What Should Every Ham Know How to Do?

On the HamRadioHelpGroup mailing list, there was recently a discussion about using modulated CW on 2m. One fellow pointed out that MFJ sold a unit that would do this. When I pointed out that this box cost $100 and that they could do exactly the same thing with the $18 PicoKeyer from HamGadgets.Com, I got some flack that the PicoKeyer was a kit, and that some people might not be able to build it.

I pointed out that a couple of years ago our club held a construction night, and that several people who had never soldered before successfully completed the kit. I also pointed out that even if the ham didn’t have the proper tools, he or she could purchase a soldering iron, needle-nose pliers, and diagonal cutters, in addition to the kit, for less than $100.

That pretty much shut him up, but I got to thinking about what a ham should be able to do. This is the list I’ve come up with so far. This list does, of course, imply that a ham is physically capable of doing them. I would not expect hams that are physically disabled to be able to do everything on this list.

What Every Ham Should Know How to Do

  1. Solder. Every ham should know how to solder a connection, and by extension, build small kits and cables. Over the course of one’s ham career, this skill will save you a ton of time and money.
  2. Build a dipole antenna. The dipole is the simplest and most versatile antenna. Knowing how to build one and use one is an essential skill.
  3. Check into a net. Net operation is one of the most basic operating skills.
  4. Use a multimeter to measure voltage, current, and resistance and know what those measurements mean. This is the most basic skill used in troubleshooting, and at some point or another, you’re going to have to troubleshoot something.

These are just the first four things that occur to me. What do you think every ham should know how to do?


  1. John KC8ZTJ says:

    Having built a pico keyer to use with my Icom HT. I can attest that it is a great kit and an easy build not to mention a useful device. Dale does a great job with this stuff.

  2. 5. RTFM. If you can’t, for example, set the memories on your 2m rig, sell it and get one with crystals. I’m sure something similar can be said of computer operating systems…

    Kent ve4keh

  3. Back in the day when I was a no-code tech, wet behind the ears, etc. I was shocked — shocked! when I showed up at a “contesters” field day site, and I was the only one who could solder on a PL-259.

    So for soldering, yes, but also, I believe hams should know how to install RF connectors, particularly the three most used in our hobby, the PL-259, the BNC, and the N connector.

    I was very surprised the other day when a friend drove to a radio shop to get a NMO mount installed in his vehicle. I don’t think I would call that an advanced skill, either…

  4. Dan KB6NU says:

    Blair, WB3AWI, commented on this item via Facebook. He says another thing that hams should know how to do is to measure the SWR of an antenna.

  5. David Brodbeck N8SRE says:

    Good point re: SWR measurement. I thought of that too, but I kind of assumed it was implied in constructing a dipole. (Otherwise how would you trim it?)

    I’ll confess I don’t know how to install an N connector. The sheer number of multiple-page articles that have been published about how to install them is kind of intimidating. I kind of feel like any connector that requires that much explanation must be overly complicated.

  6. The first and foremost thing any radio amateur should be able to do is as Ken says above: RTFM. If you can’t figure out how to operate your pre-built rig, then manufacturing stuff with a soldering iron is going to be way, way out of your league.

    The second most important thing that any radio amateur should be able to do is ask for assistance and learn from that assistance so you don’t have to keep asking for it.

    The third most important thing that any radio amateur should be able to do is render assistance when asked, to the best of their ability, without being pedantic or condescending. I’m amazed how difficult this one is for so many very experienced people.

    But yes, i think every radio amateur should be able to solder basic connections, and build simple cables, dipole antennas, use a multi-meter, and so forth.

  7. My short list:

    – Listen before transmitting.

    – Upload to Logbook of the World.

    – Set mic gain and compression properly.

    – Listen before transmitting (this needs to be stated twice…)

  8. David: To be honest, I’ve never installed an N connector, either. I’m not daunted by the task, though. Although I doubt that it will ever happen, I kind of wish that ham radio manufacturers would make it an option to have N connectors installed on rigs instead of UHF connectors.

    Paul: While I agree that listening before transmitting is something that hams should do, I’m not so sure that it’s a basic skill. I do like the idea that they should know how to set mic gain and compression properly.

  9. I dunno… I think listening before talking is so basic it transcends ham radio. But alas, this was something taught to me (along with reading and arithmetic) back in the medieval days by my oppressive, unenlightened parents and teachers. ;-) But I get your point – it’s more of a behavioral trait than a technical skill.

  10. Also… I love N-connectors! Far easier to install than a PL-259, moisture resistant, lower loss. It shouldn’t be an option, it should be required by law!!! hi.

  11. >>- Upload to Logbook of the World.

    I can’t agree here. Why is LOTW special over say, eQSL or HRDLog? A better thing might be “QSL contacts”, but to pick one particular method – especially one that is a PITA to use if you run a lot of special calls, is asking too much IMO. I would agree that confirming contacts is a practice that seems to be fading away to some degree in this hobby, and that’s a shame.

    There are other posts on this blog and mine that rail about the shortcomings of LotW, so I won’t go into that. I send paper cards to QSL and I use eQSL and HRDLog because they’re simple to use and handle my extra calls and events easily. LotW is, for me, simply unnecessary.

    For the few amateurs (and there are some, but not many) who don’t want paper cards and only use LotW, well, there’s not much I can say. A QSL is by mutual agreement and we don’t mutually agree, so those folks (and me) are simply out of luck.

  12. Learn CPR and Basic First Aid. Keep a first aid kit in the shack and the car. Better safe than sorry, and think of all the great friends you can make when things tend to go a bit bad. Play safe.

  13. NORM W7KCS says:

    Maybe I’m just getting too old for this but when I became a ham in 1946 I had to solder, measure and assemble my equipment. These were just standard, expected activities. I learned electronics from doing and that knowledge has served me well all my professional and hobby life. It seems to me that we are missing a great deal by not participating in our hobby to a greater technical/practical depth. It’s been a lot of years since I took an FCC test, last being the Extra exam, but I guess I thought that you had to know a lot of just common theory to pass. One of the major reasons for ham radio, in my opinion, is to teach the younger generation an appreciation of our craft, and hopefully instill a desire to contribute to the advancement of the art. Perhaps reduce the off-shore engineering and design activities in electronics that seem to proliferate now.

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