Ham Radio Codes
Deciphered & Explained

Amateur radio operators use ham radio codes, not to be "secretive", but for the sake of brevity.

This Page Covers
1. "Q" Codes
2. Morse Code
3. "R-S-T" Code

The codes are the ham radio operator's form of "short hand".

Why do we generally want to make short transmissions, preferably less than 30 seconds, certainly less than a minute? Because...

  • First, it is not good etiquette to "hog" the frequency.
  • Second ... we never know if the conditions will hold long enough to "complete" a QSO or exchange!;-)

Codes help us "squeeze" a lot of essential information in a short span of time.

The "Q" Codes

"Q" ham radio codes were devised to abbreviate entire sentences (in CW) that recur often during most ham radio exchanges.

As you listen across amateur radio bands, you will often hear ham radio operators use "Q" codes.

Originally, "Q" codes were meant to shorten (condense) morse code transmissions.

Ham radio operators also use them during voice communications.

Here are a few "Q" code examples you will hear often.

  • QSY - change frequency.
  • QTH - station location.
  • QSO - a contact (in progress or completed) between two ham radio stations.
  • QSL - acknowledgement or confirmation; also means a QSL card to confirm a QSO.

The Morse Code

CW (continuous wave signal) will often get through when voice communication is not possible due to noise and static.

Each word, or contraction thereof, is spelled out, one letter at a time. Each letter, number and punctuation mark has its specific code, a sequence of "dots" and "dashes".

For example, the following sequence of (groups of) "dots" and "dashes", inviting any ham radio station to respond to my call, will be sent out like this in CW:

_ . _ .    _ _ . _    _ . .    .    . . . _    .    . . _ _ _    _ . .    . _ _ .    .

Anyone listening, and able to "read" morse code, will hear
"CQ de VE2DPE".

The "R-S-T" Code

The letters R-S-T ham radio codes stand for: Readability, Signal strength and CW Tone.

Ham radio operators exchange "RST" signal evaluation reports when they communicate in CW (morse code).

For example, if the other ham station I am in contact with sends me a "RST 448" report, it means that my signal is:

  • Readability = Readable with practically no difficulty.
  • Signal Strength = Fair.
  • Tone quality = Good D.C. note. Just a trace of ripple.

Ham radio operators, communicating by voice, will use the "RS" portion of the code to exchange signal reports.

When I get a "5 by 8" signal report, during a contact in SSB, it means that:

  • My signal is perfectly readable.
  • My signal is strong.

Return To Ham Radio Operations
Ham Radio Codes

Author: Claude Jollet - VE2DPE

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If you have a question, a comment or a topic you would like me to cover, please do not hesitate to ask here.

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