The HF Amateur Radio Bands

Tonight I’m going to do an overview of the HF ham bands and their properties.

There is a good variety of amateur radio allocations within the LF, MF, and HF portion of the spectrum. These ham radio bands or frequency allocations are open to radio hams around the world to use although the actual ham radio allocations do vary slightly from country to country and region to region.

Tonight I’ll give a broad view of the ham radio HF bands, and this will be accompanied below with an overview of the properties of the different bands for radio amateurs.

In the HF portion of the radio spectrum, there is a total of 11 different bands that are allocated to ham radio operators. These bands are generally close to the same world-wide although there are variations dependent upon the country or region. They are;

2200 meters      LF   135.7 – 137.8 kHz

160 meters         MF  1.8 – 2 MHZ

80 meters            HF   3.5 – 4 MHz

60 meters           HF   5 channels between 5.3305 and                        5.4035 MHz

40 meters           HF   7 – 7.3 MHz

30 meters           HF   10.10 – 10.15 MHz

20 meters           HF   14 – 14.35 MHz

17 meters           HF   18.068 – 18.169 MHz

15 meters           HF   21 – 21.45 MHz

12 meters           HF   24.89 – 24.99 MHz

10 meters           HF   28 – 29.7 MHz


Now that I’ve listed all the HF bands, I’ll spend some time diving into each one and providing some information.

First off I’d like to address a few anomalies in the RAC Band plan that I just read out to you.

  • The 2200 meter band is a LF or low frequency band not an HF band, and it’s relatively new in the last couple years.
  • The same goes for the 600 meter band which I didn’t mention in the previous list since the official RAC band plan doesn’t mention this new LF band at all yet.
  • Now the 60 meter band is in the HF band plan, but it’s not really a band but instead it’s 5 very specific frequency channels that amateurs can use if they follow the restrictions for each channel.
  • What makes all 3 of these new bands unique is that only newer model radios may even support these bands. So chances are, while I’m telling you about them, you won’t be able to operate on these LF and HF bands unless (one) you plan on building some really huge antennas (for the 2200 meter and 600 meter bands), or (two) you purchase the newest transceiver equipment (for the 60 meter band).




The HF Bands that you can enjoy.

The 160 Meter Band

Also know as the the Top Band. This is the lowest ‘common’ ham radio allocation. Although it is termed one of the short wave bands and is often mentioned with the other HF amateur radio bands, to be exact it is actually in the MF portion of the spectrum.

Top Band is not allocated for ham radio use in all countries and the exact limits of the bands may vary. In general the maximum extent of any allocation fall between 1.8 and 2.0 MHz.

With the frequency of this ham radio allocation located just above the Medium Wave broadcast band, Top Band possess many of the same characteristics. As such it is used for relatively local ham radio contacts during the day when signals are heard via ground wave and, dependent upon transmitter powers and antennas, distances of 50 miles or more may be reached. At night, when the D layer in the ionosphere disappears, distances increase and it may be possible to hear stations several hundreds of miles away. For stations in North America and Europe, it is even possible to make transatlantic contacts when conditions are right if sufficiently good antennas are available at both ends. It is even possible to make contacts over longer distances.

For very long distance contacts on Top Band, the whole of the path must lie in darkness. However, there can be significant improvements at dawn and dusk for contacts with the other side of the globe. These enhancements may only last for 10 to 15 minutes at maximum, and sometimes less.

For shorter paths, like those between Europe and North America, signals peak when it is either sunrise or sunset at one end or the other. Long-distance, north-south paths often peak around midnight. As a general rule, long-distance work improves in winter because of the longer hours of darkness and lower levels of static. As this does not correspond with optimum conditions in the other hemisphere, it means that these signals may be heard at any time of the year.

The 160 meter band is used with lower ssb for voice, it’s a regional close distance band with good ground wave but under the right conditions it can open up shortly for some magical long distance contacts if you’re lucky, and finally due to the length of antenna’s required to operate on this band it’s no often used by the average amateur operator unless they have large enough property.

The 80 meter or 75 meter band

The 80 metre band as we Canadian’s call it, or 75 metre ham radio band (as our American neighbours call it) is within the HF part of the spectrum. The actual allocation depends upon the radio region in which the country is located. Typically this can be 3.5 - 3.8 MHz, although in North America, frequencies up to 4.0 MHz can be used, although there is a broadcast band allocation above 3.8 MHz.

This ham radio band can be quite noisy, especially at night as it is shared with other services and this can make it very busy. Also the levels of static can be quite high.

