HAM Radio 101 / Technical Articles

Staying at Home? Brush Up on Your Ham Radio Etiquette

As Hams around the globe make sacrifices for the health and safety of their communities, let’s take this opportunity to recommit ourselves to making the amateur bands a welcoming harbor for all, whether contesting, DXing, or just looking for a friendly rag-chew while sheltering at home. The following lists are reminders of how to avoid being a “bad actor” when sharing the airwaves.

DX Code of Conduct

  • I will listen, and listen, and then listen again before calling.
  • I will only call if I can copy the DX station properly.
  • I will not trust the DX cluster and will be sure of the DX station’s call sign before calling.
  • I will not interfere with the DX station nor anyone calling and will never tune up on the DX frequency or in the QSX slot.
  • I will wait for the DX station to end a contact before I call.
  • I will always send my full call sign.
  • I will call and then listen for a reasonable interval. I will not call continuously.
  • I will not transmit when the DX operator calls another call sign, not mine.
  • I will not transmit when the DX operator queries a call sign not like mine.
  • I will not transmit when the DX station requests geographic areas other than mine. When the DX operator calls me, I will not repeat my call sign unless I think he has copied it incorrectly.
  • I will be thankful if and when I do make a contact.
  • I will respect my fellow hams and conduct myself so as to earn their respect.


Here’s a good general rule to remember when operating in the revolutionary FT8 digital mode developed by Joe Taylor, K1JT, and Steve Franke, K9AN: Just because you can doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Read these etiquette suggestions to see how that applies:

  • When transmitting your group of 8 coded audio tones (occupying 50 Hz of a 3 kHz channel), remember that you won’t be alone. There may be more than 40 others transmitting in the 300 Hz to 2,400 Hz range (the equivalent of about one SSB transmission). You can be a good FT8 neighbor by refraining from overdriving the radio with excessive audio, which will cause splatter that can obliterate other signals as well as affect your own receive capabilities. Reduce your PC sound card’s audio drive as necessary to prevent distorting your signal.
  • Generally speaking, there are only a few instances in which you will need to flex your muscles by blasting away at the full rated power of your radio. Turn down transmit power to reduce splatter caused by harmonics and intermodulation issues. Need further incentive to back off? This practice could also harm your radio. Try QRP levels and then go up in watts from there to see what works best for you—your fellow FT8ers will appreciate it.
  • The FT8 Operating Guide, by Gary Hinson, ZL2IFB, is filled with kernels of digital wisdom, like this one: “Unlike conventional analog (legacy) modes, split operation is preferred on FT8. The idea that split operation on FT8 ‘ties up two frequencies for one QSO’ and is therefore an inefficient use of spectrum is a common but naive misunderstanding. However, something that does make inefficient use of our shared spectrum is when several people all pile up on the same frequency, QRMing each other, leading to repeats, delays and abandoned QSOs.”
  • Keep in mind that as more Hams jump on the FT8 bandwagon, opinions will vary on best practices. For exhaustive details on all WSJT-X modes (FT4, FT8, JT4, JT9, JT65, QRA64, ISCAT, MSK144, WSPR, and Echo), visit the official WSJT-X website. And be sure to look over the FT8 Operating Guide for tons of useful advice.

Repeater Etiquette

Here are a few pieces of advice on repeater etiquette that bear repeating from John Devoldere, ON4UN, and Mark Demeuleneere, ON4WW, who wrote “Ethics and Operating Procedures for the Radio Amateur” in 2008. The document has since been translated into more than 25 languages and been accepted by the International Amateur Radio Union Administrative Council. The 68-page document leaves no stone unturned, covering everything from how to call CQ to the golden rules of being a good on-air citizen.

