Jug Handles

As a CW operator it really annoys me when I hear someone send a random “jug handle” (as Roy G4SSH (SK) used to call them). If you haven’t heard the term “jug handle” it relates to the sending of a question mark in Morse didi-dah-dah-didit without your callsign to follow it. This morning Marcin 3Z7Z/P had been operating on 10119.9 MHZ and was spotted by RBN at 08:00. I got on to the frequency at 08:09 and all was quiet as I listened, then two chancers sent “jug handles”. I couldn’t resist going back to them with a question mark myself, followed by my callsign. Neither of them replied - presumably because all they wanted was a QSO with Marcin 3Z7Z. Just then Hans DL3MBE appeared - he wasn’t one of the “jug handle” guys and was politely calling me, and we had an enjoyable five minute QSO. Meanwhile 3Z7Z had been moving to 14061.9 so after my QSO with Hans I called Marcin and we completed a QSO on 20m. He was on SP/TA-010 a 10 point summit.

I just wanted to make it known that I abhor the practice of sending a “jug handle” without a callsign to follow it. Whoever you are please stop doing it. Think about Roy G4SSH as well, as he used to hate hearing it as much as I do.

73 Phil G4OBK


Now that you mention it , it is annoyingly poor practice . Probably the same guys that call you in a pileup of two and when you work the other station first they are gone when you do send a qrz?



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Had someone do that the other evening on 160m. But never heard the term before so thanks for pointing it out. All I sent in reply was another question mark “? UR 5NN” which I also hate, and my callsign to no response of course.
Ian vk5cz …

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I thought this post was going to be about a clever way to use jug handles in the field to support antenna wires etc. Always interesting to learn a new CW term. I wonder what the origin is?


Ha! You had me at the topic title! I immediately thought of Roy.

It’s something I’ve noticed happening when I’ve gone QRT and I’m packing my log book away, etc away but the radio is still on. I hear the odd random ‘?’ without ID.

73, Colin

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Lucky you Phil I haven’t heard any activators on CW for a good while now. When seeing “JugHandles” I thought it was going to be something about someones ears .


Because question marks look like jug handles ¿ ?

It made me chuckle, because as a retired climber, to me a jug handle is a large and satisfying hand hold on a climb, particularly after a passage of difficult moves - then it always earns a sigh of relief! :grinning:


Well well well. On Phone I usually ask “Is the frequency in use?” if I haven’t heard anyone but want to use the frequency. I do not give my callsign until I have no responses to my question asked two or three times and am calling CQ.

Similarly on CW I’ll send ? if the frequency appears unused as a shorthand of the phone question.

Jug handles eh? Well well well. Not heard that one but then I’m a casual CW operator.


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Brian, That’s what I thought too!

The best Jug Handle I ever grabbed was on a sea cliff climb at Swanage, Dorset. I was leading, climbing an open book corner with a crack at the back. I put my hand over the top, at a shelf, and grabbed a huge hold. When I hauled myself onto the shelf, I couldn’t believe what I’d been holding on to. It was a massive ammonite fossil, about a foot across and still attached to the cliff!


It may well be that I have already done this… although it is of course nonsense, because if you send your call at the same time - you can be called directly. And that’s what you want!

I have to check myself!

73 Armin


More pleasant than the (apocryphal?) story I heard many years ago, while climbing at Seneca Rocks in West Virginia. Reportedly a climber reached up to a shelf, far enough above his head that he could see only the lip, and ended up grabbing a rattlesnake. He pulled back before the strike – which, given how fast rattlesnakes can strike, leads me to doubt the veracity. But it was a good cautionary tale for climbers in the Southeast.

Scott WB8ICQ


It should be QRL? meaning is the frequency in use.

73 Victor GI4ONL


Another possibility (although this is just a guess) is the person sending a single “?” has seen the activator’s SOTA spot, tunes to the frequency and, on hearing no activity, sends the ? to see if the activator is still listening or has QSY’d or gone QRT.

However, it that were me, I would probably send the activator’s callsign followed by the ?


I was replying specifically to Ron re the use of QRL?

Frequently I hear people send SOTA? Either they can’t hear the activator or they have gone QRT, the simple answer is just listen for a few minutes before sending anything other than their callsign and it should be obvious if they are being heard or if there is any activity on the QRG.


More than once recently I’ve been listening to SOTA activity a little above the noise floor, only to have it flattened by some non-SOTA operator launching into a QRO 3x3 CQ without so much as a jug hande by way of warning… :confused:

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Jug Handles??.
As an ex climber they were always nice sound easily grasped holds. - as has been said.

I’ve heard “?” being sent too during a quiet period during an activation.

Like Andy I have also wondered whether they may be wondering where the activator is (me), if I’ve not started (or stopped briefly) to send C Q etc., when I’ve paused for a refreshment etc., or simply someone using shorthand to ask if this frequency is busy.

I’m not a mind reader so it often is a guess wether to send a “Yes”, or 'Cfm", or “QRL”. Or, send 'CQ de MGYU/P etc. and cut short the break.,

I guess the latter approach is the sounder approach as it will alert the ‘offender’, to the fact that I haven’t cleared off and gone home or collapsed. And equally it will, or should be heard by the enquirer into whether the frequency is busy or not, and result in him/her going elsewhere.

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I get many on-summit distractions that cause me to stop sending. So, if I hear a “?”, I don’t want this guy to think I’ve finished and he can ‘steal’ my frequency (and chasers) so I will send QRZ? or CQ SOTA G8CPZ/P as soon as I’m able.


I’m grateful to be put on the right track as I was guilty of doing this today! :slight_smile:

Listening on 6m I found someone sending out CQ but I couldn’t make out their callsign. So I sent “?” and they responded by repeating their callsign a couple of times and we went on to complete a QSO although for my part half of what they sent went over my head. :slight_smile:

Is the correct response to send your callsign followed by “QRZ” . My concern today was if I just replied with my callsign they may not repeat theirs and I wanted them to send it again.

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As I started this jug handle thread I best answer this one.

If it were me and I wondered who the station was I would usually reply at about the same speed he was sending at with:

QRZ QRZ ?? de G4OBK G4OBK K. Repeat the QRZ and your call twice on account of his partly unreadable signal, yours could also be unreadable to the station called. If I read a partial callsign I would tend to send the symbols I was sure of before the ? (? is also known as IMI to some telegraphists). LIke QRZ QRZ WIV? WIV? de G4OBK KN. Probably worth having the KN in this exchange rather than just K as you are calling a speciifc station even though you don’t have the full callsign.

73 Phil

PS On SSB I (and many others) must have heard stations come on the SOTA spotted freq and say “ANY SOTA?” without identifying themselves. If no one comes back they don’t further identify themselves.