REPEATER OPERATING PRACTICES

Newcomers should take the time to read the information below to become familiar with operating practices on amateur radio repeaters.  This information is applicable to most any repeater, not only those on this web site.

Starting a Conversation - Monitoring Call

If the repeater is inactive and you want to start a conversation with any station, simply state your callsign followed by "listening" or "monitoring".  If station is listening and wants to converse, they will respond with their callsign.

Do not call CQ on a repeater to start a conversation.  There is no need to repeat the "listening" message over and over as one might do when calling CQ on HF – once every few minutes is sufficient.  Avoid using bad sci-fi movie lines like "is anybody out there?".   Be sure to actually say "listening" or "monitoring" after your callsign, as stating your callsign alone is confusing, if not meaningless, as stations who may be listening will not know if you are monitoring for calls, or if you were making a test transmission, or if perhaps they missed the callsign of the party you were calling. 

Stating that you are "listening" or "monitoring" does not mean that you are listening to somebody else's conversation already in progress, and neither term should ever be interjected into an ongoing conversation.  There is no reason to announce that you are listening to other stations' communications.

Starting a Conversation - Directed Call

A directed call is where one station calls another specific station, such as "N3XYZ, K3ABC", or "N3XYZ from K3ABC". In this example, K3ABC is the station attempting to contact N3XYZ.  A directed call is not an invitation for anyone other than the called station to return the call. If the called station does not answer the call, the calling station may clear off by saying "K3ABC clear", or they may clear and listen for other calls by saying "K3ABC clear and listening". The "and listening" or "and monitoring" implies they will remain on frequency to converse with anyone else who might be interested in conversing in the same manner as a Monitoring Call.

Joining a Conversation
 

If you would like to join a conversation in progress, simply state your callsign during the courtesy tone interval after another station unkeys.  This is one of the reasons for having a courtesy tone: to afford other stations the courtesy to break in.  One of the other stations, typically the station that was about to begin his or her transmission, will invite you to join the discussion, either before making his or her own transmission or after it.  They may refer to you, the new station, as "the breaking station" when inviting you to join.

Do not break into a conversation unless you have something relevant to add to the current topic of discussion.  Interrupting a conversion is no more polite on a repeater than it is in person, especially when there is an intellectual discussion in progress, or if the conversation is among close friends.  Although not generally polite nor encouraged during casual conversation, if there are communications occurring that are related to an emergency, or when completing a communication rapidly is necessary, the breaking station may be ignored until the current communications are completed, and in such cases, the breaking station should not repeatedly attempt to break in.

Do not use the term "break" to join into a conversation.  The word "break" is reserved for emergency communications and priority traffic only.

Emergency and Priority Traffic

If there is a conversation in progress and you need to make a call to pass priority or emergency traffic, break in by using with the word "break" or "break for emergency traffic" during the courtesy tone interval.  All stations should give immediate priority to any station with emergency traffic.

Interjecting a Comment


If you have been listening to a conversation and you want to make a brief comment (typically a single transmission) relevant to the conversation, but you cannot join into the conversation for any appreciable length of time, you should break into the conversation during the courtesy tone interval by stating your callsign followed by "comment" or "with a comment."  Once another station has acknowledged you and invited you to make your comment, proceed do so followed by turning it back over to the station who invited you to comment, or in the case of a roundtable, to the next person in rotation,  and clear your station by stating your callsign.  As in the case of joining a conversation, be mindful when contemplating whether or not to break into a conversation to interject a comment. 

Breaking In to Make a Call

If you need to make a directed call to another station but there is already a conversion in progress and you cannot wait until it has finished, break into the conversation during the courtesy tone interval by stating "call please" followed by your callsign.  One of the stations will allow you to make your call, using the same convention described in the Directed Call section earlier.

If the station you are calling does not immediately respond, simply clear your station.  If the station you are calling returns your call, you should quickly pass traffic to them and relinquish the repeater back to the stations who were in conversation.  If you need to speak with the party you called for any significant length of time, perhaps more than 15 seconds, ask the other party to either wait until the current conversation has ended and the other stations have cleared, or ask them to move to another repeater or simplex frequency to continue the conversation.  Remember to thank the other stations for letting you in, and identify when you clear, whether or not the party you were calling responded.

