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Frequently Asked Questions - FAQs

... and other common terms:

What does that mean?

Did you hear something, a word or phrase, acronym, abbreviation or amateur radio term you don't understand. This link takes you to a website that has a really long list of words, and that was just the A's! There is lots of stuff on this site, even a New Hams section.

This resource comes to our attention thanks to Mike, VE3FFK.

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How Often Should I Give My Callsign

Best practise for identifying your station is to give your callsign when you initiate your transmission ie when you call CQ or announce your station on a repeater; then regularly during the conversation and again when you end the contact.

But, how often is regularly? If you think about it for a minute you will realize that you are going to give your callsign far more often than you need in order to satisfy the regulations.

VE3HYS back to net
VA3EGY over to you Bill
VA3TXL that's a really good point Dave ....

Don't worry to much about this one. If you are at a public service event you might find that you have been assigned a tactical callsign such as finish line. You can always say "VE3RXN at the finish line".

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What to Buy (or not to buy)

Your First Radio - Your first radio will most often be a handheld transceiver (HT). The majority of hams buy one of these first, they are less expensive, require no installation and come complete with a battery, charger and antenna, so you are 'on the air' as soon as you open the box! But what brand/make/model/type to buy. There are a myriad of choices. Our suggestion would be to talk to other hams about what they like and dislike about their HT and ask them about their bias ... do they love the traditional (four or five) manufacturers or do they like the value (ie low cost) of the Chinese manufacturers. Are they frustrated by a particular model that doesn't do the thing they want or that doesn't do it easily?

Features to look for:

  • A tone board to produce CTCSS tones.
  • Dual band - 2m and 70 cm or just 2m band.
  • Good battery capacity say 1700mAh and above, ideally 3100mAh.
  • Something that you can get reasonably priced replacement batteries for.
  • All HTs will have FM analogue but consider a radio with a digital mode like D-STAR, C4FM or DMR.

What not to buy. Our list of things to avoid is fairly short:

  • An old clunky HT with Nickel Cadmium or AA batteries.
  • A UHF only HT. There are not as many repeaters and less traffic on UHF. Buy a dual band 2m and 70 cm radio or a 2m band only.

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Signal Report or R-S-T

The signal report is one of the most commonly asked for reports and is made up of two parts for a phone (voice) contact (R-S) and three parts for Morse code or CW (R-S-T). The parts of the report are:

Readability - R - Readability is a qualitative assessment of how easy or difficult it is to correctly copy the information being sent and is graded from 1 to 5 as follows:

1. Unreadable
2. Barely readable, occasional words distinguishable
3. Readable with considerable difficulty
4. Readable with practically no difficulty
5. Perfectly readable

Signal - S - Signal Strength is a numerical assessment of how powerful the received signal is at the receiving location and is read from the radio's S meter or can be estimated if your radio does not have a meter (eg some HTs).

When operating through a repeater, remember that the audio and signal are actually from the repeater to you and are not a reflection of the signal that the other person is transmitting. What you can report is that the other station's transmission is reaching the repeater and that the audio is clear or otherwise. You could also report the quality of the signal is relation to others that are using the repeater.

Tone - T - The T stands for "Tone" and is measured on a scale of 1 to 9.

Tone only pertains to Morse code and other digital transmission modes and is therefore omitted during voice operations.

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Types of Transceiver, Radio or Rig

Handheld Transceiver (HT)
sometimes known as a handie-talkie. Normally battery powered with an attached short antenna.
Mobile radio
Usually designed to be mounted in a vehicle and powered from the vehicle battery but often used in a fixed location too such as a shack with a power supply.
Base station
Often a larger, multi-band radio better suited to being used on a table or desk rather than mounted in a vehicle, but could also be hand carried out to a park table for portable work.
Portable or QRP rig
Usually a low powered multi-band radio sometimes with an internal battery but can be used with a separate battery when operating portable such as in a park or carried to a summit to operate SOTA.

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Standing Wave Ratio (SWR)

Voltage Standing Wave Ratio, VSWR, is often shortened to SWR.

There are two standing waves. The good one which is found on the radiating portion of your antenna and the bad one found on your feed line. The SWR or VSWR on your feedline can be measured easily by most people with some fairly simple gear. I'm not sure what you would need to actually measure the Standing Wave on the antenna so we are going focus on the one you can measure and thus the one that everyone talks about.

