Sydney Amateur Radio Ferry Contest to be an annual event

Ham radio on the ferries is to be a regular event on Sydney’s famous harbour.

Organisers of the Sydney Amateur Radio Ferry Contest say the recent inaugural event proved so popular that it will be held on an annual basis.

The contest, which entails amateur radio operators travelling on ferries and gaining points for contacting others on the air, will be held again on March 12, 2017.

“We had dozens of contesters criss-crossing the harbour on a beautiful Sunday, talking with each other using hand-held radios,” said Laurie Gordon, one of the contest organisers.

“Points were awarded according to how many contacts were made and how many ferries were used. Operators could also increase their score by making contact from any of the public wharves on a variety of frequencies”.

Frequencies used are reserved by the Australian Communications and Media Authority exclusively for the use of amateur radio – a popular hobby that encourages technical experimentation and recreational use of the radio spectrum.

Ham radio has also been utilised in many countries during emergencies when natural and other disasters have shut down normal communication channels.

The event was held under the banner of the Waverley Amateur Radio Society – a club that has been in existence since 1919.

Andy Mitchell, who also helped organise the contest, said: “Many of our members live in the Eastern Suburbs and our clubrooms are virtually on the harbour at Rose Bay so we thought it was about time we put the two together.”

“Although contesting is an important part of amateur activities, this one is unique since everyone has to be on a ferry or a wharf, or contacting someone who is. We haven’t heard of any contest like this anywhere in the world.”

Awards are issued for a number of categories including “Worked All Ferries”, Highest Number of Contacts Made and Highest individual point score.

All participants in this year’s contest received a “Billy Blue” certificate for sending in their electronic logbooks. Billy Blue, a former convict, was Sydney’s first ferryman and was appointed Harbour Watchman by Governor Macquarie in 1811.

A popular feature of the contest was “eyeball” contacting where operators could add to their scores by meeting face to face. Contestants had to shake hands and exchange written confirmation. Many operators met for the first time, though they may have spoken on air to each other for years.

A base station was set up near the Rose Bay wharf to co-ordinate the event with participants encouraged to check in either by radio or in person.

As well as attracting radio enthusiasts from all parts of Sydney, a number had also travelled from other parts of the state including the South Coast and Central Coast in order to take part.

“Because of the special NSW Transport Sunday travel concessions and the Opal Card, it meant we could ride the ferries for the whole six-hours of the contest for $2.50,” said Laurie Gordon.

“At first we were worried that a bunch of guys with two-way radios might alarm the public, but Sydney Ferries, Transport for NSW and the Police got right behind us to help make it a success.

“We’re looking forward to even greater participation next year once word gets around about what a great day it was.”

Information about next year’s Sydney Amateur Radio Ferry Contest can be found on the Waverley Amateur Radio Society website