Operating Signals

Operating signals, also called Q and Z codes, are used throughout the world. They are used by both civil and military organizations. The most complete list of both Q and Z signals is found in ACP 131(F). This is the standard guide for use by the NATO military forces.

Q signals are normally used in Morse code transmissions. Z signals are generally used only in military digital transmissions. We will ignore the Z signals and concentrate on the Q signals.

Q signals are three letter codes that begin with the letter ‘Q’. They range from QAA to QZZ. The Q signals are divided up into several different sections and allocated to particular uses. The series QAA through QNZ are defined by the International Civil Aviation Organization for aeronautical use. QOA through QQZ are reserved for maritime use. The series QRA through QUZ are defined by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and are in use at virtually every civil station throughout the world.

Amateur radio has adapted some of these Q codes for use in amateur communications. These Q codes come from the ITU civil series QRA through QUZ. Most of the meanings are identical to the ITU definitions, however, they must be looked at in the context of amateur communications. For example, QSJ? asks what the charges are for sending the telegraph. Since amateur communications are without charge, this Q code would not make sense.

Q codes are either sent with or without a question mark (cw ..–..). A Q code with a question mark is to be understood as asking a question. A Q code without a question mark is to be understood as an affirmative answer to a question asked or as a direct statement. For example, if you say QRA?, you are asking the question: “what is the name of your station”. If you are asked this question, you could answer: “the name of my station is WB8AAA”. In a maritime service, you might have answered QRA Newport, meaning that the name of your station is Newport. In the context of an amateur radio conversation, the name of your station is commonly understood to be your station callsign. Always keep in mind that radio amateurs are communicating in an amateur radio context and that Q codes should be interpreted in that context.

Amateur radio actually has adapted two different sets of Q codes. The one in most common use is the Q codes From QRA through QUZ. The second set is the set of Q codes, used only in ARRL NTS nets, that begin with QN. These Q codes generally have no equivalent in the ACP 131 publication and are specifically defined only for use in in NTS nets. They are not used in casual amateur radio communications.


QRA   What is the name of       The name of my station
      your station?             is _____
QRG   What is my exact          Your exact frequency
      frequency?                is ____  (KHz or MHz)
QRH   Does my frequency vary?   Your frequency varies.
QRI   How is my tone?           Your tone is _____
                                  1 Good
                                  2 Variable
                                  3 Bad
QRK   What is my signal         Your signal intelligibility
      intelligibility?          (or that of ___) is ____.
                                   1 Bad
                                   2 Poor
                                   3 Fair
                                   4 Good
                                   5 Excellent
QRL   Are you busy?             I am busy.
QRM   Are you being             I am being interfered 
      interfered with?          with ____.
                                   1  nil
                                   2  slightly
                                   3  moderately
                                   4  severely
                                   5  extremely
QRN   Are you troubled by       I am troubled by static ___.
      static?                      1  nil
                                   2  slightly
                                   3  moderately
                                   4  severely
                                   5  extremely
QRO   Shall I increase          Increase tranmitter power.
      transmitter power?
QRP   Shall I decrease          Decrease transmitter power.
      transmitter power?
QRQ   Shall I send faster?      Send faster.
QRS   Shall I send slower?      Send slower.
QRT   Shall I stop sending?     Stop sending.
QRU   Have you anything         I have nothing for you.
      for me?
QRV   Are you ready?            I am ready.
QRW   Shall I tell _____ you    Tell ____ I am calling him.
      are calling him?
QRX   When will you call        I will call again at _____.
QRZ   Who is calling me?        You are being called by ____.
QSA   What is my signal         Your signal strength is ____.
      strength?                    1  scarcely perceptible
                                   2  weak
                                   3  fairly good
                                   4  good
                                   5  very good
QSB   Are my signals fading?    Your signals are fading.
QSD   Is my keying defective?   Your keying is defective.
QSG   Shall I send _____        Send ____ messages at a time.
      messages at a time?
QSK   Can you work breakin?     I can work breakin.
QSL   Can you acknowledge       I can acknowledge receipt.
QSM   Shall I repeat the last   Repeat the last message sent.
      message sent?
QSO   Can you communicate       I can communicate with
      with _____ direct?        _____ direct.
QSP   Will you relay            I will relay to _____.
      to _____?
QSV   Shall I send a series     Send a series of V's.
      of V's?
QSW   Will you transmit on __?  Transmit on _____.
QSX   Will you listen to        I am listening to ______
      ______ on ____?           on ________.
QSY   Shall I change            Change frequency to _____.
QSZ   Shall I send each         Send each word/group twice.
      word/group more           (or _____ times)
      than once?
QTA   Shall I cancel            Cancel number _______.
      number _____?
QTB   Do you agree with my      I do not agree with your word
      word count?               count. I will repeat the
                                first letter or digit of each
                                word or group.
QTC   How many messages do      I have ____ messages to send.
      you have to send?
QTH   What is your location?    My location is _______.
QTR   What is your time?        My time is ______.
QTV   Shall I stand guard       Stand guard for me on _____.
      for you on ______?
QTX   Will you keep your        I will keep my station open
      station open for furthur  for further communication
      communications with me?   with you.
QUA   Have you news of _____?   Here is news of ______.

