One important feature of ham radio repeaters is called autopatch, which allows a repeater user to make a telephone call through the repeater. When you access a repeater’s autopatch function, a dial tone appears on the air. Then dial the number, using the numeric keypad on your radio or microphone. The tones feed through the telephone system, which dials the number and connects you.
Even in a world full of mobile phones, autopatch can still come in handy if your mobile phone’s battery goes out or the service network malfunctions.
All autopatch calls occur over the air; they’re not private.
The limits of autopatch
Although you can do a lot of important things with autopatch — most hams use it to call 911 to report accidents, for example — you should use this function wisely. Also, you must use special access codes to activate the feature. To get these codes, you may be required to join the club or group that maintains the repeater.
Some limits exist as to what you’re allowed to do via autopatch. Conducting business is forbidden, for example, as it is on any amateur frequency. (You can perform a limited amount of personal business, however, such as calling a store or ordering a pizza.) Finally, most repeater systems place strict limits on the numbers you can dial so that they don’t incur long-distance charges.
In certain conditions, such as when your cellphone can’t find a suitable service provider or the mobile phone systems are overloaded or unreachable, autopatch may be able to get through. This access is particularly important during disasters and emergencies.
How to make a phone call with autopatch
If your radio has the autopatch feature, and you obtain the tone sequences, follow these general steps to make a phone call (the exact steps may vary from repeater to repeater):
In an emergency, break into an ongoing contact, and ask the stations to stand by for an emergency autopatch.
If there’s no emergency, wait until the channel is clear.
Announce that you’re switching to autopatch.
Holding down the microphone button, press the activation sequence of tones; then release the mike button.
You might say “NØAX accessing autopatch” and press *82 or #11, for example.
The repeater acknowledges your sequence with some kind of tone, a synthesized voice, or maybe the telephone-system dial tone.
If you don’t hear an acknowledging transmission, go back to Step 2. You may have trouble if your signal is fluttery or weak.
If necessary, another repeater user can activate the autopatch function for you.
When you hear the dial tone, press the tone keys for the number you want to dial.
You may have to precede the telephone number with a dialing code, depending on the repeater’s specific operating requirements.
When someone answers your call, immediately state that you’re using a radio.
You can say, “This is (your name), and I’m calling you via amateur radio, so this call is not private.” This transmission lets the other person know that a radio link is involved and that both of you can’t talk at the same time. Emergency-services dispatch operators generally are familiar with autopatch, but pizza-delivery operators may not be.
Transmit your message.
Keep it short and appropriate for a public conversation.
When you finish, hold down the mike button, key in the hangup tones (if needed), and announce that you’re disabling autopatch.
You might say, “This is NØAX releasing autopatch.”
The repeater acknowledges the release with an announcement similar to the one it made at activation.
(Optional) Let the other repeater users know that you’re finished and that they can resume normal operation.
Don’t forget to thank them for standing by or for providing any assistance they may have given you.