Frequently Asked Questions
This page provides answers to our most frequently asked questions. Please contact us to add your own FAQs to this page.
- What is SARC all about?
- What is Amateur Radio?
- How can I start a club?
- Is it safe?
- Is it free?
- Is it worth it?
- Is a Working With Children Check required?
- Is public liability insurance required?
- What schools fit the profile?
- What principals/teachers fit the profile?
- What parents/students fit the profile?
- What amateurs fit the profile?
- What equipment is required?
- What antenna is required?
- How to install the equipment?
- How to install the antenna?
- What are the SARC rules?
- How to conduct a SARC activity or mission?
What is SARC all about?
School amateur radio clubs are a free collaboration between educators and amateur radio enthusiasts for the purpose of introducing science and technology to students in an exciting lunch-time activity. For more information please see our SARC article.
What is Amateur Radio?
Modern Amateur Radio is a community-aware, technology-based and rewarding hobby. The purpose of Amateur Radio is largely self-education and technical experimentation, but through the medium of radio communications, many operators around the world form long-term friendships thereby fostering international good will.
Amateur Radio is challenging. There are many popular Australian and international contests for operators to hone their skills. For example: By making as many contacts as they can over a day or a weekend or by trying to contact certain countries or states. Amateur Radio has become an outdoor sport of sorts for many enthusiasts engaged in portable radio operation from mountain summits, national parks, museums, lighthouses and many more places.
Amateur Radio clubs actively support local community activities and provide free communications for public events. Through club meetings and organized events they provide an enriching environment for experimentation, construction, technical advancement and social activities. On a more serious level, Amateur Radio civil emergency networks are always ready to provide emergency communications in case of natural disaster.
Recently, there has been a resurgence in Amateur Radio participation due to simplified licencing conditions, the availability of low-cost radio equipment and no minimum age requirement. This has provided a new opportunity for primary school students, even as young as nine, who have successfully obtained their own Amateur Radio foundation licence.
Unlike "Citizens Band", all Amateur Radio operators are licenced and must identify themselves using their individual call signs. Just like TV broadcasters, Amateur Radio communications is subject to the Radio Communications Act and is regulated by the Australian Communications and Media Authority thereby providing an open, safe and friendly environment for adults and children.
For more information on amateur radio see our amateur radio frequently asked questions.
How can I start a club?
A school amateur radio club program could be started by a licenced school principal, teacher, parent or grandparent or an amateur radio enthusiast associated with a school. If you are an educator or an operator and want to start a club please contact us.
Is it safe?
Safety is always of paramount importance. The same precautions that apply to primary school student Internet use also apply on the air. The students are very familiar with the drill: "Don't give your full name or location", "Don't provide any private information". etc. The difference is that all radio contacts must be fully supervised by the licenced school Amateur Radio club operator. Of course the airwaves are completely open to anyone and both sides of the conversation can be monitored by others, and they often are. This sort of transparency helps keep all on-air conversations above board. In addition, all operators are licenced by the Australian Communications and Media Authority. They are bound by the codes of conduct stated in their licence conditions and the Radio Communications Act regulations. Operators can easily be identified by their call sign, much like a car can by its number plate. Nevertheless, security is vital and requires vigilance.
Safety also applies to the setup and operation of the amateur radio station at the school. Our SARC setup and operation guidelines ensure that known safety hazards are identified and mitigated:
- The equipment should be installed in a quiet, secure area, where a group of students can use it at lunchtime: The library or a classroom is ideal.
- Equipment must be commercial products, not home constructed, with Regulatory Compliance Markings.
- Install the equipment so that there are no cables lying on the floor
- All AC mains cables should be professionally "Tested and Tagged" to AS/NZS3760. This will be mandatory at some schools.
- All RF connectors should be secured and checked before use. Students must not come into contact with antennas while they are in use.
- Antennas must be installed safely and professionally: The antenna must not fall down or cause any interference.
- Good quality antenna materials should be used and it should be a semi-permanent installation
- The antenna should be installed to minimise any EMR to students: We recommend checking this with Doug VK3UM's EMR Calculator.
- We recommend running no more power than 10 Watts PEP
- Safety glasses and heat-resistant gloves must be worn for soldering workshops. Always use soldering iron holders and cleaners. Never flick molten solder.
- Soldering workshops must be 100% supervised and conducted in a well ventilated room, where smoke detectors will not be set off.
- Lead-free, resin-cored solder is OK. Lead is bad for your health and the environment. Soldering flux and other chemicals are not used.
- Always wash hands after soldering practice.
- A safety briefing is provided at the start of each session.
Is it free?
Generally it should be totally free to the school. This is the simplest approach. In Australia, at least, the operator's participation in SARC must be completely voluntary and unpaid. This is a strict condition of the ACMA amateur radio licence conditions. Amateurs who are also school staff members must operate the clubs in their own time. Generally all the equipment required is provided by the operator. The school may wish to fund and own equipment required for certain activities, but the transmitting equipment must be owned, maintained and secured by the operator.
When it comes to supporting the community the generosity of the amateur radio fraternity is legendary. They will freely provide their time, equipment and expertise if their contribution is appreciated by those who really need it.
Everything you see on this website is provided for free (except our kits for sale) and is not copyright.
Is it worth it?
