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Amateur radio Q Signals ~ Lesson 5

Much information can be exchanged quickly using Q signals that mean the same thing in every language, when using Morse code to ommunicate. Q signals consist of three-letter codes that begin with the letter Q, and may make a statement, or if followed by a question mark, ask a question. Can you imagine how much time is saved by asking "QTH?" instead of "What is your location?" Not to mention the wear and tear on the key contacts, with an international translation built-in, to boot!

LESSON 5 — Ham Radio Q Signals

There is standard information that gets sent every day by everybody at one time or another. Amateur operators break down cultural and language barriers through communication while using standardized shorthand. Q signals are one of the tools used to convey standard phrases in any language. You and the other chap do not need to be able to speak a common language, and on CW you each do not have to deal with a foreign accent as might be the case in speech. A Q signal which means, "What time is it?" in your language means the same thing in any language. The question may be as simple as "QTR?" and the response can be as simple as "QTR 2230 UTC."

Shorthand for common phrases, examples

Q signals come as a question if followed by a "?" and are a statement or response if not. The Q signal's message can be refined with additional pieces of relevant information:

  • QRL ~ Commonly used to ask if the frequency is in use?/The frequency is in use.
  • QRM ~ Are you troubled by interference?/I am receiving interference (from ____) (Refers to interference from other signals on or near the frequency.)
  • QRN ~ Is there static on your end?/I am troubled with static. (Refers to electrical interference or lightning crashes and the like.)
  • QSL ~ Please acknowledge/I acknowledge.
  • QSB ~ Is my signal fading?/Your signal is fading.
  • QSY ~ Shall I change frequency (to ___ kHz|up|down?/Please change frequency (to ___ kHz|up|down). (Example: QSY UP 5.)/
  • QTH ~ What is your location?/My location is ____.

For a list of Q signals, here is a recently-added handout, if you haven't already downloaded it: Q Signals PDF Credit goes to: bclingan.org Also this site lists only the Q signals that pertain to amateur radio, at Ham Radio Q-Codes: (www.qsl.net/w5www/qcode.html)

Q signals go hand-in-hand with common abbreviations used in CW communications, which can be found toward the end of this handout: Morse Alphabet cheat sheet (Rev 1) and Timing plus RST Signal Reporting System and common CW abbreviations There are parallels between Morse shorthand and instant messaging shorthand. IM shorthand is easy to type, whereas Morse shorthand is quicker to send, with a few exceptions.

More and more people will be already familiar with texting and instant-messaging shorthand as they enter the hobby, so surely there will be more and more of it showing up on CW.

Next page: Minimum character set needed for good CW operation