Several of the above Q codes can have various other items of
information added to them dependingon the context. Such
information might include times, dates, names, or

Some of the above Q codes are commonly used in ways that are
slightly different than the above formal definitions. For
example, QRL? is commonly used to mean: "Is this frequency
in use?". Remember, context matters, common usage can vary,
and amateur radio is a hobby.

ARRL QN Signals For CW Net Use

The following ARRL-defined QN signals are only for use on
NTS CW nets. They are not for use on phone nets. Say it with
words on phone nets. Q signals followed by an '*' are for
use only by the net control station.

QNA*  Answer in prearranged order.
QNB*  Act as a relay between _____ and _____.
QNC   All net stations copy. I have a message for all
      net stations
QND*  This net is directed (controlled by a net control stn).
QNE*  Entire net stand by.
QNF   Net is free (not controlled).
QNG   Take over as net control.
QNH   Your net frequency is high.
QNI   Net stations report in (by net control) or I am
      reporting into the net (by net stations).
QNJ   Can you copy me? ( or can you copy _____?)
QNK*  Transmit message for _____ to ______.
QNL   Your net frequency is too low.
QNM*  You are QRMing the net. Stand by.
QNN   Net control station is ______. or What station is NCS?
QNO   Station is leaving the net.
QNP   Unable to copy you. Unable to copy _____.
QNQ*  Move frequency to _____ and wait for _____ to finish
      handling traffic. Then send hom traffic for ______.
QNR   Answer _____ and receive traffic.
QNS*  Following stations are in the net. (Follow with list)
      or Request list of stations on the net. (If not ncs)
QNT   I request permission to leave the net for ____ minutes.
QNU*  The net has traffic for you. Stand by.
QNV*  Establish contact with _____ on this frequency. If
      successful, move to _____ and send him traffic
      for ______.
QNW   How do I route messages for ____?
QNX   You are excused from the net. (when used by ncs)
      Request to be excused from the net. (when used by
      a net station)
QNY*  Shift to another frequency (or to ______KHz) to clear
      traffic with _____.
QNZ   Zero beat your signal with mine.

The above two Q code lists, along with some other important information for traffic handlers, may be found on the ARRL web site as FSD-218.

Contesting Is Great Communications Training

The essence of public service communications is in getting the message from point A to point B. This sounds simple enough when points A and B are in the same county and you have a local repeater that covers the whole county, but, what if point A is in the New Hampshire and point B is in Georgia? What if point A is in Maryland and Point B is in Idaho? You could use an IRLP repeater or DMR gateway – if the internet is still working. What if it isn’t? Maybe you could use 20 meters. What if it’s 4:00 am in the morning? What band do you use? What mode? Who do you contact?

All of these questions, and many more, need to be considered when setting up an emergency communications system. One thing that is very important in setting up high frequency (HF) emergency communications is in knowing what HF band or bands can provide reliable communications at any particular time for any particular route. This is an advanced communications skill that requires a lot of knowledge and skills that not everyone is familiar with.

This is also one area in which having contesting experience can provide a wealth of information and experience that may prove useful.  There are several main types of contests that are excellent at providing the knowledge and experience required to make intelligent selections of time, routes, and frequencies. The various state qso parties allow you to learn about what frequencies at what times are best to communicate between your home station (assuming that’s where you are operating from) and the other state. For example, I am located in Toledo, Ohio. If I work the Illinois QSO Party, I will have an opportunity discover what times and bands are the best for working a state that is only two states away. I can get the same type of information about the path from here to Florida by working the Florida QSO Party. By working all of the state qso parties, I can build up the practical knowledge on the best way to contact virtually anywhere in the US.