First thing to define is VSWR. It's a condition that exists when the feedline impedance is not matched to the antenna impedance. It causes voltage standing waves to appear on the feedline as the RF energy is reflected back towards the transmitter. At certain points along the cable there will be a higher voltage that appears to be in a fixed position. This is because it is being reflected in quarterwave length intervals. Depending on the power and the energy reflected the voltage could be high enough to cause an arc across the dielectric.

Most radios will start to cut back the forward power about the time they see a 1.5:1 to 1.7:1 Voltage Standing Wave Ratio thus protecting the final transistors.

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Operating Modes

FM - Frequency Modulation
AM - Amplitude Modulation
SSB (USB and LSB) - Single Side Band (Upper Side Band, 20 m and up, and Lower Side Band, all bands below 20 m)
CW - Continuous Wave sometimes called Morse Code
DV - Digital Voice such as Digital Mobile Radio (DMR), DStar, C4FM and FreeDV.
Digital Data - Digital Data modes such as PSK, RTTY, Olivia, FT-8 etc.
SSTV - Slow Scan TV is a mode where operators exchange digital images (still pictures rather than video or what we would call TV). There are many modes within SSTV such as Robot36, Scotty 1 and 2, PD120 etc.
RTTY - Radio Teletype, old style method of keyboard to keyboard operation. Now done in software
ATV - Fast Scan Television, found in bands starting at 70 cm and going up. Full motion video plus audio

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Mobile Installation

Everyone wants to operate from somewhere other than their primary shack once in awhile. Sometimes you might be looking to sit at a check point as part of a public service event or maybe you travel a lot and want to be able to "work the bands" while you are on the road, water, bike, snow shoes, etc. The first thing you need to do is decide which radio you are going to use. Maybe its a handheld you will mount on your bicycle handlebars and use a speaker mic clipped to your shirt. If you are in a car with your HT, you might want to put an antenna on the roof or a fender. There are all sorts of different mounting styles from magnetic to clip on to drill a hole. Once you have a path into the vehicle then you will want to put a suitable jumper between the coax from the antenna and the radio if you have a delicate connector on the radio. It just acts as a shock absorber.

Depending on the hike you are doing you may just take an HT with you. On the other hand you might have a back pack with a portable radio, battery and antenna system. Maybe your plan is to hang out on a hill top for a couple of days while you camp. Don't forget to bring the food and tent.

Maybe you want more power in your mobile world. Now you are looking to run wires to somewhere in the car electrical system so that you can tap into the 12 volt battery. The more current the radio uses the greater the need to size the wires accordingly. Don't forget to put in a fuse. When I'm sitting at a checkpoint I run cables to the battery terminals. One does have to remember to start the car occassionally to make sure you don't flatten the battery.

Where do you mount your radio? These days many radios let you mount the control head near you and the rest of the radio anywhere you want. Some people will take a Dollar Store cutting board and mount the radio and mic clip on the board. Now they have a handle to carry the radio and they can easily move if from one car to another.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. don't forget to make sure the car electrical system is the same voltage as your radio if you are going to tie into it.

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Operating your Amateur Radio Equipment while Driving

Distracted driving regulations have been introduced for very good reason ... distracted driving is the number one cause of collisions. In Ontario there is an exception from the distracted driving regulations for operating amateur radio equipment while driving. You can read about this here: and the actual regulations are available here:


Exemption for amateur radio operators 13. (1) Drivers who hold a valid radio operator certificate issued under the Radiocommunication Act (Canada) may drive a motor vehicle on a highway while holding or using a two-way radio. O. Reg. 366/09, s.13 (1), O. Reg. 253/12, s. 3 (1). (2) Revoked: O. Reg. 18/20, s. 5.

Note: Para (2) above states that O. Reg. 18/20, s. 5. was revoked, this was the time limit imposed on the temporary exemption while further study was conducted, so it was only that temporary time limit that was revoked, not the actual regulation.

It is recommended that you keep a copy of the regulations in your vehicle and are familiar with the section that gives us an exemption as many Police officers are not aware. You should also keep a copy of your Certificate of Proficiency in Amateur Radio with you.

Each province and indeed country has its own regulations for distracted driving, so make sure to check those before operating your radio equipment outside of Ontario.

Back to top and other scary sources of information (Facebook, etc.)

There are so many sources of information, it will likely be overwhelming! There are numerous websites, Facebook groups, groups on (which has all but replaced Yahoo and Google groups), video bloggers on Youtube etc etc. Here are a few of our suggestions:

We recommend that you cross check information using a number of different sources, so that you have the best likelihood of getting correct information.

