Radio operating procedures

Radios form the principal means of electronic communications on a search. The portable radios used on a search are provided by the Police and operate on some of their radio channels. They are usually reliable and very easy to operate.

Communications will be enhanced if the user has some understanding of the equipment and its operation. All members should feel competent to operate a radio and be confident in its use. Search practices are ideal times to learn.

Portable radios and spare batteries are usually issued to search groups on a daily basis and are returned each night to enable the batteries to be recharged or replaced. Before leaving the search base conduct a short test transmission with the base radio to confirm your radio is operating correctly.

Radio Operation

Portable radios are designed to provide search groups with the security of reliable communications and must be treated with great care. Police radios are robust, but they should not be abused. A little jolting or a few drops of rain will not hurt them, but harsh treatment or total immersion may cause them to fail.

The controls are few and usually fairly obvious. If in doubt, ask the person issuing the radio. Some radios come with a remote microphone! speaker. A typical radio is shown below.

The key steps for transmitting a message are:

  1. Prepare in advance what you want to say
  2. Wait until the radio channel is clear of all other traffic
  3. Press the transmit button (push-to-talk)
  4. Speak the message clearly into the microphone
  5. Release the transmit button
  6. Listen for a reply

Keeping to this order of operation is important. It is surprising how many users begin to speak before pressing the transmit button and lose the start of the message or release the button before finishing and lose the end of the message. The radio will perform best with the microphone about 5cm and slightly off to one side of your mouth.

An even more common fault is starting to transmit before thinking what you will say. You should write down the key points of the message before sending it. In fact, a small pad and pencil are essential equipment for a radio operator. You should keep a simple radio log so that vital information can be referred to later.

Keep messages short, accurate and to the point. This assists the efficiency of the network and greatly extends radio battery life. Transmitting requires many times the power needed for receiving. Note that all transmitters have a timer that switches them off after one minute. Hence, if a long message must be sent, break it into segments with an acknowledgment between each segment. This will also allow time for the recipient to write down the message.

Radio traffic is normally co-ordinated through a nominated base station that can normally hear all radios on the channel. This ensures orderly traffic with only one station transmitting at a time. If you need to speak to another group ask the base operator to pass on the message for you. Sometimes the base operator may give permission to speak directly to another radio or may authorise the two users to change to another channel. In this latter case, be sure to return to the main network channel as soon as the conversation is finished.

Do not attempt to transmit when another group is communicating with the base station unless the call is urgent. The procedure then is to call at the first available break in transmission and say “Urgent Traffic” followed by your call sign.

Do not attempt to call immediately after a message has been tansmitted to another group as you may not be able to hear their reply. Allow sufficient time for the other groups to acknowledge the message.

Code Words

There is little need for technical “radio talk”. Most information can be exchanged in clear and concise English. In marginal conditions there are advantages in using some standard, easily understood words and phrases.

Over: My transmission is finished and I am expecting a reply
Affirmative :Yes
Negative: No
Received :Your message was heard and understood
Say again: Please say again your last message.
Standby: Please wait and continue listening until I get back to you
Out: Finished transmission. No further response expected.

Phonetic Alphabet

The phonetic alphabet is used when it is necessary to spell a word, or group of letters. Any group of phonetics must be preceded by the code words “I Spell”.

AAlphaJJuliet (JEW lee ETT)SSierra
BBravo (BRAHvo)KKilo (KEEl0)ITango
CCharlieILima (LEEma)UUniform
EEcho NNNovemberWWhiskey
GGolfPPapa (pah PAH)YYankee
HHotel (hoh  TEL)QQuebec (ke BEK)ZZulu

As an example if transmission conditions are poor it may be necessary to spell a word for clarification: “We have found a HAT I spell: Hotel Alpha Tango”

Call Signs

The call sign identifies each unit or group on the radio network. The call sign will usually be issued with the radio or at the initial briefing. Simple, easily remembered call signs are best. BSAR are often allocated “BSAR” together with the Group number, for example BSAR 2 for BSAR Group 2.

Typical call signs that may be used on a search include:

  • Base” for the search base
  • VKC” if a large radio van is being used
  • SES 1SES 2 etc” for SES search groups

When calling another unit or group use their call sign first then the words “this is” followed by your own call sign, for example: “VKC this is BSAR 2”.

Active Listening

Radios play an important part in keeping search groups aware of the progress of a search. The individual in a search group responsible for handling radio communications must maintain an active role in listening to radio traffic.

The radio operator should take note of the progress of surrounding search groups and any reports that relate to the missing party. Relate the passage of nearby groups and significant findings to your location and consider their impact on your group’s task. Keep a notebook and pencil handy to record important details, locations and times.

Radio Safety

Radio frequency energy is radiated at a level equal to or higher than a mobile phone. When transmitting do not hold the radio so that the antenna is very close to or touching exposed parts of your body, especially your eyes. Avoid unnecessary transmissions.

Portable Radio Batteries

Portable radio batteries have a limited life that is dependent on the amount of radio traffic and your transmission time. A battery will normally last most of the day. Carry a spare when available. A warm battery has a greater capacity than a very cold battery so keep them warm.


Last Updated on February 17, 2021