Amateur Radio – Best practices

This information comes courtesy of the Santa Barbara Amateur Radio Club. Needless to say these ‘Best Practices’ can be adopted to everyday usage on the ham bands.

Good Operating Practices

Aim to project a professional image with proper operating practices, whether you’re a net controller or a field unit.

Keep traffic to a minimum. Say what you have to say then release the frequency. Silence is Golden — it allows someone else to use the channel when he or she needs it.

Some things to remember to help you be an efficient, professional sounding radio operator include:

* Pitch, tone, and volume of voice. A moderate tone and pitch are desirable. Too high a voice can be irritating, too low can be hard to decipher. While you can’t go out and buy a new voice, you should deliberately lower your voice pitch slightly when using the radio unless you have an especially low voice. Try for an even modulation, but not a monotone. Don’t trail your voice off at the end of your message — the last part is just as important as the first!

* Speed. Too slow and your listener may try to anticipate your next words or may not understand you because it’s an unnatural speed. Too fast is worse! Make it a point to slow down slightly when talking on the radio. If you normally talk very fast, slow way down! When transmitting call signs, addresses, names, and other items that must be remembered, noted, or written down, be a bit more deliberate. The speed at which you transmit should be such that the listener can easily understand and/or take notes. Sending logical phrases at nearly normal reading speed followed by ample pauses to allow the receiving operator to finish writing and the results will be fast, error-free transmissions. You tend to talk faster when emotions run high and things get exciting, but that’s just when your message MUST get through! Take a deep breath, get yourself under control, plan what you’re going to say, and say it slowly.

* Enunciation and Pronunciation. Clear, distinct pronunciation is essential to communications, especially over the radio. Sloppy articulation includes lazy or mush speech, slurring words, and running words together. Santa Barbara has a lot of Spanish names in its heritage and most of us learn the pronunciation by listening. When transmitting over the radio, use the commonly-used pronunciation. Don’t talk with objects or food in your mouth. It makes understanding you very difficult. Of course, someone always calls you just as you take a bite of that sandwich you’ve been waiting an hour to eat, but take small bites so you can swallow quickly!

* Emotions. It’s sometimes difficult to not let your emotions show in your voice, especially when you’re tired, angry, or busy. These emotions can be misunderstood by others. You may be very busy, but a curt response could be interpreted as your being surly, sarcastic, or angry, and now you have someone more concerned about your answer and intentions than about the task at hand.

* Think before you speak. Know what you’re going to say before you call Net Control. Always wait a second after you push the mike button before you talk. This will avoid clipping the first word or syllable of your message. This will also allow two or more repeaters which are “linked” together to complete the circuit before you start. Remember “Push-2-Talk.” Push the mike button, count 1-2 (to yourself), then talk. If you have a one-word answer, it’s best to add a word or two before it. Instead of “one,” you might say, “There is one person here.” Or, “I say again, one.”

* Use expected phrases and words. Anything out of the ordinary may result in confusion and your having to repeat or rephrase. If your message is technical or unusual, slow down and warn your receiver, or put the event official on the radio to talk direct with the person he wants the message to go to.

* Use common words. Don’t try to be funny with some “cutsey” phrase. Avoid slang; not everyone knows your jargon. It’s OK and in fact necessary to use specialized terminology, but be sure your listener speaks the same “technical-ese.”

* Speak in while but brief sentences. That’s what your listener expects to hear. Don’t speak in shorthand. Don’t ramble on and don’t repeat your message by rephrasing it unless asked.

* Use plain English and no “10” codes or “Q” signals.

* Remember your ABCs: Accuracy Brevity Clarity


Standards have been developed by various organizations to facilitate accurate, clear, and brief communications. These standards make communications easier, faster, and more accurate.

The phonetic alphabet we use in amateur radio is the International Phonetic Alphabet and it is used by most organizations except law enforcement. Practice it so you can use it easily.

