One of the first things that many new radio amateurs do is to purchase a handheld radio, like the BTECH UV-5X3 (right), to talk with their friends on a local repeater. After programming the radio, they're often able to hear the repeater, but not access it. When this happens, the first question out of their mouths is, “Why can't I hit the repeater?”
This is such a frequent problem, that there's even a question (T2B04) on the Technician Class exam that addresses this issue:
Which of the following could be the reason you are unable to access a repeater whose output you can hear? (T2B04)
Improper transceiver offset ?
The repeater may require a proper CTCSS tone from your transceiver ?
The repeater may require a proper DCS tone from your transceiver ?
All of these choices are correct
The correct answer is D) All of these choices are correct.
If you can hear a repeater, but your signal is not accessing the repeater, the first thing to check is to make sure that your offset is set properly. The offset is the difference between the repeater's receive frequency and the transmit frequency. On the 2-meter band, the standard offset is 600 kHz. On the 70-cm band, the standard offset is 5 MHz. In addition to getting the offset correct, keep in mind that the transmit frequency may be higher or lower than the receive frequency.
Once you're sure that you have the offset correct, check to see if the repeater requires that your radio transmit a CTCSS to access it. CTCSS tones allow repeaters o receive particular signals and reject others. For more information on how CTCSS tones work, see, “Get your CTCSS tones right to access repeaters.”
In some cases, a repeater may require a Digital Code Squelch, or DCS, tone to access it. A DCS tone is similar to a CTCSS tone in that it is sub-audible and opens the squelch of a repeater when a station is trying to access it. DCS tones are, however, very rarely used on the amateur radio bands.
There are other reasons that you may not be able to access a repeater. Perhaps the most common reason is that your signal simply isn't strong enough. One way to overcome this is by using a better antenna. You might, for example, replace the antenna that comes with your handheld transceiver with a Nagoya antenna. BTECH sells many different Nagoya antennas that simply screw right into your radio and improve the signal of your handheld.
Another trick is to connect your radio to a mag-mount antenna, such as the Nagoya UT-308UV (shown at left), placed on a metal surface to provide a good ground plane. This can also significantly improve the quality of your signal. The Nagoya UT-308UV provides up to 4.15 dBi of gain and is designed to be used with a handheld radio, but you can also use a mag-mount antenna designed to be mounted on a vehicle, as long as you have the right coax adapters.
Finally, if replacing the antenna doesn't do the trick, then consider purchasing an amplifier to boost the signal. An amplifier, like the BTECH AMP-V25, will output 20 – 40 W, with a 2 – 6 W input. The amplifier can be used in a vehicle or at your base station, and is a good alternative to purchasing a second, higher-power radio for situations when you need more power than a handheld can provide.