Tips for New Hams

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So you've got your amateur radio license and you're new to Ham Radio. You're probably feeling a little intimidated about making contacts. You should feel comfortable operating and keep in mind that most hams will be patient and offer friendly suggestions to help you get going once you're on the air. However, you should invest some time into learning the basics before making that first contact. A few minutes of reading will pay off in miles of experience. Here's some tips to working repeaters, simplex, and general practice.

Monitoring a Repeater

The ARRL advises that you announce your presence on a repeater by saying, "A0NEW Monitoring." (replace A0NEW with your call sign.) However, it is much more useful if you indicate which repeater you're on because some operators listening have a radio that scans though a number of repeaters. They'll hear you but might not know what repeater you are on, especially if they're driving and can't look down to see where the scan stopped momentarily.

It is more useful to say, "A0NEW, Monitoring 147.000." (replace A0NEW with your call sign and 147.000 with the repeater frequency or repeater name." Now any hams that are scanning through repeaters know where you are. It's not required but increases the probability of a response. Furthermore, experienced hams sometimes drop the "monitoring" and simply state their call sign and what repeater they are on. If they are mobile they might even include the fact by saying, "A0NEW on 147, mobile."

Don't call CQ on the Repeater

This is a greenhorn mistake that will most likely result in you being lectured by repeater users or ignored altogether. You can call CQ on an FM simplex frequency such as VHF 146.520 or working other modes like SSB or CW as a couple examples, however, CQ is not used on repeaters, not even during a band opening!

Don't Ever Say "Break"

To attempt to enter an active QSO (other hams talking) by saying "BREAK" is a mistake. It is obnoxious and makes you sound as though you come from a radio group other than hams. Simply announce your call sign between their transmissions. You do not say "break" as a means to enter the conversation. For example, two hams are conversing and you want to add to the conversation, you standby for a pause when no one is transmitting and say, "A0NEW" (use your call sign) and then patiently wait to be acknowledged. If you're acknowledged then you've been invited into the conversation.

The ARRL originally reserved the Use of Break in Amateur Radio to be spoken in the double break, as "break break" and only for an emergency. Since then the ARRL has decided that "break" really has no universal standard meaning. Internationally the term is even more ambiguous. The ARRL now prefers the term was never used in any context in amateur radio. Just don't say "break" or "breaker breaker good buddy."

Learn how to Release to Listen

Our handy talkies have a PTT or Press to Talk button. Some hams forget to Release to Listen. You'll known em when you hear em, they key down and start talking meanwhile you go to the restroom, then pour yourself a cup of coffee, return and they're still blathering on. Three minutes is a very long transmission on a repeater. Try to keep it pithy and let the next operator have a turn. Try not to be repetitive or redundant.

Hand it off

Especially when there's more than one person in a QSO (conversation) you want to say the call sign of the next person in turn to speak at the end of your transmission. For example, "... and that's the weather today, over to A0NEW." This prevents incidents of "doubling" which occurs when two or more ham operators start to transmit at the same time not aware of the other. It's good to know who goes next!

Don't Interrupt Others Just to ID

You are required to state your call sign at certain times so that you may be identified by listeners as per FCC regulation Part 97 : Sec. 97.119 Station identification. You are not required to interrupt other operators just to blurt out your call sign when you have nothing more to say. It is not only a misinterpretation of the regulation, it is also very rude. Read THIS EXPLANATION to understand the true meaning of the regulation.

For License Preservation

Yes some veteran operators believe they are clever when they attach a phrase like "for license preservation" to their identification. For example, "AØNEW for license preservation" which is no more necessary than saying "AØNEW for ID." The first is neither clever nor good operator practice. The second is simply unnecessary since it is quite apparent to other operators why you are stating your call sign. Do you believe that other operators are confused as to why you are saying your call sign therefore you must explain that the call sign is your identification? Just state your call sign!

Not all Valid Rules are FCC Rules

Don't misunderstand. All FCC Rules are valid. However, there are some rules which are not FCC rules which remain valid under certain conditions. For example, a repeater owner, trustee, or club may make additional rules above and beyond FCC rules for their specific repeater or repeater group.

Political conversation is a good example because there is no FCC regulation which prohibits the topic from being discussed in amateur radio. There are hams that would prefer not to talk politics on a repeater, however, it is not regulated by the FCC. However it may be disallowed as part of rules which govern that specific repeater made and enforced by the person or party responsible for the repeater.

By violating a rule which is not defined under FCC Part 97, but is specific to a certain repeater, your liability is that you can be denied future access to the repeater. If you choose to ignore the governing body of the repeater and continue to use it, then the FCC can and will step in and take punitive action against your license. Follow repeater rules even if they are not in Part 97!

Alternatively, no club, organization, or individual owns a frequency if that frequency is not reserved for a specific use in a specific area by the local coordinator. Although you cannot cause interference, exceed the scope of your license, or practice modes outside of the band plan, you are otherwise not bound by any specific club or individual regulation when using a frequency such as a simplex frequency. If you want to talk politics on 146.52 simplex no local club nor coordinator has the authority to say otherwise.