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eHam reviews

One of the best sources of real user review is eHam. If you are researching a new piece of kit, it is always worth while browsing the reviews posted by hams on eHam. It is often fastest to put a search term eg "eham icom 7300" directly into your favourite internet search engine. You can also browse to their webpage at:

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Where to buy - Ham Radio stores Canada/US/Amazon/eBay/Kijiji/ONTARS/Clubs

Here's a list of our favourite bricks and mortar and online stores:

There are limited number of amateur radio stores in Canada, all offer shipping:

The US is well served with chains and individual stores, here are a selection:

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Digital Data modes (FT-8, RTTY etc), Winlink global radio email

Hams have been connecting their PCs to their radios for years, but software development has kept up with the times and there are now many digital data modes that are used in place of voice or Morse code to send messages back and forth. Sometimes this can be pre-determined messages as used in the FT-4 and FT-8 modes of the WSJT-X software ( or free text keyboard to keyboard messaging like VarAC ( or JS8Call ( Other modes such as RTTY (the old radio teletype); Olivia; PSK and even weatherfax can be accessed through software called fldigi ( Each different mode and software programme has advantages and disadvantages such as the data rate and the low signal performance. Hams even have the ability to send email from radio to radio and the system is linked to the internet, so emails can be delivered to any regular internet email address. If the internet is not available, emails can be relayed by amateur stations until they reach their destination or to an area that does have internet service. The most popular system is Winlink Global Radio Email ( The software is free to download and use, but if you plan to use it regularly you should consider getting a licence as the funds support the system. Winlink is regularly used for Emergency Communications (EmComm) such as when tornados or hurricanes have destroyed infrastructure for cell phones, landlines and internet.

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Awards for contacts

Not yet written, check back later or send us an email to remind us to add some detail.

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Amateur Radio contesting, sometimes called radio sport, is an organised event where amateur radio operators compete against each other (usually from their home station or a contest shack) to achieve the highest number of points, usually calculated by multiplying the total number of contacts (or QSOs) made, by the number of multipliers. Multipliers are often the number of different countries, or US states/Canadian provinces that are contacted, but are different for each contest. There are often three power levels: QRP (5 Watts), low power up to 100W and high power up to the legal maximum for your country. Operating times are set by each contest, they are often 24 to 48 hours over a weekend, but some shorter contests called sprints can be as short as 30 minutes.

One of the favourite contests is the RAC Canada Day contest, because it brings out many Canadian stations that are not often heard. That applies to many other world wide contests too, as there are often operators taking part from countries that are not frequently heard, so itís a great way to expand your country count in your log.

Check out the Contest Calendar at: And a couple of popular contests are the RAC Canada Day contest and Winter Contest:

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Operating Mobile, Portable and/or outside of your home Province/Territory

Hams are able to operate their radio equipment all across Canada however there are some additional requirements that are followed by convention.

When you operate portable or mobile in Canada (ie away from your registered station address) there is no regulation requiring you to add "mobile" or "portable" to your callsign when you identify your station, however it is common practise to do that.

Similarly when you operate in Canada outside of your home callsign Province/Territory it is common practise to add the callsign prefix of the Province/Territory that you are in after your own callsign, for example "This is VE3ABC portable VE2" or "This is VA3XYZ mobile VE9".

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Operating Outside of Canada

There are many countries worldwide that allow Canadian amateurs to operate under a reciprocal licensing arrangements, however the local licensing laws of the location that you are operating from must be followed. The reciprocal arrangements and requirements do change so it is important to use authoritative sources of information. A good place to start would be the RAC web page at:

Top of that list would be the USA where a full reciprocal arrangement is in place such that you can operate in the USA without the need for any additional examination, certificates or license. You must of course abide by US regulations, the two main ones being to identify your station at least every 10 minutes and to follow the US band plan with respect to frequency band, mode and transmit power. Make sure you check out the rules before you operate outside of Canada. There is a small disconnect in the rules applied by RAC and the ARRL. When operating in the US the ARRL requires you to add the local call area as a prefix to your callsign such as W4/VE3ABC, but often on VHF/UHF the call area is added as a suffix following the mobile or portable, for example "This is VE3ABC portable W5" or "This is VA3XYZ mobile W2". When using CW or digital modes on HF use "W8/VE3XYZ" since international stations will expect the physical location first ie the US call area. US amateurs operating in Canada should follow the RAC guide to add a Canadian call area as a suffix eg K8HI/VE3 (References: and

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Page last modified on October 24, 2023, at 07:53 PM