Posted in: Event

Basic Equipment for good Communicator

A Boat Parade story for you
By Robin Terrill N4HHP

I have participated in the Winterfest Boat Parade since 1985 and have held the title of the Winterfest Boat Parade Communications Chairman since 1990. My job is to coordinate the communications with the radio operators on security boats, bridges and land positions. I also coordinate the Parade boats before and during the Parade. With all these years behind me I feel that I have gained not only experience but the knowledge of what it takes to run the communications for this parade.

An essential part of this Boat Parade Communications is the Net Control Station (NCS). The radio operators that are chosen in the past years have many years’ experience and are seasoned operators. The job that these NCS operators hold is a very fast pacing job. Even though these operators get overloaded at times with the various situations that come about during the parade, these operators are the ones that pull the entire communications network together. The net control operators’ task is to handle all amateur and marine communications starting at 8:00 A.M on the morning of the Boat Parade and their task is finished when the last Parade boat (Santa Claus Boat #100) crosses the Commercial Bridge Southbound. Now it’s time for the NCS’s to go home, so you think. The time now is around 11:30 P.M. This is now the time for net control to finish tearing down net control. This means that all antennas (nine of them) that include both amateur and marine antennas, the coax runs on the roof and the tear down of the Parade Control room. The time now is around 12:45 A.M.

The next day after putting the equipment back where it belongs, I would personally contact everyone that participated in the Boat Parade by email and ask them for their opinions on what went right and what went wrong before, during and after the parade. Your job is to give me an after action report of your position, how communications was and any suggestions that you may have. Please email me this information ASAP. My goal for each Boat Parade that comes and goes is to make the next Boat Parade better in Communications than the prior year.

Now, I have found that anyone can be a Radio Operator, but not everyone can be a GOOD COMMUNICATOR. It takes practice, and sometimes it take years of practice to get it right. Did you know that the hardest thing for a radio operator to do is to listen? That’s right, I said listen. In all my years as a radio operator and coordinating communications events, it seems that when a person volunteers for a communications event, he has all the tools that are necessary. Let’s see, he has an HT (Handie talkie). Yep, he has all the equipment that he really needs. However, when the NCS calls that station, he hears a voice from that operator that is full of white noise, static and every other word that he hears is broken up. So now, the NCS is not really sure what that station had said. The more the NCS tries to get an answer from that station the more non-intelligible the voice gets. On the other hand, there is also the time he gets no answer from the communicator. You think something is wrong on site where this person is and we send someone over to check and see if the operator is all right. Once you get there, you find that all is well and when the operator turns around, you see his HT hanging out of his rear pocket of his pants with the volume low or his battery had gone dead and the operator did not even realize it. No wonder this amateur did not hear the NCS calling him, and respond when called the first time.

On the other hand, you have the good communicator. They are the person that has an HT, a fully charged spare battery, an external antenna, and a headset which is connected to this radio that is located either on their belt or in a rear pocket and still listens to what is going on and when his station is called, they will remove their HT from their belt and will respond immediately on the first call.

Are you getting the picture? Which type of operator are you?

Below is a list of items that a good communicator would have on hand during a communication event. I know that the list is extensive but you can see that these items are necessary to be a good communicator. If you volunteer to be a communicator for any event, the least you can do is have the basic equipment to do the job that we are tasked to do. You decide what is important for you to have on hand the night of the Parade.

FOR PORTABLE STATION OPERATION (so basic you can’t do without it)

  • RADIO: 2m HT (programmable with PL tone board in order to change frequencies on site if necessary). ALL PARADE FREQUENCIES WITH PL’S SHOULD BE PRE-PROGRAMED INTO YOUR HT. Please take you HT’s manual with you should you need to program another frequency on the fly
  • Fully charged Cell Phone as an alternate way to communicate with others
  • External gain antenna (This is a must to have if you’re using an HT. Standard HT antennas will get you into the repeaters very noisy and hard to hear. HTs are only good for line of sight with nothing in its path to maintain quality communications. Remember, it is always better to have a higher gain antenna that comes with your HT.
  • Headphones are a must. (If you purchase a complete headset, DO NOT USE VOX!)
    Extra FULLY CHARGED HT batteries (No car batteries)
  • A Speaker mike is optional but should be considered.
  • Appropriate adaptors for your radio to connect the coax and your antenna
  • 25 feet of RG8X Coax with connectors to attach a mag mount antenna.
  • Bring a cookie sheet for the ground plane. This is an optional item but should always be considered
  • Cigarette lighter adaptor if you’re running out of your vehicle.
  • Notebook/pen/clipboard
  • Watch to tell the time with
  • Rain Gear and/or umbrella
  • Jacket (for cold weather)
  • Sun glasses
  • Hat
  • Mini First aid kit
  • Insect repellent
  • Sun screen
  • Binoculars
  • Flashlight
  • Change of clothes (FOR WARM AND COLD WEATHER)
  • Towel
  • Food and drink
  • Portable Chair
  • One-gallon Zip bags to protect your transceivers, cellphone and other material if it rains
  • “Small” backpack to carry the above items in

Now you know what it takes to become a “good communicator”. It takes all this equipment on this list and then some. Now, the next step is to learn the basic fundamentals of using this equipment. Did you know that being a good communicator means listening ninety nine (99) percent of the time and talking one (1) percent of the time? This means just what it says. LISTEN! LISTEN! LISTEN! The NCS should not have to call you more than one time for you to respond.

Now you ask, “what is expected from you as a good communicator”?

The NCS will answer as Parade Control

Contact the NCS that you are reroute to your assignment by radio or if necessary by cell phone.

Contact NCS when you arrive at your assignment by radio or if necessary by cell phone. If you contact us by radio, this will tell us that you can hit the repeater and we will give you a signal report. Remember, it is always better to have a higher gain antenna that comes with your HT.

Remember to use your tactical callsign. (Example: This is, 7 Avenue Bridge North Side, Commercial Street Bridge East Side etc.) When you use your tactical call, Parade Control will know where you are at in a moment’s notice. Your callsign is useless to us in knowing where you are stationed. Use your FCC callsign only at the end of your transmission with Parade Control.

Report anything that is endangering life or property on or around the Intracoastal or your assignment. If you’re not sure of a situation, report it.


This will be the means of talking directly to Parade Control off the air. Use common sense when reporting sensitive material on the air.

There is only one (1) net control station for the Amateur network. If Net Control needs assistance, they will ask for it. All inquiries will go through net control. To contact the NCS, call for “PARADE CONTROL”

If you’re on a security boat, the Captain of that boat is in charge of its crew and that includes you.

Unless you have authorization and the proper I.D. to be at Net Control, please do not ask to visit. This room is off limits.

Do not take it upon yourself to try to resolve any problems that may come up on the day of the parade. This is what we are here to work out for you. If the police or bridge tender tell you to do something while at your assignment, do not argue with anyone, comply first and notify us of the situation. Remember that you’re a representative of the Fort Lauderdale Winterfest Boat Parade.

I will be adding at least two operators per bridge side, so I can guarantee communications coverage the night of the parade. It would be impossible to replace you on the day of the Parade if you do not show up. If you have a friend that is a ham and that person would also like to work on the same bridge as you, let me know immediately so that I can add that person to the list. If there is a problem, cancellation or addition, please call me immediately so I can make corrections.

Thank you for volunteering and hopefully this 2018 Winterfest Boat Parade will be the best yet in Communications.

Robin Terrill N4HHP