Another type of contest is the ARRL Sweepstakes. In this contest, you have two days to try and work as many parts of the US and Canada as possible. By keeping a log of your contacts, you have a record of how propagation was for that season throughout the two days on various bands.  If you continue to work this kind of contest, over the years you can come to understand the ranges of frequencies and times for many different paths.

The ARRL 160 meter contest is coming up this weekend (Dec 5 through Dec 7). I just became able to work this band for the first time about two months ago. I have a simple antenna and no power amplifier so I doubt I’ll score particularly high. The main thing I want to take away from this years contest is a better understanding of propagation on this, our only medium frequency band. I’ve read some things about the band but after the contest weekend, I’ll have some experience and some new practical knowledge of the operation of this band. I can then make changes to my station over the next year, and can compare the hopefully improved results after making the change.

The set of skills and knowledge required to set up communications over a given route at a given time, day, and season is not simple and not necessarily intuitive. It is, however, possible to improve your skills and knowledge by participating in contests and analysing your performance during those contests. As you acquire more experience, you gain a better, more complete understanding of propagation conditions. This actual, practical, experience greatly enhances what you read or what you’ve heard about a band’s propagation. Besides, you might just find you enjoy the competition aspect of contesting also. Give it a try.

CW Shorthand – Cut Numbers

Have you ever heard someone send a signal report of 5NN? Perhaps you knew it was the same as an RST of 599. Sending the letter ‘N’ for a figure ‘9’ is called sending a cut number. While the  N for 9 is the most common, there is a shortcut or “cut” number for each digit 0 through 9, except for 4 and 6. Another common use of cut numbers is sending a ‘T’ for a ‘0’ as in “am running 1TT watts” meaning 100 watts power.

Another place where cut numbers are common is in large cw contests such as the CQ WW DX contest. The contest exchange is RST and CQ zone number. A report of 599 in CQ zone 12 might be sent as “5NN AU”.

Here are the cut numbers:

Number         Normal Code           Cut Number         Result
  1        di dah dah dah dah      di dah                  A
  2        di di dah dah dah       di di dah               U
  3        di di di dah dah        di di di dah            V
  4        di di di di dah         di di di di dah         4
  5        di di di di dit         dit                     E
  6        dah di di di dit        dah di di di dit        6
  7        dah dah di di dit       dah dah dit             G
  8        dah dah dah di dit      dah di dit              D
  9        dah dah dah dah dit     dah dit                 N
  0        dah dah dah dah dah     dah                     T

ARRL Centennial QSO Party Coming To An End Soon

This is the 100th year since the founding of the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) by Hiram Percy Maxim and others. To celebrate the occasion, the ARRL has been running a Centennial QSO party all year. It started on January first and will end on December 31.

Amateurs can contact ARRL members and collect a certain number of points for the contact. At the end of the year, you’ll have some number of points and if you have enough, you may collect a certificate. The different roles of ARRL members are worth different numbers of points. Every member is worth 1 point. A life member is worth two points. Volunteer examiners are worth 5 points, and so on until you get to the ARRL President, Kay Craigie, N3KN, who is worth 300 points (I worked her 3 times so far – thanks for the 900 points, Kay).

Certificates will be available (for $15.00) for four levels of achievement. The lowest level certificate will be available for those with at least 1000 points. The second level certificate requires at least 3000 points. The third level award is for those with at least 7500 points and the highest level certificate requires at least 15000 points.

You must use the ARRL’s LogBook of The World (LoTW) to accumulate points and only ARRL members are worth points.

There is nearly a month left before the QSO Party ends so there is still time to get started and have some fun. The last day of the QSO Party, December 31, will be a “red badge day”. You can expect many of the the ARRL members who carry red badges, and therefore worth a bunch of points, to be on the air on that day and you can, with some work and some luck, qualify for a certificate by working only this day.

Full details are available at the ARRL web site at http://www.arrl.org/centennial-qso-party. Jump in and have some fun!

