All Things Amateur Radio
All Things Amateur Radio

Learning CW – Operating Signals

Operating signals, also called Q and Z codes, are used throughout the world. They are used by both civil and military organizations. The most complete list of both Q and Z signals is found in ACP 131(F). This is the standard guide for use by the NATO military forces.

Q signals are normally used in Morse code transmissions. Z signals are generally used only in military digital transmissions. We will ignore the Z signals and concentrate on the Q signals.

Q signals are three letter codes that begin with the letter ‘Q’. They range from QAA to QZZ. The Q signals are divided up into several different sections and allocated to particular uses. The series QAA through QNZ are defined by the International Civil Aviation Organization for aeronautical use. QOA through QQZ are reserved for maritime use. The series QRA through QUZ are defined by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and are in use at virtually every civil station throughout the world.

Amateur radio has adapted some of these Q codes for use in amateur communications. These Q codes come from the ITU civil series QRA through QUZ. Most of the meanings are identical to the ITU definitions, however, they must be looked at in the context of amateur communications. For example, QSJ? asks what the charges are for sending the telegraph. Since amateur communications are without charge, this Q code would not make sense.

Q codes are either sent with or without a question mark (CW: di-di-dah-dah-di-dit). A Q code with a question mark is to be understood as asking a question. A Q code without a question mark is to be understood as an affirmative answer to a question asked or as a direct statement. For example, if you say QRA?, you are asking the question: “what is the name of your station”. If you are asked this question, you could answer: “the name of my station is WB8AAA”. In a maritime service, you might have answered QRA Newport, meaning that the name of your station is Newport. In the context of an amateur radio conversation, the name of your station is commonly understood to be your station callsign. Always keep in mind that radio amateurs are communicating in an amateur radio context and that Q codes should be interpreted in that context.

Amateur radio actually has adapted two different sets of Q codes. The one in most common use is the Q codes From QRA through QUZ. The second set is the set of Q codes, used only in ARRL NTS nets, that begin with QN. These Q codes generally have no equivalent in the ACP 131 publication and are specifically defined only for use in NTS nets. They are not used in casual amateur radio communications.


QRA   What is the name of       The name of my station
      your station?             is _____
QRG   What is my exact          Your exact frequency
      frequency?                is ____  (KHz or MHz)
QRH   Does my frequency vary?   Your frequency varies.
QRI   How is my tone?           Your tone is _____
                                  1 Good
                                  2 Variable
                                  3 Bad
QRK   What is my signal         Your signal intelligibility
      intelligibility?          (or that of ___) is ____.
                                   1 Bad
                                   2 Poor
                                   3 Fair
                                   4 Good
                                   5 Excellent
QRL   Are you busy?             I am busy.
QRM   Are you being             I am being interfered 
      interfered with?          with ____.
                                   1  nil
                                   2  slightly
                                   3  moderately
                                   4  severely
                                   5  extremely
QRN   Are you troubled by       I am troubled by static ___.
      static?                      1  nil
                                   2  slightly
                                   3  moderately
                                   4  severely
                                   5  extremely
QRO   Shall I increase          Increase tranmitter power.
      transmitter power?
QRP   Shall I decrease          Decrease transmitter power.
      transmitter power?
QRQ   Shall I send faster?      Send faster.
QRS   Shall I send slower?      Send slower.
QRT   Shall I stop sending?     Stop sending.
QRU   Have you anything         I have nothing for you.
      for me?
QRV   Are you ready?            I am ready.
QRW   Shall I tell _____ you    Tell ____ I am calling him.
      are calling him?
QRX   When will you call        I will call again at _____.
QRZ   Who is calling me?        You are being called by ____.
QSA   What is my signal         Your signal strength is ____.
      strength?                    1  scarcely perceptible
                                   2  weak
                                   3  fairly good
                                   4  good
                                   5  very good
QSB   Are my signals fading?    Your signals are fading.
QSD   Is my keying defective?   Your keying is defective.
QSG   Shall I send _____        Send ____ messages at a time.
      messages at a time?
QSK   Can you work breakin?     I can work breakin.
QSL   Can you acknowledge       I can acknowledge receipt.
QSM   Shall I repeat the last   Repeat the last message sent.
      message sent?
QSO   Can you communicate       I can communicate with
      with _____ direct?        _____ direct.
QSP   Will you relay            I will relay to _____.
      to _____?
QSV   Shall I send a series     Send a series of V's.
      of V's?
QSW   Will you transmit on __?  Transmit on _____.
QSX   Will you listen to        I am listening to ______
      ______ on ____?           on ________.
QSY   Shall I change            Change frequency to _____.
QSZ   Shall I send each         Send each word/group twice.
      word/group more           (or _____ times)
      than once?
QTA   Shall I cancel            Cancel number _______.
      number _____?
QTB   Do you agree with my      I do not agree with your word
      word count?               count. I will repeat the
                                first letter or digit of each
                                word or group.
QTC   How many messages do      I have ____ messages to send.
      you have to send?
QTH   What is your location?    My location is _______.
QTR   What is your time?        My time is ______.
QTV   Shall I stand guard       Stand guard for me on _____.
      for you on ______?
QTX   Will you keep your        I will keep my station open
      station open for furthur  for further communication
      communications with me?   with you.
QUA   Have you news of _____?   Here is news of ______.

Several of the above Q codes can have various other items of
information added to them depending on the context. Such
information might include times, dates, names, or

Some of the above Q codes are commonly used in ways that are
slightly different than the above formal definitions. For
example, QRL? is commonly used to mean: "Is this frequency
in use?". Remember, context matters, common usage can vary,
and amateur radio is a hobby.

ARRL QN Signals For CW Net Use

The following ARRL-defined QN signals are only for use on
NTS CW nets. They are not for use on phone nets. Say it with
words on phone nets. Q signals followed by an '*' are for
use only by the net control station.

QNA*  Answer in prearranged order.
QNB*  Act as a relay between _____ and _____.
QNC   All net stations copy. I have a message for all
      net stations
QND*  This net is directed (controlled by a net control stn).
QNE*  Entire net stand by.
QNF   Net is free (not controlled).
QNG   Take over as net control.
QNH   Your net frequency is high.
QNI   Net stations report in (by net control) or I am
      reporting into the net (by net stations).
QNJ   Can you copy me? ( or can you copy _____?)
QNK*  Transmit message for _____ to ______.
QNL   Your net frequency is too low.
QNM*  You are QRMing the net. Stand by.
QNN   Net control station is ______. or What station is NCS?
QNO   Station is leaving the net.
QNP   Unable to copy you. Unable to copy _____.
QNQ*  Move frequency to _____ and wait for _____ to finish
      handling traffic. Then send hom traffic for ______.
QNR   Answer _____ and receive traffic.
QNS*  Following stations are in the net. (Follow with list)
      or Request list of stations on the net. (If not ncs)
QNT   I request permission to leave the net for ____ minutes.
QNU*  The net has traffic for you. Stand by.
QNV*  Establish contact with _____ on this frequency. If
      successful, move to _____ and send him traffic
      for ______.
QNW   How do I route messages for ____?
QNX   You are excused from the net. (when used by ncs)
      Request to be excused from the net. (when used by
      a net station)
QNY*  Shift to another frequency (or to ______KHz) to clear
      traffic with _____.
QNZ   Zero beat your signal with mine.

The above two Q code lists, along with some other important information for traffic handlers, may be found on the ARRL web site as FSD-218.

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