handling skills and develop an effective station.

The ARRL’s recent National Field Day is a good example of a huge experiment, by thousands of hams, working in groups mostly, working to test their radios, antenna systems, and off-grid power systems, with a view to establishing an understanding of the best way they can offer an emergency service in time of need. It is just unfortunate that this year’s solar conditions are so poor that high numbers of QSO’s were not possible.

Astronomy Magazine’s weekly newsletter tells us that China’s Five hundred metre Aperture Spherical Telescope, or FAST, has been completed 3 months ahead of schedule. The surface area of the radio dish is equivalent to that of 30 soccer fields, it cost $180 million to build, and took 5 years to complete.

FAST is tasked with many projects involving studying strange objects such as quasars, pulsars, and gravitational waves, as well as searching for extra-terrestrial life, all with the intention of understanding better the origin of the universe.

The previous biggest radio-telescope is the 305m Arecibo dish in Puerto Rico, which has been doing similar research for 40 years. From there the most powerful broadcast ever deliberately beamed into space was made in 1974. A megawatt transmitter’s signal was concentrated into a beam, equivalent to a 20 trillion watt omnidirectional broadcast, but aimed at an area in the globular cluster M13 about 21000 light-years from us, and containing about 300 000 stars. The total broadcast took less than 3 minutes to send, and consisted of 1679 bits of information, sent by frequency shift keying, at the rate of 10 bits per second. An answer from the stars is not expected any time soon, so don’t hold your breath.

The experiment was useful in getting us to think a bit about the difficulties of communicating across space, time, and presumably a wide culture gap!

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

REPORT 2016-07-10

The most prominent news of the emergency communications week, has been Cyclone Nepartak-16, which made landfall in Taiwan on Friday morning very early. By Saturday, 3 deaths and 142 injured persons had been reported on, as the cyclone tore through the Eastern city of Taitung, with winds of 240kph, or 150mph. Torrential rain and wind preceded the cyclone, but fortunately the rugged and mountainous terrain of Taiwan slowed the cyclone down to a Typhoon, as it left Taiwan on its way to strike the Chinese mainland. More than 16000 people were evacuated from the worst affected areas in Taiwan, two railway systems in the country are out of service, and most flights out of Taiwan’s Taoyuan International Airport were cancelled on Friday.

According to information received from International Amateur Radio Union Region 3 (IARU-R3), the Philippine Amateur Radio Association’s Ham Emergency Radio Operations (HERO) network activated on July 7 at 2145 UTC, as fears arose that super typhoon Nepartak could amplify the effects of the southwest monsoon. Heavy rains in some areas caused schools to preemptively cancel classes.

HERO operator DV7DRP opened the net on 7095 kHz at 2300 UTC on July 7 with relay net controls DU1IVT, DU7DUG, and DU1EQ. Propagation necessitated relays and a handoff of net control duties to DU1VHY.

Rainfall of varying intensity was reported, but flooding on the streets of affected areas was mostly minor. River conditions in the metro Manila area were also being tracked, with the Marikina River at 13.7 meters. In general, rainfall has concentrated in the central Luzon and Metropolitan Manila areas. Thanks to Roberto Vicencio DU1VHY for this latter report.

From the Pacific Ocean comes news that research into the radioactivity of the waters after the Fukushima Nuclear disaster reveals that radiation levels across the Pacific are rapidly returning to normal five years after the nuclear meltdown. The sea water meant to cool the reactors instead carried radioactive elements back into the Pacific, with currents dispersing it widely. Within five years, Caesium, a by-product of nuclear power and highly soluble in water was detected on the Western shores of the USA. After analyzing data from 20 studies, radiation levels were found to be rapidly returning to normal after being tens of millions of times higher than usual following the disaster. Between 2011 and 2015, unsafe levels of radioactive materials in fish studied reduced from being present in half the fish to less than 1% of the fish. However the seafloor and harbour near the nuclear plant were still highly contaminated, so monitoring must continue.

No-one is recorded as having died directly from the nuclear spill, but tens of thousands of people were uprooted from the area, and still haven’t returned.

A report from the IARU Region 1 webpage mentions the success of the Emergency Communications Forum held at Friedrichshafen in the last week of June. An average of 20 people from 10 countries attended the meetings on Friday the 24th June. The range of topics included reports from other regions, a report on the GlobalSET exercise of the previous year, proposals to change the IARU Emergency message procedure, and information on the Emergency Communications groups in Germany, Poland and Slovenia. Planning now starts for next year’s meetings during the same Hamfest from 14-16 July 2017.

From the website comes news of an interesting thin polymer layer of plastic which starts to oscillate or move by itself when exposed to direct sunlight. The polymer contains light-sensitive molecules called azo-dyes, which oscillate, bend and stretch in  sunlight. Since they are bound within the polymer network, the material oscillates as if cramped.

One of the main uses of the material might be as a self-cleaning surface, because sand and dust would have difficulty sticking to it if exposed to the sun. This technology could be applied to solar panel surfaces in the desert, or anywhere for that matter, where cleaning capabilities might be limited.

Again, the Western parts of the country have been subjected to extremely cold conditions this week, and snow was forecast and sighted in many areas. The Snow Report mentions the du Toitskloof mountains, The Hex River Valley, De Doorns, Sutherland and the surrounding areas, The Cedarberg at Citrusdal, Ladismith in the Klein Karoo, The Matroosberg range, and the Brandwacht Mountains. Forecasts in the week were for snow in the Swartberge, the Outeniqua and Kouga ranges, high-lying areas around Graaff Reinet, and then the KwaZulu Natal Midlands as well as Mooi River and surrounds, and the Sani Pass. A week of clear night skies has resulted in increased heat radiation into the atmosphere, dropping ground temperatures and dew points and making morning frost a reality over the whole country.

After a week or two of absolute quiet, the Sun has woken up and produced 4 sunspot groups since yesterday (Saturday). This has increased the Solar Flux index slightly to 87. However, a high speed solar stream, resulting from a coronal hole mass ejection, has caused minor geomagnetic storming, which kept the planetary K index high in the 4-5 region, blocking out HF communications. Even Near Incidence Vertical Skywave propagation has been limited to the 80 metre band, in the sort of distances HAMNET operators might benefit from, and bulletin relays we are attempting in the Western Cape are not reliably being heard. Please attempt to remain radio-active in the cold wintery weather, in spite of poor propagation conditions, to assist your fellow South African.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.