Monday, May 16, 2011

Basic Operating

Basic Operating

So you now have your license and you are ready to get on the air. The most important thing to do before beginning is to listen and observe how other hams are making their contacts. As different modes and bands seem to have slightly different approaches it helps to have heard a few exchanges on a band before you make that first contact.

Depending on your radio and license you may have to decide on where and how you want to begin operating. If you are using a hand-held transceiver you may begin through a local repeater or direct (simplex) on the VHF and UHF bands. If you passed a CW test you may begin on some of the HF bands using CW or SSB. So let's give a quick run-down of each of these operations.

Using a HT and a Repeater

Many amateurs begin by getting the Basic (Canada) or Technician (U.S.) class license. By far the most common mode of operation for them is the HT through a local repeater. Assuming you have the HT set up to the appropriate frequency, offset, and if necessary, CTCSS tone then you are ready to make your first contact.

It may seem obvious but you need to know your call sign before you begin. You might also want to review the appropriate phonetics in case someone asks you to clarify your call sign.

To Initiate a Call

For this instruction let's assume you live near the U.S./Canadian border and use a repeater that services hams in both areas. Areas such as Buffalo, Windsor, Vancouver and others all have this characteristic.

1. Press the mike button on the HT and say "VE3BUC listening." Of course you would use your own call sign.

That might be all you need for a response. But if there is no response (which is quite likely) then you might try again but this time say "VE3BUC is monitoring and listening for a call."

Usually you don't need to call CQ on a repeater although there is nothing wrong with that. We will look at calling CQ shortly.

2. You get a response something like "VE3BUC this is W2AXL in Buffalo returning. My name is Phil. Back to you. W2AXL"

At this point you want to wait for the repeater's tone to indicate it is okay to proceed.

3. Press your mike button and respond. At this point the discussion can be whatever you make it. Give your name and location and any other information you wish to Phil and when you are ready say "Over" or "Back to you."

It is a good idea and the law to give your call sign frequently so after a longer transmission you would say "W2AXL this is VE3BUC. Over."

The use of the terms "over" or "back to you" are a courtesy that lets the other operating know that you are finished talking and are turning the operation back to him or her.

4. At the end of the contact you would finally say goodbye or 73 and sign off by saying "W2AXL 73, this is VE3BUC clear and monitoring." That is if you intend to continue to monitor. If not you could say "...clear and QRT" instead.

Q Signals

Q signals are commonly used in CW to abbreviate questions or statements. Although not many are used in Phone, QRT is quite common. See Q Signals Explained for details.

To Respond to a Call

To respond to a call over the repeater with a HT you would take on the role of the opposite person in the above discussion. You hear W2AXL calling on the repeater so answer as follows after the repeater tone drops:

1. "W2AXL this is VE3BUC. Good morning my name is Don and my location is Niagara Falls. Over to you."

2. Basically the exchange would proceed as discussed above. Be sure to identify your station occasionally and identify yourself at the end of the contact as explained above.

Making Direct Phone Contacts

Whether you are operating HF, VHF or UHF without a repeater the procedure is essentially the same. In each case you will be transmitting directly by radio waves to another amateur's radio. You only need to set the operating band and frequency without the need for an offset or tone to access a repeater. However, depending on your radio and antenna it may be necessary to tune the antenna before beginning.

Calling CQ to Make a Contact

Let's assume your license permits you to operate SSB on 10 meters.

1. Begin by finding a clear frequency such as 28.460. Speak clearly into the mike and ask "Is this frequency in use? This is VE3BUC." If you get no response you might ask a second time just to be sure. Again if there is no response then proceed to step 2. If someone says that the frequency is in use then just move to another clear frequency and try again.

2. Now call "CQ CQ CQ. This is Victor Echo 3 Bravo Uniform Charlie calling CQ CQ CQ. This is Victor Echo 3 Bravo Uniform Charlie, VE3BUC calling CQ and waiting for a call."

Now you listen for the return call. Being on an HF band (10 meters) it is possible to get a call ranging from very strong to very weak.

3. You might hear "VE3BUC this is Papa Yankee 1 Alpha November Foxtrot PY1ANF calling."

4. You respond by saying "PY1ANF (using phonetics is best) this is VE3BUC. Thanks for the call your signal is 59. My name is Don and my QTH is Ontario. So how do you copy? PY1ANF this is VE3BUC over."

You have made your first HF contact. At this point you can make the contact as long or short as you like depending on the band conditions and what you find to discuss with your new friend in Brazil.

RST Reports

Amateurs use the RST system for reporting signal strength and readability. See RST Explained for details.

5. You end an HF contact by giving both call signs and signing off. For example: "... thanks Luis for the contact and 73 to you and your family. PY1ANF this is VE3BUC signing off."

What do you do if more than one station responds to your call? If you hear one call clearly then simply respond to that station as discussed above. If you hear only parts of call signs, maybe "Alpha November" then in step 4 begin by saying "the station with Alpha November make your call." Once you have heard the complete call sign you can proceed as in step 4.

Responding to a CQ

Begin by tuning within the range of frequencies that you are permitted to operate and find a station calling CQ. To respond to the station you take on the role of the other station in the above exchange. The one difference is that after you call you may find out that other stations are also calling and that your call is not immediately recognized. If so wait until the stations complete their contact and then try again. If you don't want to wait then tune for another station calling CQ and answer this call.

CW Contacts

Making a CW contact is very similar to making a phone contact except of course you are using Morse Code. The process of CQing and exchanging information is about the same although CW operators use more abbreviations to make sending faster.

1. Call CQ as follows: "CQ CQ CQ de VE3BUC VE3BUC VE3BUC K" and wait for a response.

Note the abbreviations used. "de" means "this is" and "K" means "go." You do not need to use phonetics in CW.

2. The other station may respond as "VE3BUC de PY1ANF PY1ANF K"


To avoid confusion I have left out the punctuation in the above line. Normally punctuation is not used for casual contacts to reduce the amount of sending needed. It usually is quite obvious to both operators where the punctuation should go.

Notice the use of abbreviations. de, GM, UR, RPT, NM, ES, QTH, KN are all commonly used. The table shows the meaning of common abbreviations used in CW.

The underlined codes are sent without a pause between the letters.

defrom or "this is"
GMgood morning
KNgo only
URyour, you are
73best wishes

4. The exchange of information continues as for phone except that CW operators will use the abbreviated form of words on a regular basis during their exchange.

5. At the end of the contact you might finish as follows: "... tnx Luis fer the QSO 73 es gud DX. PY1ANF de VE3BUC SK"

Again several abbreviations were used but these are obvious I hope. "fer" instead of "for" is simply less keying and "gud" for "good" also saves the wrist.

Now that you have made some contacts you might want to begin exchanging QSL cards. A collection of cards can be one of the most satisfying aspects of ham radio. The section on QSL Cards introduces this aspect of the hobby.

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