Radio Operating Procedures

Below are some basic procedures for good operating practice on your radio. Listed are:

  • General Basics

  • Basic Terms

  • Radio Care

  • Safety Guidelines

  • Electromagnetic Interference / Compatibility

  • Cleaning

See this video on Best Practices for Event Operators, courtesy of the Marin Amateur Radio Society in Marin County, CA. (YouTube, 6:08)

In addition, the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) adopted in 2011 a universal guide on operating ethics and procedures. It's available in PDF format at Ethics and Operating Procedures for the Radio Amateur.

General Basics

  • Listen before talking.
    All amateur radio channels are shared, sometimes by several users. Do not interfere with other traffic.

  • Announce your call sign at the end of every conversation; and at least every 10 minutes during conversations that last longer.

  • Hold the microphone about 2 inches from your mouth. Speak directly into it. Speak clearly, but do not shout.

  • Press and hold the Push-To-Talk (PTT) switch while speaking. Pause about one second after pressing the PTT switch before beginning to speak. Release it to listen. The PTT switch is usually located on the left side of the microphone or radio. If there is more than one button on the left side, it will be the largest one.

  • Avoid the use of contractions, e.g., say “do not” rather than “don’t”. Contractions can easily be misunderstood in less than perfect conditions.

  • Be courteous on the air at all times.

  • Use plain language, not codes.

  • Keep it short.

  • FCC regulations absolutely prohibit:

    • Profane, indecent or inflammatory language of any kind

    • Music or other broadcast-type program material

    • Advertising

    • Messages or signals with false or misleading information

    • Intentional jamming or interference with another station’s transmission

    • False call signs, or a false distress or emergency message

  • FCC regulations require that: "Communications involving the imminent safety-of-life or property are to be afforded priority by all licensees." 47CFR90.403(d)

Basic Terms
“Over” means you have finished your sentence and you expect to hear back from the other party. The frequency is not available for another user to butt in. On HF or on repeaters that lack a courtesy tone, “over” is the proper way of handing the frequency over to the other party. When the repeater has a courtesy tone when the PTT is released (not all do,) then “over” is redundant, but not incorrect.

Clear; Out:
“Clear” and “out” mean the same thing. There is not a bit of difference between them, except “clear” sounds more friendly and “out” sounds more military. “Out” or “clear” means you have finished your sentence and you do NOT expect to hear back from the other party. The frequency is now available for another user to initiate another (possibly unrelated) contact. “Out” might mean you are turning the radio off, but not necessarily. It just means you are finished talking with that particular party or group.

Stand By:
“Stand by,” is usually a request for all operators on that frequency to stop transmitting. A courteous operator will limit their stand-by request to no more than 15 seconds; getting the info needed and getting back on the air. 15 seconds of dead air is a LONG time. If it is going to take longer than 15 seconds, “standby” is not at all the appropriate proword. In an emergency situation, net control will say “all other stations stand by until we have handled this situation. “Standby” is a polite way of saying “everybody shut up!” If you do not need that forceful a statement to all operators, you might say, “net control, wait one while I get that information from the rest stop captain.” Or, “net control, I will get that information and get back to you.” That permits net control to recognize another station while you are busy getting the information. But “stand by” is kind of the nuclear option—after using those critical words, no-one else can use the frequency—you have frozen it.

Radio Care

  • Avoid physical abuse.

    • Do not pick up or carry the radio by its antenna or by its speaker-microphone cable.

    • Do not pound, drop or throw the radio.

    • Do not carry the radio in a pocket, as sitting down can damage it. The damage may not be immediately apparent.

  • Do not use the radio if it has a damaged antenna.
    This could damage the radio, if not immediately, then over time. It can also create a minor safety hazard.

  • Use the radio only with approved accessories designed for that model, and only if they are in good condition.

  • Do not immerse the radio in any liquid or subject it to an excess of any liquid. Avoid subjecting the radio to corrosives, solvents, or spirits.
    Note: Even radios certified to be “waterproof” (e.g., with an IP67 rating) have been tested for that certification using only clean, filtered water. Any adulterated water, such as sea water (salt and others) or tap water (chlorine, fluoride, others) can have a damaging effect on the radio.

