Central Idaho Amateur
Radio Club
CIARC - Amateur Radio Operating Practices
Amateur Radio Operating Practices

The following procedures represent good operating practices. Adherence to these practices will result in more efficient communications, will result in avoiding some communications problems, will make your communications demonstrate both experience and professionalism, and will result in your communications being accepted in the Amateur Radio community as a whole.

Amateur Radio is a self policing entity. In the past, many of these standards were enforced by Amateur Radio mentors (called Elmer's) and the Amateur Radio community. There has been an diminishing of quality of operating practices as many new Amateur Radio operators, coming from other radio services, bring radio practices from other services to the Amateur Radio service. But there is a reason why the original practices were put into place. Amateur Radio is first and foremost a public service. Amateur Radio is used, in its primary role, to provide public service communications, including traffic passing (radio-grams), public service event communications and emergency communications. These practices were put into place in order to facilitate the efficiency of communications in Amateur Radio's primary role. The habits that Amateur Radio operators develop in their day to day operation, which is secondary to Amateur Radio's primary public service roll, carry over directly to station operating practices when operating in the public service roll. That is why it is imperative that day to day Amateur Radio operating practices strive to adhere to good operating practices and the Amateur Radio community not adopt practices from other radio services that result in inefficient communications.

If an Amateur Radio operator offers a correction in response to observing a poor operating practice, this is not a personal attack. It is guidance that is being provided for the greater good of the Amateur Radio service and will have a direct application to operating in Amateur Radio's primary roll of public service communications.

Since the advent of Volunteer Examiner (VE) testing, the primary focus for study for the Amateur Radio license is toward passing the Amateur Radio examination. Little focus is applied to providing training on how to operate once the Amateur Radio license is obtained. With common familiarity of a push-to-talk (PTT) button, often the new operator is left to determine operating practices with little guidance, and, sometimes, the mistaken roll model of television depiction of radio operation. To leave the new Amateur Radio operator to his own devices in determining operating procedures is one of the largest failings of the Amateur Radio community. Unfortunately, this failure exhibits the worse case results in public service and emergency communications, resulting in misunderstood messages and excessive use of bandwidth (which results in delaying other communications).

Publication of these operating practices has this very goal, that is to provide the Amateur Radio operator with guidance so that their operating practices result in efficient communications, avoid unintentional interference and result in a more enjoyable experience for all involved.

The goal of every Amateur Radio operator should be to have basic operating habits that have direct application toward public service and emergency communications. The underlying foundations to achieve this goal includes:

  • Clarity of communication.

  • Proper basic radio operating techniques, based on an understanding of half-duplex operation.

  • Use of bandwidth (i.e. brevity).

Note that this does not mean a rigid adherence when conducting non-critical casual communications. It simply means that the foundation should be in place so that your station can be effectively integrated into a larger network of stations in support of public service and emergency communications.

Half-Duplex v.s. Full-Duplex

Half duplex simply means that you cannot hear the station or stations that you are communicating with while your station is transmitting. Nearly all Amateur Radio equipment supports only half-duplex communication. It is therefore imperative that an Amateur Radio operator develop the necessary skills to determine when the other station has completed transmission in order to avoid transmitting at the same time as another transmitter.

Half-duplex operation is contrary to our normal everyday communication where we are speaking with someone face to face. This communication is full-duplex, where we have the ability to interrupt or interject ourselves into the conversation. In such interactions, there may be no loss of data as the interruption can be detected and simultaneous speech can be avoided. While using half-duplex radio equipment, we are unable to detect an interruption to our own transmissions and, therefore, cannot stop transmission to allow interjection into the conversation.

The use of half-duplex operation is inherent when the radio station uses a transceiver, where the receiver and transmitter are integrated into a single unit and have mutually exclusive access to the antenna and audio components. The receiver is muted and has no access to the antenna when transmitting, thereby preventing the receiver from being overloaded by the transmitter signal and preventing a feedback loop between the receiver speaker and the transmitter microphone. The use of full-duplex communication processes when using a half-duplex radio is absolutely catastrophic to communications. Any interruption or interjection will not be heard by the station that is already transmitting, and usually will result in interference that prevents other stations from hearing one or both stations that are transmitting simultaneously.

Full-duplex operation can only be used when the receiver and transmitter are independent and only if the transmitter will not cause interference to the receiver (e.g. feedback from the receiver speaker to the transmitter microphone or desensitization of the receiver by the transmitter overloading the receiver).

A repeater is a full-duplex station, which requires specialized equipment, while a transceiver is always a half-duplex station. If full-duplex operation is applied to half-duplex station equipment, transmissions will need to be repeated and this will delay other communications. This could have extremely negative consequences to safety, life or property in an emergency communications or public service environment.

Never apply full-duplex operating procedures to half-duplex station equipment. Avoiding full-duplex operation involves simple procedures that either involve a hand-shake (i.e. transmission is handed from one station to the other using a call sign protocol) or by acquiring the skill to determine when a transmission has ceased (see Repeater Operation below).

Applying full-duplex operating procedures to half-duplex station equipment is considered to be poor operating procedure.

Station Calling
Repeater Operation
Use Of Language

For the most part, amateur radio operators use plain english to converse. This, in part, is due to amateur radio's role in emergency communications, where clarity and brevity are vital in order to reduce bandwidth and clearly communicate.

The operating habits and language that we use day to day will carry over to emergency communications. It is vital that good operating habits be formed so that emergency communications is not encumbered by the need to repeat a transmission based on non-standard use of the english language. Somebody's life may depend on it.

The general rule is to speak exactly as you would on a telephone, avoiding slang and obscure terms, speaking in a clear and concise manner. Station identification must occur every ten minutes when transmissions have been made. Music, swear words and broadcasting are not allowed. Other than that, you are free to exercise you first amendment right.

It should be noted that Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) training, which defines inter-agency communication and includes Amateur Radio, defines the use of Plain Language in order to facilitate efficient communications.

Morse Chart
Digital Mode Operating Tips