Ham radio operators are known for doing cool things, like using ham radio to fly first-person view drones, transmitting TV signals and talking around the world on a handheld transceiver. Another cool thing that hams do is to send email over ham radio in a system known as Winlink. This has proven to be a great asset in amateur radio’s emergency communications tool chest.
Winlink, also known by its service mark, Winlink Global Radio Email, and as the Winlink 2000 Network (or WL2K), basically is a worldwide messaging system that uses amateur radio frequencies, as well as government frequencies, to provide email capability automatically and independent of the internet. This allows ham radio to step in when routine systems are down in disaster and emergency situations and still perform a routine function — email.
Winlink uses smart-network radio relays to send messages from one point to another. Email on the Winlink system can include attachments and also offers position reporting such as Automatic Position Reporting Service (APRS) reports as well as weather and information bulletins, emergency and relief communications and message relay. Winlink operators, who have to be signed up to use the service, operate under a system that was built, operated and administered by ham volunteers. A non-profit charity, the Amateur Radio Safety Foundation, provides support for the system.