Amateur radio- Etiquette for beginners.

So, you have just received your amateur radio license! Congratulations!

You are probably eager to get on the air and start talking, but before you do, take a few minutes to read this post. It details my experience in the hobby and can perhaps assist you in getting the most out of the hobby.

Like most hams,  I got on VHF first and the first few days was a real learning experience. It made me realize that passing the exams is only half the story! Even though it is “amateur” radio it helps to know certain operating etiquettes . One would wish someone guided them through their first contacts so I thought I might share some of my experiences .

Some of these might seem too simple to seasoned hams but these are somethings I experienced as a newbie.

Good Operating Practices

It is best to listen to some QSO’s (conversations) before making your first contact. If you live in a VHF repeater’s range then you are in luck !

You can listen to the NET (on air gathering of hams regulated by a volunteer). This helps you to grasp all the frequently used jargon and familiarise with the local, active radio amateurs in your locality.

Spend a few days monitoring radio traffic (messages) to get used to the feel of two-way radio.

Listening on HF is an entirely different beast compared to VHF. It takes a lot of patience and the efforts are even more rewarding!


Make sure there’s no emergency traffic going on in the frequency you intend to transmit on. If the frequency is occupied wait for whoever is talking to finish their over(their full transmission usually ending with their callsign)to break in, by giving your call sign. Wait for the next person taking the over to “pull”you into their qso.

Use the word ”BREAK” only in case of an emergency!

Wait before you start transmitting, someone with a higher priority, or a weak station may have the chance to join the qso and wait a second after pressing the PTT(Push-to-talk) on the microphone to talk.

There is no need to call CQ on VHF repeaters.You can just give your callsign and someone should come back to you.

When you have finished talking pass the “over” to the person it needs to go to. It usually goes in around in a circle, unless you need to ask someone something specific, where you ask for a “short break”.

Sometimes it may take a while to get your chance to transmit and a good dose of patience helps.

Make sure there are no loud noises or music in the background when you transmit and make sure you don’t cause interferences to other amateurs or other electronic equipment nearby. Always use the lowest power necessary to make a contact.

It is a good practice to not leave a qso abruptly,  sign off with everyone with a simple 73 (telegraphic short code for “Best regards and Thanks”) when you need to leave.


Familiarize yourself with many of the commonly used radio jargon. Here are a few examples of what stumped me!

  • Modulation – food
  • Lima lima-telephone
  • Roger – Received, acknowledged, will comply
  • 73 – telegraphic short code for “Best regards and Thanks”
  • Harmonic – son/daughter
  • XYL – Wife. (abbreviated as eX-Young Lady)
  • Morning QTH- QTH is the Q-code for denoting the location of the transmitter. Morning QTH is a term used to indicate the place of employment of the station ( evening Qth or QTH is simply the home location) Used only in India!
  • Q-codes are also common on air. Q-codes like QSL, QTH, QRM, QRL, QSY, QRP are some of the frequently used q-codes on the air.

Phonetics of Alphabets like Alpha,Bravo, Charlie, etc. are initially hard to use, but with some practice they flow much easily in a QSO.

Callsign and handle

I found it very difficult to remember callsigns at first and also kept calling people “Sir”. In amateur radio, all are considered equal and people prefer to be called by their callsign or handle{on the air nickname}. Though it may seem awkward at first, you will quickly get used to calling people older than you by their handle. Don’t worry!! Someone younger than you will come along in a few years :).

Also I used to mixed-up the callsigns or get the callsigns wrong and call a VU2 -VU3, when I started out and attracted the ire of some senior hams.

Honest mistakes that disappear over time and are fun to look back on!


When I started out I had a handy (portable radio) and all my signal reports of 5/9 were pretty subjective and I didn’t know techniques like reverse copy, but over time I figured it all out thanks to my elmers.

Elmers are teachers, who prefer to impart knowledge with a hands on approach, without any monetary benefits, solely for the purpose of passing down the “tribal” knowledge they have received from their elders.

Never be afraid to ask on air what you don’t know.The hobby is full of elmers who will be happy to guide you.

Law and safety

Make sure the radio equipment doesn’t fall into the hands of unauthorized people or kids. They might inadvertently transmit.

It is imperative to maintain a proper log book of all your contacts.

Inevitably one may come across someone causing interference or transmitting a carrier tone -best to ignore such individuals. Edgy, political or religious topics are best avoided on air.

Try to keep your conversations crisp and polite.One shouldn’t operate outside the allocated bands, so avoid operating on the band edges! If you need to test your transmission get a dummy load or at least make sure the frequency is not used and tune up with the lowest possible power.

As a newbie ,all is forgiven, and what better way to learn, than to make mistakes?

So go ahead and jump right into the hobby.

Welcome to the world of Ham radio!

For further reading: Ethics and operating procedures for the radio amateur-IARU

VU3OVD, Dr Shivram Sagar at his shack
The author, Dr Shivram Sagar VU3OVD, at his shack

Shivram Sagar

I am Civil surgeon by profession in the Government Hospital of Kodaikanal.My hobbies include ham radio, rc models, photography and practically all things electronic.I love to meet new people.Hope to catch you on the air!

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