Activities and practices
Specialized Interests and modes
While many hams simply enjoy talking to friends, others pursue a wide variety of specialized interests.
Amateur Radio Direction Finding, also known as "Fox hunting"
Amateur radio emergency communications
Communicating via amateur satellites
Contesting, earning awards, and collecting QSL cards
Designing new antennas
DX communication to far away countries
Hamfests, club meetings and swap meets
Hand building homebrew amateur radio gear
High speed multimedia and TCP/IP
High Speed Telegraphy
Portable, fixed, mobile and handheld operation
Low-power operation (QRP).
Severe weather spotting
Tracking tactical information using the Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS), which may integrate with the GPS
Using the Internet Radio Linking Project (IRLP) to connect radio repeaters via the Internet
VHF, UHF and microwave operation on amateur radio high bands
Vintage amateur radios, such as those using vacuum tube technology
Wireless MAN construction
Amateur Radio operators use various modes of transmission to communicate. Voice transmissions are most common, with some, such as frequency modulation (FM) offering high quality audio, and others, such as single sideband (SSB) offering more reliable communications when signals are marginal and bandwidth is restricted.
Radiotelegraphy using Morse code is an activity dating to the earliest days of radio. Technology has moved past the use of telegraphy in nearly all other communications, and a code test is no longer part of most national licensing exams for amateur radio. Many amateur radio operators continue to make use of the mode, particularly on the shortwave bands and for experimental work such as earth-moon-earth communication, with its inherent signal-to-noise ratio advantages. Morse, using internationally agreed code groups, also allows communications between amateurs who speak different languages. It is also popular with homebrewers as CW-only transmitters are simpler to construct. A similar "legacy" mode popular with home constructors is amplitude modulation (AM), pursued by many vintage amateur radio enthusiasts and aficionados of vacuum tube technology.
For many years, demonstrating a proficiency in Morse code was a requirement to obtain amateur licenses for the high frequency bands (frequencies below 30 MHz), but following changes in international regulations in 2003, countries are no longer required to demand proficiency. As an example, the United States Federal Communications Commission phased out this requirement for all license classes on February 23, 2007.
Modern personal computers have encouraged the use of digital modes such as radioteletype (RTTY), which previously required cumbersome mechanical equipment. Hams led the development of packet radio, which has employed protocols such as TCP/IP since the 1970s. Specialized digital modes such as PSK31 allow real-time, low-power communications on the shortwave bands. Echolink using Voice over IP technology has enabled amateurs to communicate through local Internet-connected repeaters and radio nodes, while IRLP has allowed the linking of repeaters to provide greater coverage area. Automatic link establishment (ALE) has enabled continuous amateur radio networks to operate on the high frequency bands with global coverage. Other modes, such as FSK441 using software such as WSJT, are used for weak signal modes including meteor scatter and moonbounce communications.
Fast scan amateur television has gained popularity as hobbyists adapt inexpensive consumer video electronics like camcorders and video cards in home computers. Because of the wide bandwidth and stable signals required, amateur television is typically found in the 70 cm (420 MHz–450 MHz) frequency range, though there is also limited use on 33 cm (902 MHz–928 MHz), 23 cm (1240 MHz–1300 MHz) and higher. These requirements also effectively limit the signal range to between 20 and 60 miles (30 km–100 km), however, the use of linked repeater systems can allow transmissions across hundreds of miles.
These repeaters, or automated relay stations, are used on VHF and higher frequencies to increase signal range. Repeaters are usually located on top of a mountain, hill or tall building, and allow operators to communicate over hundreds of square miles using a low power hand-held transceiver. Repeaters can also be linked together by use of other amateur radio bands, landline or the Internet.
Communication satellites called OSCARs (Orbiting Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio) can be accessed, some using a hand-held transceiver (HT) with a stock "rubber duck" antenna. Hams also use the moon, the aurora borealis, and the ionized trails of meteors as reflectors of radio waves. Hams are also often able to make contact with the International Space Station (ISS), as many astronauts and cosmonauts are licensed as Amateur Radio Operators.
Amateur radio operators use their amateur radio station to make contacts with individual hams as well as participating in round table discussion groups or "rag chew sessions" on the air. Some join in regularly scheduled on-air meetings with other amateur radio operators, called "Nets" (as in "networks") which are moderated by a station referred to as "Net Control". Nets can allow operators to learn procedures for emergencies, be an informal round table or be topical, covering specific interests shared by a group.