Ok, so I told you all about Amateur Radio, how to get on the air, how to setup a cheap scanner to hear what’s out there, but how far can you talk on one of those inexpensive BaoFeng radios I mentioned? How about across the state of Florida! That’s right, back when I first started in Amateur Radio a UHF/VHF radio at best was good for communicating about 25 miles or so. There were repeaters that were very high up with could extend that to a 50 mile or so radius, but that was really about all you could do. In order to talk much further than that, you would need to get an expensive “HF” radio and you needed to learn morse code. Thankfully that has all changed! While I respect those that can do that, it’s not my situation. So how can you extend your range on a small hand held amateur radio? Florida SARnet!
It sounds like something horribly complicated, but it stands for Florida State Wide Amateur Radio Network. SARnet is essentially a group of networked repeaters throughout the state that allow you to talk on a local repeater, but rebroadcast pretty much across the state of Florida! That means if I’m hiking in Deland and would like to chat with someone in Tallahassee, it can be easily done! Florida SARnet makes the ultimate travel companion! If I’m lost in the woods I can seek help state-wide! This is incredibly useful in Ocala. There is no cell signal for much of a truck through the middle of the state, so Florida SARnet is perfect! Not only is SARnet available freely across the state, it is ever-expanding, meaning more and more coverage all the time.
Now remember, quit a few of my family members are amateur radio operators, so It’s a great way to stay in touch and it’s perfect for emergency communications that ham radio operators are famous for providing. So how does this work exactly? Well it’s an experiment of sorts. The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has a large network of microwave linked sites throughout the state. You have probably seen a handful of towers along major highways which allow the FDOT to send information across a vast network without the need for internet access. They wanted to experiment with sending voice communications across the network. In particular small brief voice communications for public service or public safety reasons. One of their employees happens to be an Amateur Radio operator and suggested that ham radio operators would be able to assist with testing. SARnet was born!
Around quite a few of the microwave towers, are amateur radio repeaters. They are linked into the FDOT microwave network and essentially retransmit over the network to other repeaters on the system. I won’t being to attempt to really explain the finer points, but you can checkout more technical information on their website. Think of it sorta like a Google voice chat room. A user could be in Miami, and another in Tallahassee. Google uses the internet to broadcast voice messages to the entire group using the internet as a backbone. Florida SARnet does essentially the same thing, but utilizes the FDOT microwave system as a backbone. Instead of using your cable or DSL connection to get the message to you, the local radio repeater acts as the “last mile” connection.
So how can you access this pretty impressive network of linked repeaters? For starters yo must be an amateur radio operator. Click here for more information on getting started and getting your license. Next you need a radio that will allow you to connect to one of the repeaters. They are inexpensive and available for as little as $40. Click here for some information on getting your first radio. Next you access your local repeater! Their website is a great resource for staying up to date with new Florida SARnet repeaters that come online, but below are a list of locations and frequencies.
I also wanted to give a great big thanks to the many volunteers that have helped the Florida SARnet come alive! They volunteer their own time, equipment, and services to maintain this unique network of repeaters. A similar type of network was proposed along the I-4 corridor many years ago, and it never came to fruition. They have succeeded where others have failed! Please checkout their website SARnetFl.com for the latest information, and technical data on the system.
For my Amatuer Radio friends, that use CHIRP to program their radios, I also have a CSV file if you want to load these frequencies easily into your radio. You can download it here. If you have a scanner, you can listen in! Don’t have a radio or scanner? You can make one for around $20! Click Here for info on making a software defined radio.
List of Florida SARnet Frequencies
“Z” Entries are under construction and may not be available yet.
You can download the CSV file here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5IAaQ-HoKLnY3hiMWNSb01yZEU/view?usp=sharing
List is current As of 3/20/2015 Please check the SARnet site for the most up to date information.