Use of Break in Amateur Radio

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Who Broke Protocol?
by Derek Winterstien W0DBW
May 2017, last revision July 2017

Fire, police, and the military sometimes use the term "break" on the radio to indicate, "Stand by, more to follow." On the C.B. folks say it to ask for an opportunity to break-in on the conversation or use the frequency. In recent years some hams have been calling BREAK as part of some new bad habit. But where's all this breaking coming from?

IRLP Pollution of Proper Protocol

It's not coming from Citizen's Band as many might think. The culprit seems to be IRLP. Yes, there seems to be a trend on IRLP now in using the term "break" to indicate that the speaker is going to let the repeater drop, and then pick up and continue blathering on. This is a way to circumvent the link timeout function of the node or the linked repeater.

Saying "break" as a means to let the repeater drop, and then continuing is definitely not correct protocol. With that being said, you have to consider that IRLP is by in large full of technician class operators lacking serious ham radio background. That’s not to say that all IRLP users are novices, just that the concentration of novice operators on IRLP is statistically greater than other areas of the hobby due to the very nature of the medium.

The ARRL Has Spoken

The only ARRL provision for the use of the word "break" in amateur radio is for the standard double "break," as in "break break," to indicate that there is emergency priority traffic. That is THE ONLY PROVISION for the use of "break" in amateur radio. However, amateur radio's double "break" is not necessarily Internationally recognized.

No, there’s no FCC rule regarding how to use the term "break." The ARRL discourages its use altogether unless it is the double break for an emergency. The ARRL General Procedures section of their EC Manual states that, "The word break is never used UNLESS there is an emergency." The ARRL guide also goes on to say that using the term break should be "discouraged" since it really has no universally understood meaning. Their goal is to prevent confusion with an actual emergency transmission.

Feeling Long Winded?

For hams that have more to say and want to let the repeater reset, I have heard experienced operators (such as QCWA members) say "wait" and then let it drop before continuing. This is not an ARRL defined protocol, it is simply an accepted practice that serves to prevent confusion from casual conversation and an emergency. The point is to sound less like there’s a possible emergency and the frequency may be needed, or to sound less like a breaker breaker CB truck driver. If I am being particularly long winded and have more to say, I just stop in mid sentence, or at the word "and" so it is obvious I'm not done, then pick back up from there after the repeater resets.

How to Enter an Ongoing QSO

You do not have the right to barge in on an ongoing conversation. You can announce your presence simply by waiting for a pause between transmissions and give your call sign. You may be invited into the conversation to speak, or you may be ignored. On an open repeater you tend to find most ham operators will eagerly hand it over to you so you can speak. Stipulations may depend on the repeater guidelines and any club rules. On HF frequencies you may also hear an operator say "contact" then announce his or her call sign. There’s no breaker breaker!

Question T3C01 in the Tech Class License Test

Thankfully correct information does prevail and one example is a guide by Rob Mavis AE6GE, "The Proper Use of Break." Since corrected this guide is clever to point out that question T3C01 in the Technician Class Question Pool of the license test for an entry ham license asks "What is the proper way to break into a conversation between two stations that are using the frequency?" The answer is "Say your call sign between their transmissions." Hopefully all amateur radio Volunteer Examiners (or VEs) know and understand this rule so they can get new licensees off on the right foot.

The Hobby is Changing

What will inevitably happen as older experienced ham operators become silent keys and the Millennials take over the hobby, these subtle breaches in protocol will impact the hobby’s vernacular eventually becoming accepted protocol. Maybe the term will evolve into hashtag-break or something even more progressive like that. #break #IRLP-rulz #Kardashian

Until then, please try not to break ham radio. Lets keep it sensible while there are still a few true hams alive and operating.


According to THE EMERGENCY COORDINATOR'S MANUAL Edited by Steven Ewald, WV1X and Published by The American Radio Relay League, Inc., Quote from the "General Procedures section *"16) The word "break" is never used UNLESS there is an emergency."

The ARRL "Making Your First Contact" Guide states, under the "FM Repeaters" section, "If you want to join a conversation already in progress, transmit your call sign during a break between transmissions. The station that transmits next should acknowledge you. Don’t use the word BREAK to join a conversation. BREAK generally suggests an emergency and indicates that all stations should stand by for the station with emergency traffic."

Rob Mavis AE6GE has no official credentials and like me, is only offering his opinion on how it is acceptable to use BREAK in ham radio. His article was revised since May 2017 and (as of last review) contains accurate information.

Rob Mavis AE6GE correctly points out a question on the ham radio license test indicating how to "break" in on a QSO.

When is it Okay to Join a Conversation on Ham Radio? By Joseph Cotton (W3TTT).

Robert Koerner W7ETA says, "...and someone said "BREAK", I'd think it was another lost CBer, with a ham rig."

Revision July 2017 by W0DBW: The last revision to this article corrects the point that "Break Break" is not necessarily an Internationally recognized call for an emergency. It is somewhat of a standard in North America. Furthermore, the ARRL seems to be pushing to abolish the use of the word "Break" in any context within amateur radio. They don't want hams saying "break," "break break," or "break break break." But don't worry, there's plenty of room for the code word on 11-meter!


Note: This section possibly contains some elements of opinion or may have a bias because it does not reflect a neutral point of view. Although the information is factual, there's also additional comments that reflect personal opinion. Once denoted the article may remain because of the validity of the opinion and valuable information included.