Once again, do not use the term "break" unless it is an emergency. 

Station Identification

By FCC regulation, stations must identify at 10 minute intervals and at the end of the communication.  It is considered good practice to identify at the start of each communication as well, as without identifying at the beginning, other stations will not know who you are, or they may assume your unidentified transmission was accidental or was made by unlicensed operator.

During the course of a conversation, there is no need to identify each time you make a transmission, only once every ten minutes.  The repeater identifies itself at least once every ten minutes, so the repeater ID can be used as a rough guide for timing your station identification.  However, if there are multiple stations in conversation, be mindful of how long it will be before you have an opportunity to identify again.  While identifying excessively is poor practice and can quickly become irritating to those listening, it is better to be safe than sorry with regard to ensuring that you identify at least once every ten minutes.  In the interest of expediency, avoid using phonetics when identifying at ten-minute intervals unless there has been a misinterpretation of your callsign by another station that warrants correction.

When stating the callsign of one or more other stations in addition to giving your own callsign, such as when making a directed call or during the course of a conversation, your callsign is always said last. "N3XYZ, K3ABC" means that K3ABC is calling N3XYZ, not the other way around.  
 

Despite there being no legal requirement to identify the other station(s)  that you are conversing with, common courtesy dictates that you should acknowledge and remember the name and callsign of the stations you talk to.  Forgetting the name or callsign of the person you are speaking to is just as impolite on the radio as it is in person.  It is extremely disrespectful to make flippant comments like "NRQ3X5 or whatever your call is" if you fail to remember it.  Instead, you should respectfully apologize for forgetting the station's name or callsign, and after they remind you, be sure to remember and repeat it the next time you make a transmission.  Consider keeping a station log or making notes to keep track of names and callsigns if you find it difficult to remember them.  Recalling names and callsigns becomes second-nature with time and practice, especially when a concerted effort is made to remember them.

When ending a conversation with someone you have just met or who you do not regularly speak to, it is respectfully to say the other station's name and callsign, and thank them for the conversation, in the course of clearing your station such as "enjoyed the discussion Joe, hope to talk to you again. N3XYZ, this is K3ABC, now clear".

If you have any suspicions as to the legitimacy of another station, do not converse with them.  Check the FCC database or QRZ.com to confirm that they are who they say they are, and that they are properly licensed, to the best extent you can.  Communicating with an unlicensed station is a violation unto itself. 

Round Tables and "Turning it Over"

When more than two stations are engaged in conversation, it is referred to as a round table discussion, or simply "round table". As the name implies, a round table conversation follows a specific order from amateur A to amateur B to amateur C... and eventually back to amateur A again to complete the round table.

To maintain the round table order, when a station has finished making a transmission, they "turn it over" to the next station in the sequence, such as by stating "go ahead Joe" before unkeying.  If it is time to identify, the station may do so as part of turning it over to the next station, such as by saying "This is K3ABC, go ahead Joe" or "W3XYZ to take it, this is K3ABC."   When there are multiple stations in a conversation, even if it is not a formal round table with a defined order, it is the responsibility of each station to turn it over to a specific station, otherwise there ends up either being dead silence as nobody knows who should transmit next, or the opposite occurs and several stations end up talking at once.  Ending a transmission and leaving it "up for grabs" as to who should transmit next is poor operating practice.   Likewise, giving one-word responses to questions leads to confusion and "dead air" - when it's your turn, make a full and thoughtful transmission and then turn it over to the next station.

To join a round table that is in progress, simply state your callsign during the courtesy tone interval.  The next station in rotation should acknowledge the new station and either turn it over to them, or let them know what their place is in the rotation, and inform them what station follows them to keep the round table rotation intact.  Remember to introduce yourself by giving your callsign and name when you make your first transmission upon entering the round table.

