Radio protocol & etiquette

Updated April 17, 2017

According to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), "Radio use is a command and control tool," that facilitates the coordination of resources. Because radio communication is used to accomplish vital functions, proper protocol and etiquette are of utmost importance. (See References 1)

Phonetic Alphabet

Radio enunciation is often unclear. Protocol requires the use of the phonetic alphabet, which substitutes a code word for each letter. When not understood a person clarifies the letter A with alpha, B with bravo, etc. (See References 1)

Standard Expressions

The use of standard expressions reduces confusion as well as the amount of time spent transmitting messages. For example, the standard expression "do you copy" asks the listener if he understands and to please acknowledge. (See References 1)


It is good etiquette to keep messages short and occasionally cease transmission in order to allow other people on the same frequency to transmit their messages. (See References 1)

Boating and Shipping

According to Coastal, VHF channels 16 and 70 are emergency frequencies that are used by ocean vessels solely for hailing or distress messaging. Once contact is made, communication moves to another channel. (See References 2)


Mayday messages are only transmitted during extreme emergencies when life or property are in immediate danger. On ham radio frequencies the words break, break, break are the equivalent of mayday. (See References 2)

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About the Author

Hailing from Northwest Arkansas, Al Vick has been writing environmental and political material for more than 20 years and is the author of several short stories. He has been published in the "Ozark Gazette" and "Online Journal" and holds an associate degree in arts from Rhode Island Junior College.