FT8 / Technical Articles

FT8: Polite Operating Procedures for Ham Radio Operators

This is going to be a blog that not everyone will agree with. There are plenty of opinions  on the “correct” or “polite” way to operate, and that is perfectly okay! The important thing is to remember this is our shared hobby and the end goal is to have fun. Having a little compassion or empathy for your fellow ham is not a bad way to be, either.

Unpopular Opinion Number One: FT8 is NOT a low power mode; it is a weak signal mode.

As hams, we are bound by CFR TITLE 47 Part 97.313—“An amateur station must use the minimum transmitter power necessary to carry out the desired communications.” Well, what kind of power is necessary? This is a tricky question because the perfect transmission is about more than just power. Your radio might hear better or worse than some other radios. You may be working with a compromised antenna system. You could have a wide variety of items causing noise that stunts your signal down to practically nothing. Or maybe just the sun isn’t very cooperative on a particular day, causing the bands to be mostly closed.

I have been privileged to work FT8 in many different locations using anything from a QRP rig to 1,500 watts. I have used short wire antennas at less-than-optimal height as well as huge towers with multiple directional beams. There was one constant—you may not always work your desired QSO.

According to Gary Hinson, ZL2IFB, in his FT8 Operating Guide:

Aside from QRO being antisocial and usually unnecessary, if your signal is too strong, it may be dirty and may overload receivers and audio cards at the DX end, preventing your signal from decoding reliably. Take your cue from the signal reports you receive: if you are getting positive reports, you can probably do just as well (maybe even better) with a fraction of the power. Remember: decibels are logarithmic. Cutting your power in half will reduce average reports by just 3 dB; cut it by half again to lose another 3 dB. If you are receiving mostly negative or zero reports, you are in the right region. I normally adjust my transmit power to get reports between 0 and -10 dB. If you receive a 58 report and you’re not using SSB, something may be seriously amiss!

Unpopular Opinion Number Two: You should always transmit in the same open frequency despite where the intended receiver is transmitting.

Few things get operators angrier than when someone starts transmitting on top of them. I have been known to mutter under my breath once or twice. Did you know that if an operator has a directional beam not pointed your way and you have a straight vertical, they might not even know you are there? I try to keep this in mind when my previously unused transmitting spot suddenly gets full. If it is someone calling you briefly, it also may have been a mistake. I have accidently clicked on someone before and took an extra cycle or two to notice that my hold transmit frequency wasn’t checked.

In addition, there are some reasons that seem to be more acceptable for you moving to their frequency. On an initial CQ call, operators tend to accept you being on their frequency as long as you don’t continue there after QSO completion or if you weren’t picked up that round. Some people initialize the contact on a split frequency and then move over to yours as the QSO continues. Normally, that practice is also considered okay; the software even has quick move to RX or TX frequency buttons. There are some operators who state on their QRZ page that they will ignore ALL signals transmitted on their frequency. That is their opinion and their right; we can only hope they don’t get upset at those of us who don’t read QRZ first!

Unpopular Opinion Number Three: You should consider answering stations that are not who you asked for in your CQ. CQ DX KE8FMJ!

For this topic, I just implore you to think back when you were a beginner ham. You are about to get your final state for your first-ever mixed WAS (Worked All States). All you need is North Dakota and you see one transmitting right in front of you. Excitedly, you move to call him when suddenly you see “CQ DX.” Of course, North Dakota doesn’t want another state; he has had all states in the log for years. Many will say it is rude to call someone asking for something you are not. Others will say it is rude to not answer a call when you don’t know what kind of QSO they need. I hear many say, “But I am not a rare state or prefix, so they shouldn’t need my contact.” There are piles of arguments for each side of this opinion out on social media.

There probably is not a true right or wrong in this instance. I can tell you when I was calling CQ AS KE8FMJ (call for Asia) on 80m the other night, I instantly received four European stations in response. I worked all four of them while slightly muttering, “How could they possibly need Ohio? There are like a million hams here!” But what did it hurt? It was too early for Asia to be on anyway.

Gary Hinson, ZL2IFB, in his FT8 Operating Guide, said it best:

Remember, it’s only a hobby. Most of the issues with FT8 operating are not due to malice but ordinary hams like you and me, exploring the new mode and picking up tricks as we go. We make mistakes. We get things wrong. We experiment. We try. We learn. We enjoy ourselves and help each other out. Slack needs to be cut. Stay cool. Chill bro’!

Questions? Share them in the comments below or email me at KE8FMJ@arrl.net.

Leave a Reply