CW Training Nets

For anyone interested in handling message traffic via cw, a slow speed cw training net is a very good place to start. These slow speed nets exist to help the new traffic handler to learn the ropes of message traffic handling at slower speeds than are typical for a section net or above. Most slow speed nets run at about ten to twelve words per minute but will slow down for you if you aren’t quite there yet.

I participate in the Ohio Slow Net – a slow speed cw traffic and training net that covers the state of Ohio. This is the slow speed net I’m most familiar with and will use it’s procedures as a model. Most slow speed training nets will be similar. In fact, the Ohio Slow Net (OSN) was modelled after the Maryland Slow Net and sounds quite similar.

So, what does a cw training net look like? Most nets in the National Traffic System run in a similar manner. First is the net callup followed by a net preamble that explains something about the net. This is followed by some instructions and the net control operator is identified. At this point, net members are invited to check into the net and list any traffic they have to pass. Traffic can be either for someone on this net or can be ‘through traffic’ destined for another net. The net control station then sees that the traffic is passed to the proper persons in an efficient manner. The net control may make announcements, stations may have words with each other, and all net business is taken care of. When the net’s business is complete, the net control thanks the net members and formally dismissed them from the net. The net control station may make one last call for checkins then closes the net. This is the general procedure for many traffic nets.

The following is an example of how a session of the slow net might run:



03        NCS:        QNA BN TX K

04        W8AA:    DE W8AA GE JOHN VOL BN TX QRU

05        NCS:        GE DAVE W8AA TU BN TX <AS>

06        NCS:        OSN OSN QNI K

07        K8BB:      B

08        NCS:        B

09        K8BB:      DE K8BB GE JOHN QTC K8DD 1 K

10        NCS:         K8BB GE BOB R <AS>

11        N8CC:      C

12        NCS:         C

13        N8CC:      DE N8CC GE JOHN QRU

14        NCS:         GE TOM N8CC <AS>

15        K8DD:       K

16         NCS:         K

17         K8DD:       DE K8DD GE JOHN QRU

18          NCS:         GE JIM K8DD QNU <AS>

19          NCS:         OSN OSN QNI K

20          NCS:         K8DD

21          K8DD:       HR

22           NCS:         ES K8BB

23           K8BB:       HR

24           NCS:         UP 3 UP 3 FOR QTC K8DD 1 THEN BOTH QNX WID TNX K

25           K8DD:       G 73 DE K8DD

26            K8BB:       G 73 DE K8BB

27            NCS:          OSN OSN QNI K

28            NCS:          W8AA

29            W8AA:       HR

30            NCS:           TU BN TX ES QNI NW QRU QNX 73 K

31            W8AA:        GE ES 73 DE W8AA

32            NCS:           N8CC

33            N8CC:        HR

34            NCS:           TNX QNI NW QRU QNX 73 K

35            N8CC:         GE JOHN 73 DE N8CC

36             NCS:          OSN OSN LAST CALL QNI K

37             NCS:          OSN OSN NW QNF DE W8NCS

Wow! If you are new to the world of cw and traffic nets, it may look awfully confusing. There is, however, a lot of business going on here. In line 01, the net control station (NCS) asks if the frequency is in use [QRL?]. Not hearing any reply, NCS continues with the net call up [CQ OSN CQ OSN]. NCS follows the callup with the net preamble [OHIO SLOW NET PART OF NTS OHIO SECTION  ALL ARE WELCOME].

NCS continues with line 02. After another net call up [OSN OSN], NCS sends the Q-Signal QND. This tells the net that it is a formal, directed net and all communications must go through the net control. This is followed by a request to zero-beat your signal with the net control’s signal so all net members are on the same frequency [PSE QNZ VVV VVV]. The QNN signal tells all the net members who the net contol station is [QNN W8NCS JOHN IN DAYTON]. Even though this is a formal net, we can all be friendly and on a first name basis.

In line 03, the NCS asks for the Buckeye Net (BN) transmit liaison station to check in. In the OSN, the Buckeye Net transmit liaison is a volunteer. In higher level nets, the liaison stations are assigned. The Q-Signal QNA asks stations to check in in a prearranged order. Since the OSN is a training net, most of the traffic goes either to the net manager or to the Buckeye Net for eventual distribution elsewhere.

In line 04, station W8AA identifies itself [DE W8AA], says good evening to the NCS [GE JOHN], volunteers to be the Buckeye Net transmit liaison [VOL BN TX], and finally says he has no message traffic [QRU]. You are probably getting the idea that abbreviations are important on a cw net – and you would be right!