When participating in a round table conversation, or any conversation in general for that matter, if you are struggling to find something meaningful to contribute, rather than pausing, stumbling to find words, or making small talk to fill time, simply turn it over to the next station.  There is no point in dragging out a conversation that has run its natural course; it is better to end on a high note than waiting until the discussion grinds to an awkward halt.

Limit the Use of Phonetics and Q-Signals

In general, avoid using phonetics on the repeater unless there is a specific reason to do so, such stating or clarifying a callsign under poor signal conditions. When phonetics are necessary, use the standard international phonetic alphabet.  

Q-signals were developed as shorthand Morse code conventions for often-used phrases and questions, and as a means to convey information between stations who do not share a common language.  They are generally not used in phone (voice) communications.  Some Q-signals have become so commonplace in amateur radio that they do get used on phone, including repeaters, from time to time even though shorthand expediency and language barriers are rarely cause for using them.  The use of "QSO" (typically pronounced Q-so) to refer to a conversation, "QTH" as shorthand for "station location", and "QSY" when changing frequency are a few Q-signals which, even though they should be avoided, may be tolerated on some repeaters.

Demonstrations

From time to time, an amateur may want to demonstrate amateur radio to a non-amateur. The typical way to do this is for the station to make an announcement while the repeater is idle, akin to a monitoring call, such as "N3XYZ for a demonstration." Anyone who is listening to the repeater is encouraged to answer.  The station asking for the demo will typically expect to be given basic information by the station responding such as callsign, name, and location.  In some cases, the station giving the demo may ask only for stations in a particular area to respond in order to demonstrate the range of amateur radio communications, or to show repeater coverage in a specific area.


Signal Reports and Testing

If you are unsure how well your transmissions are being received by the repeater, request signal report by stating "K3ABC for a signal report."  Any station that is listening can respond, typically by giving a report on the quality and perceived signal strength of the station's transmission into the repeater.  The RST system for signal reports is generally not used on repeaters;  a simple qualitative report is sufficient, such as "you are full-quieting and your audio is very good", or "you are a bit noisy but fully readable".   

"Quieting" is the condition that occurs in an FM receiver when a signal of sufficient amplitude is present.  As a signal is increased in strength starting at a level below detection, the no-signal noise heard on an FM receiver is progressively "quieted".  At the signal level where the noise ("hiss") becomes inaudible, it is said that the receiver is "fully quieted", or that the transmitting station is "full quieting" into the receiver.  There is no reason to increase transmitter power beyond the point of full quieting, and of course amateur stations must use only the minimum amount of power required.

When a station asks for a signal report, give them an honest report, and be critical of all aspects of their signal including signal strength/quieting, audio level, and audio quality.  Describe any audible anomalies such as hum, buzz, alternator whine, or background noise.  It is meaningless to give an S-meter report on a repeater, and equally pointless to give reports based on arbitrary units or scales such as "you're about 30 percent", or "half noise".


Do not use the repeater as a "target" for aiming your antenna, checking your transmitter power or antenna VSWR, or any other activity that would best be done using a dummy load or on a vacant simplex frequency.  Do not transmit on the repeater input without identifying when testing to see if you can access the repeater.  This is known as "kerchunking" the repeater, and is not only poor practice, but is an FCC violation.  If you need to make a brief test transmission, simply state your callsign followed by "test" or "testing".  

A test transmission is a one-way transmission; it is not intended to be a way to start a conversation or solicit a response.  If you hear another station making a test, do not respond to them unless they specifically ask for a response which is done by requesting a signal report.

Avoid Using Slang

Aside from a limited number of technical and regulatory terms inherent in amateur vernacular, plain conversational English should be used when conversing on a repeater.  Avoid lingo and slang whenever possible, especially citizens band terms.  CB has its own language and style, and so does amateur radio, but the two are decidedly not the same. Many hams can trace their radio roots back to CB, but regardless, lingo should be left on 11 meters.  Operators who use CB terms, or follow conventions and practices typical of CB, will typically be considered a "lid" (poor operator) by others.  If you are unsure what terminology is acceptable on amateur radio versus what is unwelcome lingo, take the safe route by avoiding slang terms and speaking as if you were conversing in person with a new acquaintance. 

