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Call Signs

Every licensed Radio Amateur is given a call sign that is used to identify you and your location of license. Each country that has Amateur Radio status is allocated a range of call signs by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). See below for pages containing these country allocations.

Prefix and Suffix

Call signs consist of a prefix and a suffix. The prefix is usually composed of one or two letters and a number such as VE4 in Canada for the province of Manitoba or K9 in the U.S. for the states Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Some countries have prefixes that are composed of a number and a letter such as 4X for Israel or 9K for Kuwait. If this sounds confusing tables of call sign allocations will be given later in this section to make things clear.

While the prefix uniquely identifies a country the suffix is unique for the individual. In Canada a call sign such as VE3ABC has VE3 (Ontario) as the prefix and ABC as the suffix. In the U.S the call sign N2MG has a prefix of N2 and suffix of MG. U.S. hams may also have a two letter prefix thus AB2Z is a valid call. Suffixes may also be less than three letters so you have call signs such as VE7AB in British Columbia and KH6Y in Hawaii.

Call Areas

In North America the number in the call sign generally refers to an area of the country. The 3 in VE3 refers to Ontario and the 6 in K6 refers to California. The number may be shared between states in the U.S. so that 1 as in K1 or W1 can refer to the states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. Usually in Canada the number refers to a single province although VE1 can refer to the Maritime provinces New Brunswick or Nova Scotia.

Other countries follow a similar practice so you can have states in Brazil and Prefectures in Japan.

Using Phonetics

Amateurs are generally advised to use the phonetic alphabet when giving their call sign on the air. This helps others to clearly understand the call sign and is especially important under poor band conditions.

Canadian Prefixes

The table below contains the generally used prefixes for Canadian Radio Amateurs. Note that all calls have two letters followed by a single digit.

Call Sign Prefix Province or Territory
CY0 Sable Is
CY9 St-Paul Is
VA1, VE1 New Brunswick, Nova Scotia
VA2, VE2 Quebec
VA3, VE3 Ontario
VA4, VE4 Manitoba
VA5, VE5 Saskatchewan
VA6, VE6 Alberta
VA7, VE7 British Columbia
VE8 North West Territories
VE9 New Brunswick
VO1 Newfoundland
VO2 Labrador
VY0 Nunavut
VY1 Yukon
VY2 Prince Edward Island

U.S. Prefixes

Prefixes used by Amateurs in the United States are shown in the following table. U.S. Radio Amateurs may have either a single letter or two letters in the prefix. See the two letter allocations at the bottom of the table. The single letter prefixes K, and N are also in use by U.S. Amateurs. To further complicate matters Amateurs that have moved to a different area of the country may retain their existing call sign so when you hear W8ABC you may be receiving a signal from other than the W8 states.

Call Sign Prefix State
W0 Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota
W1 Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont
W2 New Jersey, New York
W3 Delaware, D.C., Maryland, Pennsylvania
W4 Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia
W5 Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas
W6 California
W7 Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Utah, Wyoming
W8 Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia
W9 Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin
AL0-7, KL0-7,
NL0-7, WL0-7
AH6-7, KH6-7,
NH6-7, WH6-7

Additional prefixes

View Table of U.S. Possessions

A, AA - AK K, KA - KK
N, NA - NK

International Call Sign Allocation

Prefixes beginning with both letters and numbers are allocated to countries around the world that have Amateur Radio licensing. For a complete list of these allocations see the International Call Sign Allocation table.

Special Call Signs

In many countries special call sign allocations may be made to commemorate a special event. These special event call signs usually have an unusual prefix so that the station using the call will be easily recognized. For example the calls M2000A and 7S2000M were heard quite often commemorating the year 2000. CI3O was used in 1996 for the Charles Island DXpedition. Many of these special events also have unique QSL cards that are well worth the effort to make the contact and to send for the card. See the section on QSL cards to get more information on this aspect of the hobby.

Another type of call sign is the vanity call as it is called in the United States. The FCC in the U.S. and Industry Canada permit hams to apply for a call that has special meaning to them. For example, Bob R. might apply for the call KA5BOB or Pam W. might ask for VE3PAM for obvious reasons.  Although my call is VE3BUC my name is Don and not Buc so not everyone with a name in their call has a vanity call.

Vanity Callsign Website

Vanity Callsign Headquarters

Operating Portable or Mobile

If an amateur operator is in a province, state or country other than his or her own then he/she is working portable. So if VE3BUC was operating in Alberta then he would use the call sign VE3BUC/VE6 pronounced as "VE3BUC portable VE6." If he was in Florida then the call sign VE3BUC/W4 would be used. W5AX in New York would use W5AX/W2 and in Quebec would use W5AX/VE2. Although a common practice for U.S. hams who have moved to a new state is to continue with their old callsign. Thus N2AB who moves to Texas might be using the same call without the portable indication. But he could sign N2AB/5. Confusing?

In most areas of the world the portable prefix comes before the call. Thus if VE3BUC was active in Australia the call would be VK1/VE3BUC pronounced "VK1 portable VE3BUC" or ZL1AM in California might use W6/ZL1AM although ZL1AM/W6 would also be acceptable there.

When working mobile you would use a call such as VE3BUC/M pronounced as "VE3BUC mobile."

One of the important decisions to make when operating is what band to use. The section Amateur Radio Bands looks into this topic.

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© 2001 - 2007 Don Cassel VE3XD

Table of Contents


What is Amateur Radio?

What Hams Do

How to Become a Radio Amateur

Call Signs

Amateur Radio Bands

Basic Operating

QSL Cards


Operating Modes

IRLP in Depth

Amateur Activities

Guide to Choosing Your First Radio


Glossary of Terms

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