There are many different amateur radio usage options available for hams in the off road and overland communities. One of our personal favorites is Automatic Packet Reporting System or APRS. It uses your radio to send and receive packets of information that can include text messages, weather information, and even GPS data such as mph, bearing, altitude, and a previous track. APRS is one of many tools amateur radio operators can use to communicate locally and globally. Developed by Bob Bruninga (WB4APR), APRS is not only useful for relaying location data, but also supports a short-message format similar to the Short Message Service (SMS) format that is used for texting on mobile phones. It can interface with mapping software and provide street-level maps linked to your position in real time by ham radio, can be used to contribute to a real-time automated weather tracking network, and is often used by race organizers to track distant competitors.
APRS networks use digipeaters that act as relays to send and receive the packets of information from other stations, then route them through the internet for communication, further than what the RF signal itself could possibly travel. By doing this, a user can effectively send and receive information and messages from around the world, using a vehicle-mounted ham radio.
For us, APRS is a way for our families and friends to keep up with our whereabouts while traveling in the backcountry. They can do this by visiting https://aprs.fi/ and entering our callsign into the search box. The site brings up our last reported location and displays it on a google map, which can be viewed in normal map mode, satellite imagery, or even street view. This useful system not only allows them to see our last position, but also our previous path traveled in the last hour and up to the last 24 hours. A neat feature of the site is that it doesn't just track a single station/call sign, it tracks all stations world-wide that are reporting information. Users can click on the stations and review the station's details.
Displaying all the stations that have been tracked through this area in the last 7 days. Keep in mind, this is a feature that is not always on, and the station's info is not always being transmitted, It is up to the control operator of the station to determine if/when they want their info to be transmitted through the APRS network.
Here we show the plotted route overlayed on google maps, but viewing goon Google Street View.
There are several radios on the market that can be used for APRS. The radio we use in Pongo our Toyota Tacoma is the Kenwood TM-D710GA. It is a dual band, 50w 70cm/2m, mobile setup that allows us set one channel for APRS, and the second channel for simplex or duplex operations. Once the radio is programmed for APRS, it’s basically a set it and forget it function. The radio operates in this manner when powered on, automatically gathering GPS information and receiving packets from local stations to be populated in a list, which can be viewed if desired. Once it has established satellite location, it sends the packets in the background without any major interference with the channel chosen for voice operations.
When overlanding, redundancy and systems reliability helps guarantee a safe and enjoyable journey. APRS is just one more tool that gives us and our families peace of mind during our travels in the remote areas this great country has to offer to the overlanding community.
Team RCO uses the common APRS frequency 144.390 MHz.