Below are a few terms that are discouraged in amateur radio, and when used, typically bring negative attention to the person using them:

  • Personal or Operator.  Amateur radio operators have names, not "personals".  They do not refer to themselves or each other as "operator", such as "Operator Joe here".  

  • On the side.  When an amateur station has completed a communication, they clear their station by identifying with their callsign followed by "clear".  If they will continue to monitor the frequency for other calls, they clear their station by identifying with their callsign followed by "clear and monitoring" or "clear and listening".

  • Comeback.  It is acceptable and polite to say to another station "thank you for returning my call", not "thanks for the comeback".

  • Radio check.  Amateurs ask for a "signal report", not a "radio check."

  • 10-codes should never be used

Mind Your Manners

Repeaters are a large part of amateur radio (ham radio), and ham radio is a respected radio service created with specific federal objectives in mind.  Just because the law defines us as radio amateurs does not mean that we are or should act unprofessionally in our approach to on-air procedures and operations.  Amateur only means we practice our art without pecuniary interest (i.e. we are not paid for what we do, nor may we be).  Common sense and good amateur practice dictate that basic guidelines and etiquette be followed.

When you turn on your rig,  check your volume setting to be sure you can hear any activity on the repeater.   When preparing to use a repeater that appears to be inactive, listen for at least a few seconds before keying up to make your call to ensure the silence you hear is not just a brief is not just a break in an ongoing conversation or net.  It is also good practice to confirm the repeater is inactive by asking  “Is the repeater in use? " followed by your callsign.

When visiting a new repeater, take some time to monitor before jumping in to get a feel for the type of traffic and operating mannerisms of that particular system. Some repeaters are very free-wheeling in that there are people jumping in and out of conversations constantly. Others primarily have directed calls on them and discourage ragchewing.  If published on a web site or elsewhere, read and adhere to the specific rules and policies for a given repeater.  Listen before you speak.  When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Use language that would be suitable for prime-time television, not R rated movies.  Avoid starting or encouraging conflicts on the air. If a topic of conversation starts to draw strong debate, change the subject.  Other radio amateurs, governmental agencies, emergency response units, and even TV and radio stations monitor our frequencies, particularly in times of urgent events and inclement weather. Your comments and behavior are a reflection of not only you as a person, but much more importantly of amateur radio in general.  The public views us as one group, and like many things in life, one bad apple spoils the bunch.      


Malicious Interference

In the event of malicious interference, unidentified transmissions, rude comments, etc.,  do not acknowledge it!  If a conversation is in progress, simply ignore it and continue as if nothing happened.  If the interference escalates to the point where it is impossible to carry on the conversation, simply end the communication and sign off as you normally would.  Do not acknowledge or respond to the interference or unidentified stations in any manner.  Do not discuss instances of interference on the repeater on which it occurred, nor on any another frequency.

Considering that all stations must legally identify, if you hear unidentified transmissions, or suspect that a station is not properly licensed, or is using a fake callsign ("bootlegging"), do not converse with them unless and until you have a way to verify their identity and authorization.  In addition to unlicensed operation itself being illegal, communicating with an unlicensed station is also a violation.

Use Appropriate Power

FCC regulations require that you the minimum power necessary to communicate. However, using the minimum power necessary does not dictate a signal so weak that copy is difficult or the signal is intermittently "in and out" of the repeater receiver as the transmitting station moves or as propagation conditions change.  If someone says that you are noisy, increase power, relocate your antenna, or take whatever measures are necessary to improve your signal.  The quality of your signal is representative of both your station and you as an operator.  Continuing to make transmissions after being told that your signal is poor is inconsiderate. 