  • If the radio falls into water (fresh or salt) or other non-hazardous liquid, remove it immediately, turn it off, remove the battery and wait at least 24 hours before trying to use it again. See the cleaning recommendations below.

  • If the radio falls into a corrosive or other hazardous material, there are two options, depending on the level of the hazard.

    • If the material is a relatively low-level hazard (e.g., motor oil, gasoline):

      • Turn it off and remove the battery.

      • Clean off as much of the material as possible. See the Cleaning section below.

      • Put the radio in a plastic bag and tag it with a description of the material.

      • Take it to the radio shop to see if can be repaired and if the technicians are willing to work on the unit.

    • If the material is very caustic, a biohazard (e.g., human waste) or otherwise very dangerous, write the radio off.

  • Do not disassemble the radio in any way. Keep the connector cover in place until ready to use the accessory connector. Replace the cover immediately after the accessory has been disconnected.

Safety Guidelines

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has adopted a safety standard for human exposure to radio frequency electromagnetic energy emitted by FCC regulated equipment. Proper operation of the radio will result in user exposure substantially below FCC recommended limits.

  • Do not hold a portable radio with the antenna very close to, or touching, exposed parts of the body, especially the face, ears, or eyes, while transmitting. Hold the radio in a vertical position with the microphone two to three inches away from the lips.

  • Do not operate the transmitter of a mobile radio when someone outside the vehicle is within two feet (0.6 meter) of the antenna.

  • Do not operate the transmitter of a fixed radio (base station, microwave, and rural telephone RF equipment) or marine radio when someone is within 6 feet (1.0 meter) of the antenna.

  • Do not operate the transmitter of any radio unless all RF connectors are secure and any open connectors are properly terminated.

  • Do not hold the transmit switch (PTT) on when not actually desiring to transmit.

  • Do not allow children to play with any radio equipment containing a transmitter.

  • Do not operate radio transmitters near explosive blasting caps. The transmitted radio energy may trigger a blasting cap and cause an explosion.

  • Turn the radio off before removing or installing a battery.

  • An air bag inflates with great force. Do not place objects, including communication equipment, in the area over the air bag or in the air bag deployment area of any vehicle.
    If the communications equipment is improperly located or installed and the air bag inflates, serious injury could result.
    Do not wear a radio in a chest pack while traveling in a vehicle.

  • If using a body-worn radio, carry the radio only in an approved carrying case or clip.

  • Do not operate the radio if it has a damaged antenna or one not designed for that radio model.

Electromagnetic Interference / Compatibility


  • Turn off your radio in any facility where posted notices instruct you to do so.

Medical Devices

  • Pacemakers
    The Health Industry Manufacturers Association recommends that a minimum of 6 inches (15 centimeters) be maintained between a handheld radio and a pacemaker. These recommendations are consistent with the Food and Drug Administration. Persons with a pacemaker should:

    • Always keep the radio more than 6 inches from their pacemaker whenever the radio is turned on.

    • Not carry the radio in a breast pocket.

    • Use the ear opposite the pacemaker to minimize the potential for interference.

    • Turn the radio off immediately if you have any reason to suspect that interference is taking place.

  • Hearing Aids
    Some digital radios may interfere with some hearing aids. In the event of such interference, you may want to consult your hearing aid manufacturer to discuss alternatives.

  • Other Medical Devices
    If you use any other personal medical device, consult the manufacturer of your device to determine if it is adequately shielded from RF energy. Your physician may be able to assist you in obtaining this information.


Clean external surfaces of the radio with a mild detergent and a stiff, non-metallic, short-bristled brush.

A suitable detergent solution may be mixed by adding one teaspoon of mild dishwashing detergent to one gallon of water (0.5% solution). Apply the detergent solution sparingly with the brush, being careful not to allow excess detergent to remain entrapped near connectors and controls or in cracks and crevices. Do not submerse the radio in the detergent solution. Dry the radio thoroughly with a soft, lint-free cloth. Clean the radio with the recommended solution only. Cleaning the radio with solvents or spirits may be harmful and permanently damage the radio housing.

Clean all battery contacts with a lint-free cloth to remove dirt, grease, or other foreign material that may prevent good electrical connections.