Yes, definitely! Our motivation for establishing school amateur radio clubs has always been to provide an enriching experience for the children. In doing so we have already been rewarded beyond all our expectations. And why would you go to all this trouble and expense? Simple: Just to see the look on the student's faces when they get on the air!
Here is a quote from principal Michael Day: "When I first introduced the school Amateur Radio club at St. Kevin's Primary School in Ormond Victoria, I had no idea what a success it would be. We were lucky to have an Amateur Radio enthusiast within our ranks, so the introduction was initially driven by this staff member. The teachers, parents and students are now raving about it. To see the children confidently building electronic kits or talking to other schools over shortwave radio is quite incredible. I am now exploring ways to expand this program".
Is a Working With Children Check required?
Is public liability insurance required?
Generally the school will have insurance to cover volunteers, but you need to check that your specific operation is covered by someone's Public Liability Insurance.
What schools fit the profile?
Your school should have an area like a library or classroom where the club can operate at lunchtimes; buildings or trees to suspend a 20m long wire antenna at least 8m above the ground. Ideally you have a licenced amateur radio operator on staff, or one available in the wider school community whom you trust.
What principals/teachers fit the profile?
You are looking for a novel approach for introducing science and technology to a select group of students. The idea of a free collaboration with a member of the amateur radio fraternity appeals to you. You are willing to devote your time to supporting the activity. For example it might be that your school requires the activity to be supervised and you are willing to spend one lunchtime per week doing that.
What parents/students fit the profile?
You are a parent looking to provide your child with an exciting, hands-on experience of science and technology.
You are a student who likes to tinker with gadgets and find out how stuff works. You would like to spend one lunchtime per week exploring new concepts. You are generally cooperative and work well with others, including younger and older students.
What amateurs fit the profile?
- You are an amateur radio operator associated with the school in some way, for example a teacher, parent or relative.
- You must have a current Working With Children card.
- You must have a current amateur radio licence.
- If you are a foundation licencee you must use a footswitch to maintain control of the transmitter at all times.
- You will need to provide your own transmitter and most likely everything else (see "What equipment is required?" below).
- You will need to devote lots of time to prepare and present an activity session each week during the school terms.
- You have good written and verbal communication skills.
- You have skill, experience and patience working with children.
- You are not looking for any reward other the satisfaction of passing on your expertise and skills to the next generation.
What equipment is required?
You could get by with just a handheld transceiver, but the scope of the club's activities would be extremely limited. Since the purpose of the club is to promote science and technology using amateur radio, you will need a little more than that. A good approach would be to start with the basics and then then try to expand each term to cover a new activity.
Here is a list of the equipment we needed to do all the SARC activities including the approximate cost. You can modify the list to suit your preferences and budget. However safety is of utmost importance: Some home-made equipment might well be safe at your home, but not in a school situation.
- Yaesu FT-817 all band amateur radio transceiver ($700)
- AC power supply ($40)
- Footswitch, if needed ($25)
- Dipole antenna, balun and feed line ($40)
- Books, maps, laminated charts ($40)
- Booklets printing (free)
- Morse code practice sets x 4 ($20 each)
- Antenna construction kit ($10)
- Electronics components lab ($25)
- Electronics kit soldering tools ($60)
- Electronics kits ($1-$10 each)
- Solar power lab ($120)
- Electronics Lab ($150)
- Microcontroller lab ($200)
- Amateur Radio Direction Finding antenna and sniffer ($200)
- VHF/UHF Handheld Satellite antenna ($160)
- Satellite antenna rotator/tripod ($200)
- High altitude balloon and payload ($80)
- RaspberryPi computer, keyboard, mouse and screen ($200)
What antenna is required?
A half-wave dipole for 40m is the easiest. Generally it is end-fed from the second-floor of the school building and anchored to a pole, tree or building across the playground at least 8m high.
How to install the equipment?
The equipment should be installed in a quiet area where a group of students can use it at lunchtime. The library or a classroom is ideal. A lockable cupboard is a good idea if the equipment is to be stored at the school. Otherwise a personal shopping cart is a good way to bring the equipment to school each week. Install the equipment so that there are no cables lying on the floor.
How to install the antenna?
Antennas must be installed safely and professionally. The antenna must not fall down, cause any interference or be an eye-sore. Good quality materials should be used and it should be a semi-permanent installation. It should be possible to remove the antenna and restore the site to the original condition. The antenna should be installed to minimise any EMR to students. We recommend running no more power than 10 watts (less power than the light bulb in your fridge, as we say) .
What are the SARC rules?
The SARC rules are simple:
- Safety is number one priority when working with equipment or talking on the air.
- Disruptive or insensitive behaviour will not be tolerated.
- Everyone in the group is equal regardless of their grade or age.
- Everyone must be respectful and polite to each other and to other stations on the air.
- Everyone must return to class promptly at the end of a session
How to conduct a SARC activity or mission?
School lunchtimes are short, so being prepared and practiced is essential. Don't try to do too much, at first. All equipment and material must be provided. Each session begins with an introduction and the assignment of tasks to every member of the group. Students watch videos, or are shown illustrations or demonstrations of what is expected. Everyone gets a turn and has a say. Teamwork is essential. Advanced members can mentor others. Questions, discussion, original thinking and new ideas are encouraged. Praise, recognition of achievement, reassurance and help need to be provided to everyone in spades. Everyone learns at their own pace and some have special needs. A summary of each session and suggestions for further study at home is provided. Students are returned to class promptly when the bell goes.