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Maritime Mobile Service Network

History of the Maritime Mobile Service Network

By Bobby E. Graves, Jr., KB5HAV
Thursday, January 3, 2013, marks the 45th Anniversary of the "Maritime Mobile Service Network". The need for the type of volunteer service provided by the network had existed for many years. The launching of an organization to meet this need was placed on the drawing board when nine (9) amateur radio operators met at the home of Chaplain Alla Winston Robertson, USN, WB4AKB (now KB5YX) on December 27, 1967. Those meeting with Robertson were: Steve C. Rock, WA4YVQ; Don Van Horn K1FZY, formerly WA4TPW; Mel White, WA4IQS; D. Freeman, K1YLI; J.G. Kincade, WA4YVX; Art Werner, K3QYQ; H. Bretches, K4DBR; L.B. Lapman, W4SAW; and G.W. Powell, WA4RRO. This group agreed to launch the Maritime Mobile Service Network, or MMSN, on January 3, 1968 at 2130 UTC on 14.320 MHz but had to move to 14.317 MHz a few weeks later to avoid excessive interference. In 1969, when the net moved to 14.313 MHz, it also established 14.300 MHz as an alternate working frequency and for years operated on either frequency depending on nearby interference, but, since before 2000, the net has been operating exclusively on 14.300 MHz.

The original purpose of the MMSN was to "Serve Those Who Serve" in the United States military during the Vietnam crisis. Since that time, the network has grown considerably in hours of operation and services provided and consist of a dedicated group of Radio Amateurs who unselfishly volunteer their time, equipment, and efforts to serve and assist those in need of communications from foreign countries and the high seas. Our primary purpose now is that of handling legal third party traffic from maritime mobiles, both pleasure and commercial and overseas-deployed military personnel. We also help missionaries in foreign countries, and volunteer net control stations from throughout North America maintain the network. Furthermore, these stations are assisted by relay stations to ensure total coverage of the Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean & Caribbean Seas, and eastern Pacific Ocean. The network, in particular, has been formally recognized for it's work with emergency traffic by the Dept. of Homeland Security, the United States Coast Guard and the National Weather Service, to mention a few.

The Maritime Mobile Service Network has grown in hours of operation from a 5 hour net operating 7 days a week to the 9 hour format today which is from 12:00 pm to 10:00 pm Eastern Time during daylight savings time and until 9:00 pm during standard time.  In the early years, phone patch traffic was heavy, estimating over 10,000 pieces of traffic handled each year from 1968-1977. One of our net control stations (Dave Wagner, WA2DXQ in Fort Lauderdale, FL) ran well over 1000 phone patches during the 2 year period of 1977-1978, mostly to United States Navy (USN) ships in the Mediterranean and Red Sea but also to a few missionaries and both private and commercial vessels.  Though the need for phone patch traffic has diminished considerably over the past 15 to 20 years, the need is still there. If it hadn't been for a number of our net control stations equipped with a phone patch, some rescues the net's been involved in would not have been as successful.  Many mariners in the Caribbean Islands, Central and South America and the Gulf of Mexico view the network as a resource for weather information as well as a safety valve and trusted contact point for essential communications.

In 2003, the late Frank Kelley, N3FK, said "I would be remiss if I didn't say something about a great lady who used the net to get assistance with numerous medical problems. She was Ruth Paz, HR2RP, located in San Pedro Sula in Honduras". Frank was stationed in Panama from 1975-1977, and Ruth was a net control station for the MMSN during that time. Continuing, he stated "Ruth was a nurse and was the only medical type person in her area. She used the net to get medical advice, medical evacuations and medicine in and out of Honduras. While I was stationed in the Canal Zone, Ruth ran many patches to the Gorgas Army Hospital in Panama. She used the tropical disease section on Gorgas to save and help many people from Honduras, many of whom were bitten by exotic creatures. At the time Gorgas was the place for anything tropical." Today phone patch traffic has subsided, but there remain some net control stations to help with many of the missionaries and doctors in various locations with phone patch and assisting physicians to find needed help they can't otherwise obtain.

Since March 2000, the net's been featured in many publications such as QST (including network television news magazines) demonstrating help and rescue of people in life and death situations. There have been two notable rescues nearly one year apart: the S/V Hayat on March 27, 2000 off the northeast coast of Honduras and the S/V Lorna on March 20, 2001 off the northeast coast of Venezuela and west of Trinidad. In each case, one passenger was seriously injured from gun fire from modern day pirates and thankfully both survived. The Maritime Mobile Service Network has a legacy of service which will continue due to the selfless volunteer amateur radio operators donating their time to train and be ready to help each and everyday. Without such devotion, the net wouldn't be able to do what it does.  As a member, I want to say a big thank you to all who've served in the past as well as those serving now. It's been a great 45 years, and may the net last to see another 45 years and more.

In honor of celebrating our 45th anniversary, the Maritime Mobile Service Network will unveil a new website design as well as announcing our presence on FaceBook. We welcome everyone to visit our new look website as well as signing our new "Guest Book" and liking us on FaceBook.

Best Regards,
Bobby Graves, KB5HAV