During the day stations up to a few hundred miles away can be heard, making it an ideal band for medium distance contacts. At night ham radio stations from further away can be heard. Distances of over 1000 miles are very common, and greater distances can be achieved by those with good antennas. The band comes into its own during the years of the sunspot minimum, but it can perform well at any time.

Propagation along the grey line can produce exceedingly good results with stations from the other side of the globe being audible at the same strengths as many local stations. However, this may only be short lived and it can be very selective in terms of location. It is also best during spring and autumn.

Most of the ham radio SSB DX takes place in a 'DX window' near the top of the band. As a result this section of the band should be kept clear at all times. This should be observed even when it may appear there is no possibility of any DX coming through because stations with a good location and good antennas might just be able to hear DX stations.

The 80 meter band is popular with evening nets operating on lower ssb for voice. With antenna options available around 125-150 feet in length this is often the lowest band that most amateur operate on. It’s very popular for rag chews in the evenings and if chatting with other hams in the evening for an hour or two interests you, then make sure you get a radio and antenna that can work on 80 meters.

The 40 meter band

The 40m amateur radio allocation is a particularly useful ham radio band, providing an interesting mix of short-haul DX by day and worldwide communications at night. In Europe the band is 200kHz wide, although the section between 7.100 and 7.200 MHz may still have some broadcast stations present. In North America, where it’s 300 kHz wide, frequencies up to 7.3MHz are available, interference from European broadcast stations might be a problem.

During the day, stations up to distances of a few hundred miles can often be heard. Then at night the distances over which stations can be heard increases considerably, but local stations fall in strength. It is a favorite band for many during the low part of the sunspot cycle, being capable of long-haul contacts during the hours of darkness. Again the grey line can produce some spectacular results.

This ham radio band can be a good hunting ground for those with medium power transmitters and average antennas. It is found that comparatively few radio hams use directional antennas and this means that average amateur radio stations are at less of a disadvantage. Trap verticals, provided they are operated against a good earth or ground-plane system, can work well allowing stations all over the world to be contacted.

The 40 meter band is worked with the lower ssb for voice and can be worked 24 hours a day with conditions ranging from barely working to working great as the sun rises and falls and atmospheric conditions vary. During contests this is a very popular band in the evening and overnight when other bands capable of any good distance tend die completely until the next day.

30 meter band

This band was released for amateur radio use after the World Administrative Radio Conference held in 1979. It’s the first of what are called the WARC bands, pre 1980’s era radios often don’t support the WARC bands so keep an eye out for that.

Although 30 meter has been available for many years now, you are not allowed to use it for voice operation. Limited to CW and digital use it is not as widely used although it’s capable of giving good results.

This ham radio band is very similar to 40 Metres and as a result it is capable of giving DX contacts for most of the day, although it is generally better at night, enabling ham radio contacts to be made around the globe. Conditions are enhanced by grey line and dusk or dawn conditions. It is also found that during periods of the sunspot minimum, when ionisation levels are lower, absorption is sufficiently low to allow long-distance contacts throughout the day.

Like the 40 metre ham radio band, this and the other WARC bands are good bands for the DXer who does not have a really big station. Few of the common directional Yagi antennas have this band and some stations may still be using linear amplifiers that cannot operate here. As a result it means that those with more average stations will be operating at less of a disadvantage.

Due to the small size of the band and the high level of commercial activity (because it is shared with other services), most of the operation is in Morse. In fact the IARU for Region 1 have recommended that contests and phone operation should be excluded from this band.


The 20 meter band

This amateur radio allocation is the main long-haul band for radio amateurs, reliably giving the possibility of long-distance contacts during all phases of the sunspot cycle. The band allocation is the same throughout the world, there being virtually no limitations where ham radio activity is permitted.

In terms of the performance of this ham radio band, during the day, stations up to about 2000 or 3000 miles can be heard when conditions are good, and there are virtually always stations between 500 and 1500 miles that can be heard. Often the band will close at night, especially during the winter and during periods towards the sunspot minimum. Spring and autumn normally produce good results, with stations from the other hemi-sphere being heard with ease at various times of the day.

Over the course of a day, signals can be heard from all over the world. In the early morning signals arrive from the east, and typically these will include signals from the other side of the globe. When these signals fade out, more local signals will become prominent, and there may be openings to the west as the Sun rises in that direction. As the afternoon wears on, openings further west may arise. There may also be openings to the other side of the globe again as their morning approaches. In the evening, as the levels of ionisation fall, the local signals will fall in strength, leaving long-distance stations to the west.

