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 set 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.

The Q Codes most commonly used in amateur radio communications follow.

CodeQueryAffirmative Answer
QRAWhat is the name of your station?The name of my station is _____
QRGWhat is my exact frequency?Your exact frequency is ____ (KHz or MHz)
QRHDoes my frequency vary?Your frequency varies.
QRIHow is my tone?Your tone is _____
  1 Good
  2 Variable
  3 Bad
QRKWhat is my signal intelligibility?Your signal intelligibility (or that of ___) is ____.
  1 Bad
  2 Poor
  3 Fair
  4 Good
  5 Excellent
QRLAre you busy?I am busy.
QRMAre you being interfered with?I am being interfered with ____.
  1 nil
  2 slightly
  3 moderately
  4 severely
  5 extremely
QRNAre you troubled by static?I am troubled by static ___.
  1 nil
  2 slightly
  3 moderately
  4 severely
  5 extremely
QROShall I increase transmitter power?Increase tranmitter power.
QRPShall I decrease transmitter power?Decrease transmitter power.
QRQShall I send faster?Send faster.
QRSShall I send slower?Send slower.
QRTShall I stop sending?Stop sending.
QRUHave you anything for me?I have nothing for you.
QRVAre you ready?I am ready.
QRWShall I tell _____ you are calling him?Tell ____ I am calling him.
QRXWhen will you call again?I will call again at _____.
QRZWho is calling me?You are being called by ____.
QSAWhat is my signal strength?Your signal strength is ____.
  1 scarcely perceptible
  2 weak
  3 fairly good
  4 good
  5 very good
QSBAre my signals fading? Your signals are fading.
QSDIs my keying defective?Your keying is defective.
QSGShall I send _____ messages at a time?Send ____ messages at a time.
QSKCan you work breakin?I can work breakin.
QSLCan you acknowledge receipt?I can acknowledge receipt.
QSMShall I repeat the last message sent?Repeat the last message sent.
QSOCan you communicate with _____ direct?I can communicate with _____ direct.
QSPWill you relay to _____?I will relay to _____.
QSVShall I send a series of V's?Send a series of V's.
QSWWill you transmit on __?Transmit on _____.
QSXWill you listen to ______ on ____?I am listening to ______ on ________.
QSYShall I change frequency?Change frequency to _____.
QSZShall I send each word/group more than once?Send each word/group twice. (or _____ times)
QTAShall I cancel number _____?Cancel number _______.
QTBDo you agree with my word count?I do not agree with your word count. I will repeat the first letter or digit of each word or group.
QTCHow many messages do you have to send?I have ____ messages to send.
QTHWhat is your location?My location is _______.
QTRWhat is your time?My time is ______.
QTVShall I stand guard for you on ______?Stand guard for me on _____.
QTXWill you keep your station open for further communications with me?I will keep my station open for further communication with you.
QUAHave 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 frequencies.

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.

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.

ARRL QN Signals For CW Net Use
QNA*Answer in prearranged order.
QNB*Act as a relay between _____ and _____.
QNCAll 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.
QNFNet is free (not controlled).
QNGTake over as net control.
QNHYour net frequency is high.
QNINet stations report in (by net control) or I am reporting into the net (by net stations).
QNJCan you copy me? ( or can you copy _____?)
QNK*Transmit message for _____ to ______.
QNLYour net frequency is too low.
QNM*You are QRMing the net. Stand by.
QNNNet control station is ______. or What station is NCS?
QNOStation is leaving the net.
QNPUnable to copy you. Unable to copy _____.
QNQ*Move frequency to _____ and wait for _____ to finish handling traffic. Then send him traffic for ______.
QNRAnswer _____ and receive traffic.
QNS*Following stations are in the net. (Follow with list) or Request list of stations on the net. (If not ncs)
QNTI 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 ______.
QNWHow do I route messages for ____?
QNXYou 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 _____.
QNZZero 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.

Posted: December 11, 2014

Last Update: July 24, 2023