In line 05, the NCS welcomes W8AA to the net, thanks him for volunteering, and asks him to stand by using the prosign <AS>. In line 06, the NCS continues and asks for any checkins [QNI].

In line 07, someone transmits the letter B. This is called a ‘sine’. A sine is just a shorthand way to get the NCS’s attention in a quick and easy way. The NCS sends the same sine back in line 08. This is the NCS’s way of letting the sender know he heard him and to go ahead and check in.

In line 08, the station K8BB identifies himself [DE K8BB] Note – the DE is the French word for ‘from’. Ham radio is a truly international hobby. He then says hello [GE JOHN]. The GE is short for good evening. Then he tells net control that he has one piece of formal message traffic for station K8DD [QTC K8DD 1]. He finishes by sending ‘K’ which is shorthand for “I’m done talking, it’s your turn to talk”. In line 10, the NCS acknowledges K8BB [K8BB GE BOB], acknowledges Bob’s traffic [R], and asks Bob to stand bu [<AS>].

In lines 11 – 14, N8CC checks in and tells the NCS that he does not have any formal message traffic [QRU], and is acknowledged by the NCS.

In lines 15 – 17, K8DD checks in and tells the NCS that he has no formal traffic. In line 18, the NCS checks him in and tells him that the net has traffic for him [QNU] and that he should stand by.

In line 19, NCS asks for more checkins [QNI].

Upon hearing no more checkins, the NCS , in line 20, calls K8DD, who has a message waiting for him and waits for K8DD to answer. In line 21, K8DD answers  “I’m here” [HR].

In line 22 the NCS checks that K8BB, who has a message for K8DD, is still here [ES K8BB]. Note – the ‘ES’ is French for “and”. K8BB is still here so in line 23 he tells the NCS that he’s here [HR].

Line 24 is a big one with lot’s of information. In this line, the NCS tells these two stations to move up 3 kilohertz [UP 3 UP 3] and that they should pass the one piece of traffic k8DD [FOR QTC K8DD 1] and when they are finished with the traffic, they should both check out of the net [THEN BOTH QNX] and to go with the thanks of the NCS [WID TNX].

In line 25, K8DD, the receiving station tells the NCS that he is going to the new frequency [G] then says a friendly goodbye to the NCS [73] then identifies his station because this is his last transmission on this net [DE K8DD]. In line 26, K8BB does the same as K8DD and they both move up 3KHz to pass the traffic, say thanks and goodbybe to each other , then go on about their business. When they finish the traffic, they are out of the net.

In line 27, the net control station asks if there are any more checkins [QNI].

In line 28, the NCS calls N8AA. N8AA answers in line 29.

In line 30, the NCS thanks N8AA for volunteering to be the Buckeye Net Transmit liaison [TU BN TX] and for checking in [ES QNI] and that now the net has nothing more for him [NW QRU], that he is checked out [QNX], and best wishes [73]. The NCS is done talking to N8AA [K].

In line 31, N8AA replies “good evening and best wishes” [GE ES 73], then identifies [DE W8AA], and is out of the net.

In lines 33-35, N8CC is checked out.

In line 36, the NCS makes a last call for check ins and in line 37, the NCS tells everyone that the net is no longer formal and directed but is now free for anyone to jump in and talk [QNF] and identifies his station since this was his last transmission.

Whew! Even a net without a lot of traffic has a lot going on. As the amount of traffic increases and the number of places the traffic is going to increases, the net can become somewhat more complicated. People can be sent up or down to several different frequencies, there can be liaisons to several nets, some members may go and be checked out while some may be sent off frequency, come back, and be sent to another frequency!.

At any rate, most slow speed cw training nets have little traffic and are not so complicated. Mistakes are made and corrected. Everyone learns something and gets to be better traffic handlers. Most of the participants on the Ohio Slow Net are Extra Class amateurs with many years of experience. Most of them are active on local FM voice nets, on the voice and CW section nets, and/or the Eighth Region Net and Eastern Area Net. Although most aren’t beginners, they hang around because they are interested in training newcomers and in encouraging them to continue improving their traffic handling skills. Besides, we all have fun and enjoy each other’s company.

If you have any interest in CW traffic handling, check out your Slow Speed CW training net. It should be a good experience.