  • Use simplex wherever possible. Using repeaters to make contact between two fixed stations should be an exception.
  • If you want to talk via the repeater while it is already in use, wait for a pause between transmissions to announce your call.
  • Only use the term “break” or even better, “break, break, break,” in an emergency or life-threatening situation. It’s better to say, “break, break, break with emergency traffic.”
  • Stations using the repeater should pause until its carrier drops out or a beep appears to avoid inadvertent doubling (simultaneous transmission) and to allow time for new stations to identify. Pausing usually allows the timer to reset, avoiding a time-out.
  • Do not monopolize the repeater. Repeaters are there not only for you and your friends. Be conscious that others may want to use the repeater as well. Be obliging.
  • Keep your contacts through a repeater short and to the point.
  • Repeaters should not serve to inform the XYL that you are on your way home and that lunch can be served.
  • Don’t break into a contact unless you have something significant to add. Interrupting is no more polite on the air than it is in person.
  • Interrupting a conversation without identification is not correct and, in principle, constitutes illegal interference.
  • If you frequently use a particular repeater consider supporting those that keep that repeater on the air.

FM Ham Radio Satellite Ethics

What happens when there’s a horde of shoppers and only one or two 12-packs of toilet paper left on the shelves? If you’ve been following the news, you know the answer—mayhem. The same applies to contacting FM Amateur Radio satellites. As they pass above for only a brief window of time, many operators at once may try to contact them, which can lead to less than hospitable operating tactics. Sean Kutzko, KX9X, tackles the subject in his OnAllBands blog, Five Tips on Etiquette and Good Manners on the FM Ham Radio Satellites. Topics include:

  • Hearing the satellite before transmitting
  • Waiting your turn
  • Using phonetics
  • Minimizing repeat QSOs
  • Letting rare stations have more time

Contesting Etiquette

Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi liked to say, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing!” Unfortunately, in the competitive world of radiosport, there are those who have adopted this mantra to the detriment of others. You know who you are. So stop it.

This leads us to Contesting Etiquette Rule #1

  • Stealing someone’s frequency and forcing them to move by calling CQ too close to them is not in the spirit of fair play.

You’ll find more about this rule and other topics in this guide from the ARRL Contesting Advisory Committee, HF Contesting—Good Practices, Interpretations, and Suggestions. It covers a range of topics, including the ethics of setting pre-contest schedules, club and team support, post-contest log manipulation, claiming categories, how to address fellow contesters who are exhibiting bad key clicks and splatter, how often to ID when you’re CQing, asking for a QSY, working split, operating a second radio, and how weekend rag-chewers and contesters need to coexist when a major contest is in play.

Per the guide: “Realize that nobody owns a frequency. A rag chew in the middle of the contest band has every right to be there. Similarly, if a group has a regular schedule or net, it’s a good idea for them to have a backup frequency or mode if the band is busier than expected.”

Here are a few more unethical contesting practices courtesy of Patrick Barkey, N9RV.

Category Shopping

The practice of deciding which category to submit your contest score in after the contest is over, and after information on (claimed) scores of potential competitors is public. The purpose of category shopping is to attempt to win a plaque or other recognition in a category that was less competitive than the category that was actually selected in advance.


The practice of a station or group of stations actively supporting the operation of a specific competitor. This could be by, say, spotting the competitor’s CQs on spotting networks, coordinating to find and call the station (as a group) to attempt to enhance their score, or passing along multiplier information, etc.   


A derogatory term that refers to running more transmitter power than is allowed by the terms of your radio license. 


Poaching is when a third station strays onto the frequency of a station who is running in order to make contact with one of the responding stations. If N9RV is running stations on 14024, say, and you attempt to call one of the stations that he has just worked, you are poaching. 

Captive Rover

A rover is a mobile station that travels during a contest to activate multiple geographic locations (typically grid squares) during the course of a contest. The so-called “captive” rover refers to a rover whose express purpose is to work only a single competitor.

Rubber Clocking

A slang term used to refer to the adjusting of times in the contest log to make QSOs appear to conform to the rules of a category and contest. This includes, for example, to make reported off-times in time-limited contests such as the ARRL SS conform to rules that require them to be at least 30 minutes in length, or making times of QSOs appear to obey the 10-minute rule for multi-operator categories in DX contests. 


Schedules are advance arrangements to make QSOs with specific stations at specific frequencies and times. Schedules made on the air during the contest can be an important and effective contest tactic. Schedules made via non-amateur means (e.g, email) and/or schedules made before the contest starts are not allowed by most contest rules.  Even if rules do not explicitly forbid it, such practices are not considered ethical and should be avoided.

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