Numbers also have standard of pronunciation, both as individual numbers and groups of numbers. For example, 13 is said as “one three,” 45 is “four five,” 136 as “one three six,” 500 as “five zero zero,” and 1,478 is “one four seven eight.” Number groups are also given as they are commonly written or spoken. For instance, the phone number 681-4100 is given as “six eight one” (slight pause) “four one zero zero.”

It is a good idea to learn and use 24-hour time. This avoids confusion between a.m. and p.m. and you will find it useful in other aspects of Amateur radio.

Prowords are also very useful in standardizing how two operators communicate. For instance, “Say again?” replaces: “Could you repeat that, please?” “What did you say?” or, “I didn’t hear your last transmission.” By using a standard phrase, we know exactly what you’ve said and how to respond.

Try to send any message given to you exactly as it was received. This is why it’s a good idea to have a pen and paper with you. If it is very detailed, put the official on the radio. Don’t try to paraphrase or interpret a message; you could send the wrong information.

When you receive a message to relay to your official, be sure you have it right before you acknowledge. If something is not clear, ask for a repeat. Write it down if you need to.

Net Control

The job of net control is to make sure traffic flows smoothly. Just as a traffic cop stands in the middle of the intersection and directs vehicles, the Net Controller is placed in the middle of a event net. Each case requires visibility to carry out the job. A traffic officer sees cars approaching and directs them according to the flow of road traffic. The Net Control operator directs message traffic so it flows in a smooth manner.

Note that Net Control is a traffic facilitator. He or she does not have all of the answers; in fact, just the opposite is true. So don’t come on and ask Net Control a question because he or she probably doesn’t know the answer. Look at your assignment sheet for a likely contact, or briefly summarize your needs to Net Control.

Always listen before you transmit. It is quite annoying for someone to start talking right in the middle of someone else’s conversation; it wastes air time, causes confusion, and makes the Net Controller very unhappy!

Net Control operators keep written logs of everything that occurs on the net, including a summary of everything you say. The logs are useful as a reference during the event to answer questions that might come up. They are also the only legal documents kept about an incident and have been invaluable when questions arise later about such things as accidents.

Always give the identification of the station you wish to call first, followed by your call. For example, “Net Control, this is Check Point Three.”

Keep a copy of your event information sheet with you. This enables you to determine what Event Communicator is assigned to each location and/or official. When you need to pass a message, ask Net Control to “go direct” with that operator. For example, “Net Control, Check Point Three, request direct with Run Director.” Net Control will say, “Go Ahead.” You say “Run Director, Check Point Three.” The communicator with the Run Director answers, he says, “Check Point Three this is Run Director. Go ahead.” You then proceed with your traffic. At the conclusion of the exchange, each Event Communicator will sign off with his or her FCC call sign.

Net Control is frequently very busy with work on the other frequencies, the telephone, or other tasks. If you call Net Control and don’t get an immediate reply, be patient and call again in 30 to 60 seconds. If it is an emergency, say so. If you still get no answer, proceed with emergency traffic without Net Control. However, the reason you don’t get an answer may be that you are in a bad location and not being heard; try moving to another spot and try again.

If you have emergency traffic, use the word “Break.” This word is for emergency traffic only! All communicators will immediately cease use of the frequency and yield to the breaking station.

Sometimes several stations have traffic or messages at the same time. Net Controllers usually like to solve one problem before moving to another. If you are asked to stand by, please do so. The Net Controller will get to you either in the order of your call or by the nature of your traffic.

If you must move off your assigned frequency for some reason, advise Net Control when you leave and again when you return.

If someone is having trouble with a radio, or some other kind of question comes up, don’t jump in to help unless you are asked! It often causes much confusion, so let Net Control handle it.

When your assignment is completed and you are ready to leave your position, “check out” with Net Control. This insures we can account for all our people. If you go home without telling us, we have no way of knowing that you didn’t fall down and break both your leg and your radio!

Now go have fun with Amateur Radio!

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