Amateur radio manufacturers continue to come up with newer, smaller handheld radios, many with power levels well under a watt.  Many new amateurs start out with a handheld radio as their "first rig".  Although convenient, they are not the most effective radios in terms of performance.  Without a good external antenna, operating a handheld radio indoors or inside a car is going to result in a lot of bad signal reports.  There is simply no substitute for a full-power radio and external antenna when operating mobile.  Indoor antennas at home stations are a compromise at best; a small antenna mounted as high as possible outdoors is almost always better than a larger antenna mounted indoors.

Timers, Tones, and Delays

The operation of most of repeaters is supervised by a microprocessor-based repeater controller.  The controller provides a number of functions such as activating the repeater transmitter when a valid signal is present on the repeater receiver, periodically identifying the repeater station by CW or speech, and limiting the duration of transmissions via a time-out timer.  Users of the repeater need to be cognizant of a few of these functions and how their transmissions have an effect on, or are affected by, the repeater controller.

When a station first keys up to make a transmission through a repeater, there is an inherent delay between the time they activate the push-to-talk (PTT) switch on their radio, and when other stations hear the transmitting station's audio.  When the PTT is activated, there is a delay associated with the user's radio switching from receive mode to transmit mode.  It then takes time for the repeater receiver's squelch to open, and for the PL tone to be decoded, after which time the repeater transmitter is keyed up (if not already active), and the audio gate through the repeater is opened to pass audio from the receiver to the transmitter.  At the receiving station, there is a delay associated with the squelch opening and PL decode acquisition (if used).  In total, from the time the transmitting station keys the mic to the time when audio can actually be heard by the receiving station, the delay is on the order of one second.  As such, when making a transmission on a repeater, key the mic and wait at least a second for before speaking, otherwise the start of your transmission may never be heard.  On linked systems, waiting even longer before speaking is often necessary as the delays incurred across the link paths are cumulative.

Repeaters have time-out timers that limit the maximum duration that a user's transmission will be repeated.  The time limit is programmed by the repeater owner or control operator based on their preferences, and typically ranges between one minute and three minutes.  Should a station make a transmission that exceeds the time-out timer limit, the repeater is put into a disabled state that is often preceded by a controller-generated message indicating that the time-out timer has been exceeded.  After the user who has "timed out" the repeater stops transmitting, the controller will re-enable the repeater, and in most cases, announce again that the time out timer has been exceeded so that the offending station is aware of what transpired while they were transmitting.  Violating the time-out timer is poor practice.  Most modern radios can be programmed to have a time-out timer on their own to prevent timing out the repeater - take advantage of it, not only to avoid timing out repeaters, but also to prevent transmitting unintentionally for an extended period of time such as if the microphone PTT switch is activated accidentally by "sitting on the mic".  While on the subject, a hand-held microphone should be kept on its mic hanger or hang-up clip when not in use to prevent inadvertent activation of the PTT switch.

Most repeaters have a courtesy tone which sounds between user's transmissions.  During the normal course of communications on a repeater, each time a user unkeys (stops transmitting), several sequential events occur  First, there is a period of time, typically on the order of one second, during which the repeater transmits silence.  This is referred to as the courtesy tone delay.  After the courtesy tone delay, the courtesy tone is sent out the repeater transmitter.  The courtesy tone serves several purposes.  First, it notifies all listening stations that the previous station has finished making a transmission, and that the next station to transmit should proceed.  Second, it provides an opportunity for a station not currently participating in the discussion to break in, either to join the conversation or to make a call.  Finally, once the courtesy tone sounds, the time-out timer is reset.  It is imperative that when a user unkeys that the next station to transmit waits for the courtesy tone before making the next transmission, otherwise others will not have an opportunity to break in, and the time-out timer will not be reset.  Not waiting for the courtesy tone to sound before transmitting is referred to as "quick keying"; it is poor operating practice, and typically a violation of the rules of the repeater.

