Insight: Station Maintenance & Surveys/Assessment

Whilst mostly the hams are expected to be responsible and adequately assess/maintain their stations as part of their tech licensed status, there’s really no excuse for any radio operator/user not doing at least a cursory assessment.

Whilst most categories of users aren’t required to, a bit of effort to help ensure you’re well within any applicable EMC requirements and your setup is operationally safe goes a long way.

Even if you just get help from a ham to do a cursory assessment of the current state of play, you can document in any required or voluntary risk assessment etc as having undertaken whatever tests were done, which may help your case if you’re ever unjustly accused of causing EM/RF issues or other safety question marks over a self installation. It’s well known in the ham world that if your setup ever gets spot checked or as a result of a formal complaint, whoever investigates will certainly expect to see logs of your tests/assessment efforts and the more frequently the better.

So I’m not saying that non-hams should do as we do, but at least consider the wisdom of being ahead of the game and know you voluntarily took responsibility.

In the UK, most categories of users have near zero awareness they are actually responsible for their stations, use and conduct - it’s usually those of us with something to lose that’s either a personal disaster and reflection of our competence or those who depend on their kit for work or essential support duty ”as required” who bother. I’d imagine a similar, but maybe proportional different, state of play exists outside of the EU and UK.

So just consider going the extra step, after all once it’s done a few times, it becomes routine and barely bothers you about how little or much time your ability level of assessment takes.

Remember, just in case those reading this are in the license-free/exempt zone of licensing, how you are licensed or permitted to operate doesn’t remove or exempt you from due caution and precautionary practises - it’s actually buried within the stuff you never read where it mentions you share the same basic responsibility common to all wireless operators.

Even back in my dark murky past bit that covered CB days, I put nothing on air without assessing it’s EM/RF state first - being the son of a ham operator ensured I had the means, but even in different circumstances as the time, I’d have still made an effort and regardless, kept a log of contacts and any testing/assessments I or my father undertook on my behalf - not out of explicitly recognized requirement but because it both made sense and was loosely required in practice.

So just think responsibility, and you’ll realise that it’s a small price for a bit of reassurance.

I sell quite a few radios to ham, business and marine customers and have lost track of those people who email me after a purchase and say “when I key up … XYZ happens” and you discover the crazy things people just assume. “When I key up…” is often followed by the revelation that they’ve been trying to use a CB antenna on a marine radio, or using TV coax, or in one case, they put a mains plug on the 13.8V cable and were just checking it was OK to plug it in? The notion they understand anything is not remotely certain. The idea that people do tests and keep records is simply a bit silly!

Personal takes on how silly or crazy it is to undertake maintenance and evaluation on any level are irrelevant, since the topic isn’t my personal take on the subject but an insight into a side of radio operation mostly neglected/ignored and any personal takes on the matter doesn’t detract from the fact you have actual wider legislative governed requirements beyond what’s exactly mandated in your license schedule since your license schedule is a specific service extension to the wider governing legislative requirements governing ALL user service radio usage in the UK and in different ways or extremes in many countries.

And as I bluntly pointed out elsewhere, irrespective of whether you formally hold a license or work your operations under a licensed free/license exempt status, you are always responsible for keeping your station and operational usage of in order and that requires some type of self-evaluation process of your conduct and some kind of functional evaluation process regarding station maintained state, and whilst record keeping may or may not be mandatory, having some evidence and a log of testing and an evaluation at least shows (if you ever get investigated) you have made some effort and that’s never been a bad thing as it at least shows good intent on the maintainer’s part and where encouraged/instigated by operator (where the maintenance side is outsourced or given to another to undertake otherwise) it’s equally a sign of good intentions and taking responsibility.

It really don’t take much to do a basic test and these days it don’t cost much to assemble a basic test rig that’ll at least give you more than a ‘wet finger in the wind’ idea of the situation. I’m not condemning the ‘wet finger in the wind‘ equivalent of evaluation as there are scenarios where that’s all that’s immediately to hand, but these days you’d be hard pushed to not be able to do better in respect of a basic portable test process if you make an effort.

With next to no checking or regular contact by the powers that be, I’m firmly of the opinion that operating standards and technical expertise is not considered in remotely the same way as it was. Perhaps because even the most basic equipment is actually better in the critical areas than old, front line pro equipment. We HAD to check frequency stability, and bandwidth as part of regular maintenance because the equipment was frankly terrible at remaining within spec. The most expensive and essential gear had reliability and stability far, far worse than today £20 Baofeng. We had Home Office teams up and down the country permanently touring around re-aligning the kit, and the Police and Fire services had switched dual systems that could keep things going. Bay Changing was a regular part of the system. Hams had very crude systems for checking their kit - grid dip meters and similar. With the ‘new’ 25KHz channel spacing on VHF, so many people were nominally on one frequency and actually on another. For goodness sake - we put crystals in temperature controlled ovens to try to keep on frequency. With people using blunt equipment to test, sproggies from overdriven and misaligned kit could wipe out other services. I remember in 1978 being called out (as a Raynet member) to find an errant transmitter that was wiping out the Coastguard, and it was a taxi firm on Low band that had gone wonky.

It is perfectly true that legally, the law puts the blame on the person operating a transmitter - of any kind, but the law also uses the term reasonable when considering the processes involved. Is it reasonable to require a person spending twenty quid on a radio to buy test gear and possible get tuition to use it? I think not. Being responsible for something you are not aware of has never been punished severely by our laws. Covid has shown how impossible it is to be aware of all your legal duties and responsibilities, it’s naive to assume radio users will ever be aware of the legal responsibilities, and, clearly the Government are not remotely bothered either. As we’ve said - public safety is the only interest they have. They have for many years now relied on self-policing. For one of my licences I needed a piece of paper I never knew I needed. When I spoke to Ofcom, they confirmed I had to have it and suggested I just sorted it out. Do I need to tell you when it’s done? No. Chris - I realise you have some well intentioned opinions on how things should be, but today, a customer of mine who bought a base station VHF antenna weighing 2Kg returned it because it did not fit his baofeng 760 socket. New licencee. He genuinely did not know that these products were for sticking on a pole. Another customer returned a marine band hand held because it did not work. He lived in Coventry! He couldn’t hear any ships. These people are not uneducated, they just don’t have any depth of understanding. This is not the same as being thick. Sometimes you fail to understand how ordinary people tick. You also fail to notice that International differences you are aware of, are not picked up by people in the US. You’re often absolutely right, of course, but fail to realise your language is way up the Flesch-Kincaid scale, and leaves many member here totally confused. Sometimes your posts get no responses at all - because I’m certain you lost them in the first paragraph. You put lots of effort into the posts, but I think they just go woosh way, way above head height.