Q Signals: All you need to know

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Imagine you are on a holiday and get stuck on an island due to bad weather. Your mobile has zero connectivity. The only communication device you are left with is amateur radio. But sadly, you don’t know the native language of that place. Then how will you communicate in such a case? Q signals solve this problem. Let’s see how!

Q signals: A quick info

Q signal consists of three-letter abbreviations. These abbreviations are known as Q codes. These abbreviations are recommended by the International Telecommunication Union for radio communications. Q codes are recognized globally and remove the language barrier during communication.

This system was first developed for commercial radio communication. It was later adopted by other radio services, especially amateur radios. Operators prefix question mark “INT” or suffix question mark “UD” to differentiate a Q signal question from a Q signal statement.

Each Q signal starts with the letter “Q.” Few codes are restricted for certain kinds of services. Codes from QAA to QNZ can be used for aviation purposes only. Similarly, codes from QOA to QQZ are restricted to maritime services. There are a number of codes (QRA to QUZ) that can be used by any radio service.

Although Q has no official meaning, it has a certain mnemonic value attached to it. A list of 45 Q codes is provided by the International Telecommunications Union. International Radio Telegraph Convention defined these codes in 1912.

History of Q codes

In the year 1909, the British Government created the Q codes. A few years later, the Government instituted the codes to facilitate communication between Maritime Radio Operators of different countries. Q codes were modified from time to time to reflect changes in radio practice.

Before the 1920s, the code QSW/QSX stood for, “Shall I increase/decrease my spark frequency.” But later, Spark Gap Transmitters were banned from land stations. This made the code meaningless and obsolete. In the 1970s, Post Office Handbook for Radio Operators covered around a hundred Q-codes. The book also covered a range of certain other subjects like radio procedures, meteorology, radio direction finding, search, and rescue.

Most common Q signals

Below is a list of most heard Q signals on VHF and UHF. The list also shows the question or statement the signal represents:

  • QRM: Is my transmission being interfered with?

I am being interfered with.

  • QRN: Are you troubled by static?

I am troubled by static.

  • QRU: Have you anything for me?

I have nothing for you.

  • QRZ: Who is calling me?

You are being called by___.

  • QSL: Can you acknowledge receipt?

I acknowledge receipt.

  • QSO: Can you communicate with ___ direct?

I can communicate with ___ direct.

  • QSY: Shall I change the frequency?

I am changing the frequency.

  • QTH: What is your location?

My location is ___.

To sum it up

Even in the era of internet and mobile networks, there are certain communication barriers. Problems get more difficult during bad weather conditions and disasters. At such times, amateur radios are quite helpful, and the system of Q signals can remove the language barrier. Q signals have been subject to a number of changes, but their purpose remains the same.