After the courtesy tone sounds, unless another station transmits, there is again a period of silence, typically on the order of several seconds, before the repeater transmitter unkeys or "drops".  This is referred to as the "hang time".  During the hang time is when the next station to transmit should begin his or her transmission.  The purpose of the hang time is to prevent the repeater transmitter from unkeying and rekeying repeatedly during the course of a conversation.  Each time the repeater transmitter keys and unkeys there is additional wear and tear on electromechanical devices such as relays and cooling fans, additional stress to components due to thermal cycling and inrush current, delays that result in the start of the next transmission potentially being "cut off" due to the time it takes for the squelch to open, PL decoder to recognize the signal, and in the case of linked repeater systems, for all of the repeater transmitters to also come back up, etc..  Purposefully waiting until the repeater transmitter drops out before making a transmission defeats the purpose of the hang time and is extremely poor practice.

Don't Wear Out Your Welcome

A repeater provides a finite resource.  With the exception of certain digital voice repeater technologies, a repeater provides only a single communications channel.  In general, open repeaters are made available with the intent that, as a limited resource, it will be used and shared fairly and cooperatively.  Many repeaters have policies or rules that specify how the repeater should be used in terms of the duration of conversations, either at all times or during parts of the day such as during drivetime or evening "prime time" operating hours when repeaters tend to be busiest.  Find out what the repeater's rules and policies are and adhere to them. 

Always be mindful that other stations may be waiting to use the repeater.  Unless there is an emergency, most amateurs tend to patiently wait to use the repeater.  If stations are breaking in to make calls during the course of a lengthy conversation, that should be a strong hint that the current conversation is running long.  Merely leaving a pause for other stations to break in, or even inviting other stations to break in, is not a substitute for limiting the duration of a conversation on a repeater.  Many, if not most, amateurs are too polite to break into a conversation, and may be reluctant to do so even when invited.  Quite simply, the onus is on those in communication to know when to end a conversation due to either its duration or having run its course.  The burden should not be on the stations who are waiting to have to resort to breaking in to get air time.

Unless you own the repeater, or you are a member of the club or group that owns the repeater, you are a guest.   Open repeaters are made available to the general amateur population by the owner as a privilege, not a right.  Monopolizing a repeater, either by regularly engaging in lengthy conversations, or by starting or joining multiple conversations in succession over the course of a short period of time, or frequently or rapidly answering the Monitoring Call of stations without giving others an opportunity to respond are all poor practices.  Unless otherwise expressly permitted, open repeaters should not be used as "hang-outs" by a small number of guests.

A repeater consumes a lot of its owner's time and money.  High-quality repeater equipment comes at an equally high price.  Commercial-grade antennas and feedline are very expensive to purchase, and the cost of installing them on a commercial tower is typically even more.  The initial outlay for a quality repeater installation comprised of commercial-grade equipment with antenna and feedline installed by professional riggers can easily be well into the five-figure range.  There are operating expenses including utilities, site leases, insurance, and repairs.   Building repeaters and keeping them on the air and operating at peak performance takes a lot of dedication, time, expense, money, test equipment, knowledge, and skill.

Even if a repeater is considered “open”, it is still private property.  Your FCC license allows you to operate your own station, but does not convey any right for you to use someone else's station, including their repeater station(s).  As a guest, considering all of the money and effort that has gone into affording you the privilege to use the repeater, it should be obvious that respecting the wishes of the repeater owner, and following the rules and policies of the repeater, is the very least you can do.  If the repeater is owned by a club and you regularly use the repeater, consider becoming a member or making a donation, if for no other reason than to help defray a small portion of the ongoing operating costs.

Control Operators

Control operators are individuals designated or authorized by the owner of the repeater to oversee the operation of the repeater, maintain decorum, enforce rules, and ensure the repeater, as well as its users, company with FCC regulations.  Control operators generally have the final say in what is or is not allowed or appropriate as far as content, language, and operating procedures.  If a control operator makes a comment or suggestion, take it as constructive criticism.  Even if you disagree with what a control operator says or does, you are obligated to respect and follow it, and there is never justification for contesting a control operator on the air.

If a control operator needs to interrupt a conversation, they typically announce themselves with their callsign followed by "control operator" or "control".  When this occurs, users should stand by and allow them to assume control of the repeater, pass messages to one or more stations, or perform control functions.   

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