Jeff Kopcak, K8JTK
Ever heard of Winlink Wednesday? Many who operate digital or operate during emergencies are familiar with
Winlink because it has proven to be useful and effective. Winlink is a radio messaging system that uses
amateur-band radio frequencies. Features include Email messages, attachments, position reporting, weather
bulletins, emergency relief communications, message relay, and form submission. This system is popular when
the Internet is not available. Winlink was first used recreationally by mariners, RV campers, and missionaries.
That’s the Winlink part, what does Wednesday have to do with all this? Greg Butler – KW6GB, who I met at
the Vienna Wireless Society's Winterfest just outside of Washington, D.C., coined the term. It was an honor to
meet with him because his video, an introduction to Winlink, is an excellent tutorial. Winlink Wednesday is a
net. It then turned into a popular day to hold many Winlink nets. After talking with Greg, he invited me to
participate in their net. Greg has since retired as Net Control Station and David – KN4LQN has taken over net
Most of us know that a "net" is an on-the-air gathering of hams which convene on a regular schedule, specific
frequency, and organized for a particular purpose. Such as relaying messages, discussing a common topic of
interest, severe weather, emergencies, or simply as a regular gathering of friends for conversation. It's also an
excellent time to test radios, antennas, and equipment. Most of us have participated in a voice net on a local
repeater or even on the HF bands. “Digital nets” exist to practice these same concepts except using digital
Winlink nets serve the same purposes as other nets: encourage participation, encourage regular use of the
Winlink system, expand operators’ skills, of course test our equipment and the RF gateway network.
I’ve participated in a few digital communication practice sessions as part of a drill. Last time most users dusted
off their digital equipment was during the previous drill. When it came time to setting up, using, and operating
their equipment, it was an epic failure. Practicing is essential anytime, not just for digital operations.
Winlink is a store-and-forward E-mail system. Conducting nets on this system must utilize a methodology that
works with the technology. Everyone sending check-in E-mails during a small window of time is not realistic.
Most Winlink nets provide a weekly announcement or reminder to the previous week’s check-in list.
Announcements are typically sent out a few days before the net begins accepting check-ins. Announcements
will lay out check-in procedures, Winlink modes, and times during which messages will be accepted. Nets may
require a simple one-line of text, others a Winlink form. Some have a discussion question for comment, others
have a training exercise. A list of check-ins is often returned to the group a day or so after the net concludes.
Some utilize other technologies like maps to show locations of net participants. To check-in, after opening
Winlink Express, compose a new message. Do not reply to the original message. There is no need to waste
bandwidth having the net announcement text as part of the check-in message. In some cases, the station
receiving check-ins is not the station that sent the announcement. Recipient’s or NCS’ call goes into
the TO field. It’s not necessary to include the “@winlink.org” part of the address just as it’s not required if the
sender and receiver are using the same E-mail provider or domain. Subject is usually the name of the net.
Many ask for a single-line check-in consisting of a combination of callsign, first name, city, county, state, and
mode/band used to check-in. For example, this is my standard one-line check-in:
K8JTK, Jeff, Westlake, Cuyahoga, OH (HF Vera)
I have found steps in weekly announcements to be straightforward. Some users complain about instructions
that are reused where a screenshot does not match the form. It’s often the case a form is updated but an older
screenshot was used or instructions have changed slightly after screenshots were taken. Some nets get 400 to
700 check-ins per week. If a check-in requires the NCS to do additional work because the operator didn’t
follow correct procedure, they’re more likely to ignore, delete, and move on. Other examples: NCS requested a
single-line with comma-separated values and you provided a different value each on separate lines, provided a
form when one wasn’t requested, or the wrong form was used – are all reasons a check-in may not be
counted. There are, of course, system issues and unexpected results. One net found sending an APRS location
beacon message over Winlink resulted in the Carbon Copy addresses being ignored. It’s a learning process for
Winlink has may operating modes and bands: APRS, ARDOP, AREDN, PACTOR, peer-to-peer, Packet,
VERA HF, VERA FM, Telnet (that should cover most of them), or some combination. Nets accept check-ins
using any method that works for the operator. A few will not accept Telnet as it’s not typically used over-theair
in the ham bands. Others will not accept peer-to-peer (P2P).