Being the mainstay ham radio DX band, 20m is often crowded and, when any rare amateur radio stations appear, the levels of competition is high. As a result many ham radio stations that frequent this band use good directional antennas that are mounted high up, combined with high transmitter powers. Some of the "big" stations run powers of the order of a kilowatt (where licensing conditions permit) and at least three element Yagi antennas at a height of around 60ft (20m). Nevertheless it is still possible to make many good contacts, but it is necessary to employ good operating techniques. Often when the conditions are good it may be necessary to assess the any pile-ups that are heard, deciding whether to preserve to make a contact with a particular station or whether to move on to find if there are any other DX stations with whom contact is more likely.

The 20 meter band is a must have for anyone wanting to work HF and uses the upper ssb for voice. Tons of multi-band and single band antenna options are available for the 20 meter band including the simplest dipoles to the multi element yagi’s.  Chances are if someone gave you a demo of their HF station, they likely dialed around on 20m looking for a long range contact to show off.


17 metres

Like the 30m band, this band was released for amateur radio use after the WARC 79 conference and is the 2nd of the WARC bands. Accordingly some old transceivers may not cover this ham radio allocation.

In terms of performance, it is very much a half-way house between 15 and 20m. Although rather narrow, it is still very popular and well worth investigating when conditions look promising.

This ham radio band can offer some excellent opportunities for radio amateurs with more average stations to contact the rare DX stations. Although beam antennas are available for the band, most stations still use dipoles as those with beams may use them for the more traditional DX bands of 10, 15 and 20m, thereby limiting the number of strong stations. However, more antennas are appearing for the WARC bands with the result that more people are using these frequencies.

The 17 meter band works voice on the upper single side band.


15 metres

The conditions experienced on this amateur band are more variable than for the 20 metre band, being affected more by the state of the sunspot cycle. During the peak it is open during the day and well into the night when it will support propagation over many thousands of miles. Conditions are usually not quite so good in the early morning, improving as the day progresses. During the sunspot minimum few stations may be heard during the day and none at night..

At the top of the 15 metre ham radio band is the 13m broadcast band. It is possible to monitor this to gain a quick assessment of whether the amateur band may be open. Voice operation on the 15 meter band is on the upper single side band.


12 metres

This amateur radio band is the highest of the bands of the 1979 WARC bands. As such it is not as widely used as the traditional bands including 20 metres, 15 metres and 10 metres, but it is still capable of providing some good results and it has a reasonable level of occupancy when compared to 15 or 10 metres. Like 17m this band also is quite narrow but worth investigating when conditions mean the band could be open. Also, there are few stations using beam antennas and this makes it a good hunting ground.


In view of its frequency, this frequency allocation is greatly affected by the position of the sunspot cycle and it has many similarities with 10 metre ham radio band. Voice operation is also on the upper side band.


10 metres

This is the highest-frequency amateur radio band in the short-wave (HF) portion of the spectrum. The allocation remains the same worldwide, and in view of its bandwidth (1.7 MHz) it is used for a variety of different modes of transmission including Morse, and SSB as well as FM, and there are even ham radio repeaters in some countries that are able to give worldwide coverage when conditions are good.

in terms of its properties, during the sunspot minimum it may only support ionospheric propagation via sporadic E which occurs mainly in the summer months. This gives propagation over distances of 1000 miles or so.

At the peak of the sunspot cycle it gives excellent possibilities for long-distance contacts, producing very strong signals. This band is well known for enabling ham radio stations with low powers and poor antennas to make contacts over great distances. In general, propagation on these frequencies requires that the signal path is in daylight. Despite this, at the peak of the sunspot cycle the band may remain open into the night, although it will eventually close.

Activity in the SSB portion of the band is often concentrated between the beacon section and 28.60MHz and a little above. However, it is worth taking a look above this, particularly in contests because stations may also be active in this sector.

Use of upper single side band for voice is heard on the 10 meter band. Stations using low-power FM may be heard towards the top of the band. The recommendation is that FM activity should take place between 29.60 and 29.69MHz, with 29.60MHz as the calling frequency.


There is a variety of different ham radio bands that can be used within the HF portions of the radio spectrum. As I described the bands in detail you should have picked up that the lowest bands work well at night and the highest bands by day with the middle bands having some aspects that work during the day and night. The time of day that you sit down at your radio will affect the bands that you try too operate on.

By choosing the correct amateur band or allocation, it is possible for a radio amateur to maximize their opportunity of making the sort of contacts he or she requires. For those ham radio enthusiasts interested in long distance DXing, a good knowledge of the properties of each of the ham bands is essential, and this should be combined with up to the minute information about the state of the amateur bands and the stations that are active. Using all of this information, along with skill and experience can enable contacts to be made with many rare and interesting ham radio stations.