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Blog - Repeater Etiquette 101

Whether you are a DX Contesting Wiz or a Storm-Spotting Virtuoso, local repeater work can help cut your ham teeth. It will sharpen your communication skills and get you over the nerves, but there are etiquette rules for playing nice with others that should be followed, and there are a few FCC rules that MUST be followed.

Let’s start with the FCC, since they have the power to pull that license you worked so hard to earn. Actually, the FCC regulations are really the easiest to follow. For the most part, they have one rule and one rule only. You *must* identify, and by identify, that means, say your callsign. Technically the rule says: “You must identify every ten minutes and at the end of your transmission.” And here’s an interesting thing to note: repeaters follow the same rules. They must identify every ten minutes, as well.

By default, you will identify at the beginning of the conversation because you will speak your callsign to let others know you’re out there listening. After that, if you make it a habit to identify immediately after the repeater identifies, you’ve got the ten minute rule covered. And lastly, close your conversation with your callsign.

Simple enough, right? Wrong. If it were that easy, there would be no such thing as “kerchunking”. Kerchunking is that incredibly annoying, and OH YES, ILLEGAL practice of hitting the PTT and not putting your callsign out there.

A short side-story. A new ham friend of mine was telling me what repeaters he could hit from his backyard on his new HT. Since we had *just* had the conversation about his mic fright and how he had not had his first conversation yet, I had to ask. “So, you’ve been scoping out which repeaters you can hit, and you still haven’t had your first QSO? Please, please, please tell me you are not kerchunking!” Oh, yeah, he was busted. He was lucky it was me that did it, too. So, be aware, if you’ve made this a habit, it’s illegal. And did I mention annoying?

Also, while there are maximum power outputs for hams, the FCC expects you to transmit on the lowest power possible to get the job accomplished. And while the FCC would prefer it, the *better* point is… if you run your radio on high power a lot, you will eventually burn it up.

Okay, that’s enough of the FCC stuff. Let’s talk about Ham Repeater Etiquette.

Etiquette rule number one. Avoid controversial topics. The airways are not an excuse to get on your soapbox. What seems perfectly logical and normal to you, may be completely offensive to others. Not to mention… it’s just plain awkward. In this day and age of political correctness, it probably still needs to be said. Avoid talk of religion, politics or anything else that may be deemed offensive. So dismount that soapbox and find another, safer topic that is a conversation starter and not a conversation ender.

Etiquette rule number two. Always listen before you speak! When you are comfortable that you are not going to interrupt any conversations, *then* hit the push to talk, *then* count to two while you breath in, *then* identify.

Etiquette rule number three. Get in the habit of looking down at your screen every now and then. When you hit the PTT the first meter you will encounter is the output power level meter. Keep an eye on this one since you want to use the least power possible to get the job done.

As you let off the PTT, the second meter you will encounter reflects the squelch tail. The squelch tail is a burst of white noise from the repeater’s receiver. The significance is, it means the repeater is hanging “open” just in case something else is said. During a conversation, if you key up before the squelch tail ends the first part of your sentence will be lost so it pay to wait.

When you are listening to an incoming transmission on a repeater, the third meter you will encounter is the output signal of the repeater. This `will tell you how well your receiver is picking up the repeater. If you’re having trouble hearing, this may indicate you need to change locations (if you’re on an HT) or that you need to bump up the power level. (fact check this)

Etiquette rule number four. There are some repeaters that are not open for rag-chewing, but they are very few and far between. Most club repeaters are open to everyone, club member or not. But when in doubt, check out the repeater book ap.

Etiquette rule number five. Multi-party conversations are possible, but you have to leave a little space in between transmissions to allow for someone to join the conversation. Entry into a 3-way conversation is like entering into double-dutch jump rope. Timing is everything. After you’re in, keeping the conversation going becomes a Round Robin. Whoever you came in behind is always going to be the transmitting station in front of you. And whoever came behind you will always be behind you. It’s a neat system, really, as long as you can remember who you’re behind.

Etiquette rule number six. Repeaters typically time out after about three minutes, but it can be shorter, so be careful. Time out means that after a certain amount of time, the repeater will stop transmitting to avoid overheating and allow for other traffic if someone is being particularly long-winded. So don’t be *that person* who times out the repeater. The easiest way to avoid timing out a repeater is to be a good neighbor and not hog the conversation. During a net, you will often hear the net control operator or presenter say, “Pause to rest” or “reset”. All that entails is letting off the PTT and resetting the repeater’s timer back to zero.

Etiquette rule number seven. Avoid any terminology that smacks of CB lingo. One thing I’ve found is hams are a little snobby when it comes to their geek speak. Some will go so far as to not answer you if you offend their ears with a “ten four”. Actually, I get it. I got a phone call from a friend one day who knew I was ham. She asked, “You got your ears on?” I cringed. “I’m not listening to the radio, if that’s what you’re driving at.” Get this. She actually wanted a traffic report because apparently I-35S was shut down and of course, I must know something about it since I talk to truckers on the radio. I called the TXDOT 1-800 number and got her the information she wanted and after that was over, I set her straight real quick about the difference between “ham” and “CB”. Only coffee cups have handles, people.

Etiquette rule number eight. Be a little adventurous. Set your radio on scan every now and then. Find out the frequencies for the different club repeaters and go have a QSO with someone new. New people bring new perspectives. The chances are that you’ll probably run across that person at some time in your ham life and you can say, “Oh hey, I remember you!” when you meet face to face.

So that’s just a few of the unspoken rules repeater rules of the road. I encourage you to pick a repeater and get out there and cold call a repeater or two and have a few QSO’s just to get comfortable on the air. If any of you ladies are available on
So, what do you think? Did I miss anything?