The Proper use of “Break”

The Proper Use of Break in Amateur Radio Communications

by Rob Mavis AE6GE

January 30, 2007 -There are many terms used in amateur radio communications that have specific meanings or purposes. The term break has three accepted uses. The Compact Oxford English Dictionary defines the word break, in this application, to mean an interruption or to interrupt. In all uses of the term it means just that, to interrupt an ongoing radio communication.


Break is also used to signify there is higher priority traffic. For example, a conversation is in progress between two or more stations about the current weather conditions at their respective locations and another station needs to report a traffic accident. The station with the accident report should, once a station un-keys, key his transmitter and say, “Break. The other stations should immediately acknowledge the breaking station and allow him/her to pass the urgent traffic.

The term break in amateur radio communications has been misused by newcomers and old-timers alike. These operators will use it to signify that they wish to join the ongoing conversation, use the frequency to make a contact or to simply make their presence known. For these types of interruptions the operator should simply wait for a break between transmissions and give their call sign. When the operators using the frequency are at a suitable breaking point in their conversation, they will acknowledge the new station.

In regards to repeaters, the organization which owns them will create their own guidelines or set of procedures for use. Most repeater system operating guides instruct to only use the term break or break break in an emergency or life threatening situation. While there is no rule written by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about the use of the word break, many amateur radio clubs, organizations and repeater groups have guidelines that amateurs should follow. These are guidelines and not rules or laws, they are proper etiquette. Operators who do not follow proper etiquette are frowned upon by their peers.

The FCC is the government authority that oversees amateur radio. They look at amateur radio to be self-policing and look to the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) to work with amateurs to set guidelines for the amateur community in this capacity. The ARRL’s Amateur Radio Operating Procedures publication states, “It’s important not to use the word break to join a conversation unless you want to use the repeater to help in an emergency.” In fact, question T3C01 in the Technician Class Question Pool, which is the source for questions on the licensing examination for the entry level amateur radio license asks “What is the proper way to break into a conversation between two stations that are using the frequency? The answer is “Say your call sign between their transmissions.”

These guidelines should also be followed for simplex operation. With simplex operation there is no ownership of repeater so there is no organization in charge of such equipment, thus no guidance document. Again, as there are no hard rules to avoid confusion proper etiquette would be to only use break in urgent or emergency situations.