P2P allows one Winlink operator to send a message directly to another station over RF without the use of
Winlink infrastructure. Originating station composes the message as a “Peer-to-Peer Message” then selects the
appropriate P2P operating mode to match the receiving station. Receiving stations have to let others know
frequency and times when they will be available for receiving messages. An NCS may use their station or
designated assistants to receive P2P messages.
I haven’t used other Winlink clients such as PAT. It seems PAT does not have the forms one would expect to
find in the Winlink Express client. That makes it difficult to operate alternative Winlink clients on devices that
are more compact and portable such as a Linux device or Raspberry Pi. A way to get around this, have
someone using Winlink Express send an example form to a station using the PAT client. The PAT station uses
text editors to modify the fields by hand and return the form. Not as elegant as the interface using the browser.
I currently participate in six Winlink nets. There are probably some DX nets out there I’m unaware. Just like
any open net, you do not have to be in the designated area to check-in or participate. I check into the North
Texas and West Virginia Winlink nets among others. The West Virginia net receives more out-of-state checkins
than in-state. We even have Winlink nets right here in Ohio and in the Great Lakes region.
Included below is each net’s routine information from their weekly announcement. For more details, contact
the NCS station or check their website/groups.io if available. To join any or all of these nets, simply check in!
To use KF5VO’s signing from the Winlink Wednesday NTX net, Happy Winlinking!
Ohio Winlink Net
Subject: OH Winlink Net Reminder
Hello Winlink Users,
This is a reminder of the OH Winlink Wednesday Net for *date*. Just a one line with callsign, first name, city,
county, state and via what mode/band (VHF, UHF, HF, SHF, TELNET, APRS, ARDEN, ARDOP, VARA, VARA FM). I'll
log you in with any means of communication. Or just send a Homing Message Pigeon!
Enter my callsign in the "To" field (K8EAF). Subject field "OH Winlink Net Check-in". In the body field enter
callsign, first name, city, county, state and via what mode/band. See example in my signature line below.
This is a good time to test drive the Winlink forms. Many operators like to use the Winlink Check-In form
located in the General Forms tab. All check-ins will be acknowledged, and a complete roster will be sent later in
"Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance!"
K8EAF, Ed, Cincinnati, Hamilton, OH (VHF)
Great Lakes Area Winlink Net
Subject: Invitation to join the Great Lakes Area Winlink Net
I am the founder and net manager for the Great Lakes Area Winlink Net which was formed in March of 2021.
The premise of the net is to learn and be much more comfortable with Winlink and it's operation as in public
service communications as well as emergency service communications can utilize Winlink. Another big part of
the net is to learn a wide variety of the forms in the forms library. It is not important how you check in, but that
you do check in. By that I mean, whether you get in via Telnet, or from some form of RF connection, your check
in is still important to the net. The participation In using the forms are voluntary, but encouraged.
If you cannot try the forms, just send a plain text message with the check in information requested below in
The net meets each Wednesday and your check in will be accepted with late Tuesday night and the absolute
cutoff is noon on Thursday (Eastern Time Zone) as that gives you plenty of time to check into the net.
The check in process can be a simple plain text check in, or placed in a form somewhere. Use this format for a
proper check in:
CALLSIGN, FIRST NAME, CITY, COUNTY, STATE/PROVINCE, COUNTRY.
My checkin for example, would look like this: KB8RCR, RYAN, REMUS, MECOSTA, MI,
In the TO: section send your message to KB8RCR
In the Subject: line please put something like GLAWN Checkin (date of checkin) A good tip for all of these
Winlink nets is to use some type of word processing program or text file and just copy/paste your information.
This is what I do at least.
Thanks for taking the time to read this, and to consider checking into the Great Lakes Area Winlink Net. I
strongly encourage you to keep participating in your existing Winlink nets, and to consider checking in to the
GLAWN net too.
6 | P a g e
Ryan Lughermo, KB8RCR
Great Lakes Area Winlink Net Founder/Manager