On the HF band there are certain frequencies that clubs meet on at specific times of day for conversation or a net. If you were there first and are in an ongoing QSO, then there is no regulation stating you must yield to anyone with the exception of emergency traffic. If you want to talk politics on that frequency then no club, nor group has a legal right to interrupt. However, it is good operator practice to move your QSO off the frequency of a regularly scheduled net. This has more to do with being polite than following a specific rule.

Phonetics

Your call sign must be provided clearly so that all listeners can understand. On an FM repeater you do not have to use phonetics to identify your station. When operating in FM mode simply state your call sign. If a listener is unable to discern alike sounding letters within your call sign, you may be asked to restate your call sign phonetically. In this case you are responsible for making sure the listener is able to identify your station. The FCC does not require you to initially identify using phonetics, however, you are required to identify your station clearly so that it may be understood. As an alternative, using international code (CW) is considered by the FCC to be an absolute valid means to identify your station.

Phonetics are often used in other modes such as SSB. When using phonetics in amateur radio the ARRL has set forth a guide to the proper phonetic alphabet to use. Although the FCC does not require you use this specific set of phonetics, it is strongly urged by the ARRL and part of good operator practice. Furthermore, the use of standard phonetics helps to eliminate confusion during communication which is many times more significant during an emergency. Don't be cute and say "kilowatt" just say "kilo." Hams with a military background will already be familiar with the ARRL standard phonetic alphabet.

Some operators use an acronym as a way to memorably convey their call sign. This is allowed if used in conjunction with the operator clearly stating the call sign characters. Saying, "A0NEW A-zero-nice-evening-walk, monitoring" is perfectly acceptable and might help others to remember the call sign, however, if offering only the acronym, "A-zero-nice-evening-walk monitoring" the operator would technically be in violation. Two points on this technique, the first being that it is not necessarily uncommon but might annoy some listeners, and the second being the instance of FCC actions against operators using only the acronym identification is minuscule if not nonexistent.

Turn off that Roger Beep

That new Baofeng handy talky can be set to make a loud and distinctive BEEP at the end of each transmission, which is designed to let the person to whom you are talking with know you're done. Well, it is just not necessary in an FM communication, on a repeater, or in amateur radio at any time for any reason. There's no rule against it, but you'll likely catch a lot of colorful comments if you continue to use your roger beep. In some events it is even redundant because many repeaters have a "courtesy tone" which generates an audible indicator when your transmission into the repeater concludes. Is that somewhat hypocritical that a courtesy tone is acceptable and a roger beep is not? I'm not sure, maybe you can start a survey.

Using Q codes on FM

Typically the ARRL recommends using Ham Radio Q Codes in modes other than FM. The use of Q codes on a repeater or in FM simplex is really not necessary since the purpose of Q codes is to aide in conversation under noisy or less than ideal conditions. However, certain Q codes are widely recognized and are an abbreviated way to convey a longer message such that you will often hear operators use a very common Q code even on a repeater. For example, you might hear an operator say "I'm at the QTH" rather than saying "I am at my house or place of residence." No reasonable ham is going to be critical of their casual use on a repeater in regards to the most common examples. Just don't get carried away with them when operating FM voice.

Clearing Your Station and Operating Opinion

Some ham operators believe that it is required by Part 97 of the FCC rules for operators to clear their station when finished speaking on a repeater, frequency, or during a net. Although it is not a bad idea to clear your station, as a courtesy to other operators, it is not required and there is no known subpart to Part 97 regarding clearing your station. You need to provide only your callsign or the callsign of the control operator. A station is not "left open" if the operator doesn't clear. Interrupting other hams or a net just to blurt out "clear!" might even be rude under certain circumstances.

Some operators aren't really "clear" because they might spend the rest of the day monitoring. As long as the ham is not transmitting it is not required to clear nor id every ten minutes, despite some ham's misunderstanding of FCC rules. Again, you don't have to ID at regular intervals if you're just listening (monitoring) - only if you're transmitting.

It is easy to be bullied by older hams using made-up rules so consider reading Part 97 yourself because it pertains specifically to the amateur radio operator. There is FCC regulation, ARRL suggested practice, local guidelines, and the rest is all operator opinion.

Summary

If you follow these suggested tips then you'll operate like a veteran ham. Furthermore, you'll be setting a good example for other new hams that you will most certainly meet and come to enjoy conversing. Not all new operators take the time to read guides like this before getting on the air, and there are many good guides like this one. You're already way ahead in the game.

The reality of things today is that many hams disagree on what is correct procedure. The FCC is the final authority so you'll want to pay closest attention to what they require. The ARRL puts forth guidelines that stress an orderly operating practice with good ham etiquette which both aide in communications especially during an emergency.

You'll most certainly hear long time hams with sloppy operating procedure. Please don't consider it normal and try not to emulate sloppy operators. Although some clubs are more relaxed than others, the better you operate the more rewards you'll get out of this hobby. Your success in amateur radio and your ultimate enjoyment of this hobby will have a lot to do with how you operate as well as your other unique qualities that add to the growing ham community.

Have fun and set a good example because we want you with us in amateur radio!