Winlink connection problems

John Franklin
John Franklin
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Posted on behalf of Leslie Perreault (Spellbound)

A solo lady sailor with a US amateur licence and US call sign, having sailed around the world, found that on re-entering European waters she was unable to continue to communicate through Winlink. Not being a Winlink user I asked OCC friends to investigate the problem. Leslie Perault (Spellbound) accepted the task; here is the report of her research into the problem.

US call sign unable to send email via Winlink… what’s changed!?
Actually, nothing has changed fundamentally. Beginning in July 2019, however, Winlink software was reprogrammed for automatic enforcement of long-standing rules regarding third-party messaging. Now if a US call sign tries to send or receive email via a gateway station in a country without a “third-party treaty” with the US, you may receive a warning that your message has been refused or held. Similarly, if you are a non-US licensee, you might encounter trouble when connecting to a US licensed gateway station. These restrictions apply even if you are in international waters, or operating from a country under a reciprocal license agreement.

Winlink email and communications sent via Pactor fall under the category of “third-party communications.” You, the Winlink client (first-party) are requesting an amateur station control operator (2nd party) to forward a message to someone else (third-party). This is ok if the US has signed an official third-party traffic agreement with that particular country. If either the first or second parties have no third-party agreement with the US, however, the email will not be allowed. Requests to the Winlink Catalog for weather and Winlink position reports to QTH are still possible because they do not involve a third-party. If you have a genuine emergency need to pass traffic, then using the word EMERGENCY in the subject line can override this restriction.

The US has third-party treaties with most countries in North and South America, but not with most Asian, Pacific, or European countries other than UK. For a list of countries that have third-party agreements with the US see the ARRL website: Refer to CFR Parts 97.3(47), 97.115, and 97.117 for the applicable rules regarding third-party traffic: For more details and discussion, you may join the Winlink Programs Group at to view the July 20-21 (2019) thread (now closed).

Note that Sailmail (paid service) is not subject to third-party limitations, nor the prohibition on commercial communications that applies to Ham traffic. However, all radio users operating in foreign territorial waters, including Sailmail users, can legally operate only in countries that have a reciprocal license agreement. Reciprocal licenses are not necessarily automatic and may require further application for permission to transmit. ARRL maintains a list of countries with bilateral operating agreements with the US ( as well as detailed information for US amateurs operating overseas and foreign licenses operating in the US.

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Hi Leslie,
This is a really nice piece of research and reportage. Thanks.
I hope the relevant institutions extend the third-party treaties so that the usefulness of Winlink as I used it for years can be accessed in a way where no toes are stepped on.
I would note that, from my reading of your report, that much of the “functional” usefulness of Winlink still exists: the procuring of weather products and other catalog items as well as the downloading of GRIB files.
It sounds like much of the “social” aspects of Winlink usage is now curtailed (where connections are made through countries where there are no third-party treaties): the sending and receiving of emails being the primary casualties.
Is that a correct read?
My best, Dick Stevenson, KC2HKW, s/v Alchemy
Ps. I am being unreasonable cynical to note?: It is interesting to me that “free” services, such as Winlink, which is all volunteer labor/equipment, bump into bureaucratic hurdles while paid services seem not to. Me thinks there is something not liked by bureaucracies when it comes to free and volunteer.


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