Amateur radio call signs of Canada

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Amateur radio operator of station VE2WTY

Amateur radio or ham radio call signs are unique identifiers for the 68,000 licensed operators in Canada. Call signs are regulated internationally by the ITU as well as nationally by Industry Canada, which regulates all aspects of amateur radio in the country. It assigns call signs, issues amateur radio licences, conducts exams, allots frequency spectrum, and monitors the radio waves.

Call sign blocks for telecommunication[edit]

The International Telecommunication Union has assigned Canada the following call sign blocks for all radio communication, broadcasting or transmission:[1]

Call sign block

While not directly related to call signs, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has further divided all countries assigned amateur radio prefixes into three regions; Canada is located in ITU Region 2.

These regions are further divided into two overlapping zone systems: the ITU zone and the CQ zone.[2][3]

Call sign assignments for amateur radio[edit]

Map of amateur radio prefixes

Industry Canada from the Canadian federal government allots the individual call signs to the radio amateurs it licenses. There are 24 possible 2-letter prefixes and 240 2-letter/1-number prefixes available to Canadian operators based on the ITU blocks (CF, CG, CH, CI, CJ, CK, CY, CZ, VA, VB, VC, VD, VE, VF, VG, VO, VX, VY, XJ, XK, XL, XM, XN, and XO). There are potentially approximately 4,340,000 call signs available in Canada.

Of these prefixes, 5 are currently assigned (CY, VA, VE, VO, and VY) for normal amateur radio operation. Industry Canada assigns regular operating call signs from 25 prefix/numeral blocks (e.g. VE1, CY9....). The other prefixes are assigned for special event operation for a time-limited period.

For Canadian amateur licences, suffixes of radio call signs usually comprise two or three letters, the former being available only to amateurs who have been licensed for 5 years or more. Amateurs can hold only one two-letter suffix call sign, but as many three-letter suffix call signs as they wish.

There are 18,252 possible combinations of two- or three-letter suffix call signs per prefix. Industry Canada follows Article 19 of the ITU Radio Regulations[4] by disallowing 156 suffix-combinations because they may be confused with 3-letter communications signals (i.e. Q-codes) or other combinations which can be confused with distress signals. The Recommendation ITU-R M.1172 [5] lists groups of letters from QOA to QUZ as abbreviations and signals to be used in radiotelegraphy communications. 'SOS' is also generally excluded, however the old distress call of 'CQD' can be allocated.

For occasional special events, 1-, 4-, or -5 letter suffixes can be assigned to a licensed operator for a specific period of time.[6]

Canada is assigned DXCC entity #1, with the exception of Sable Is. and St.-Paul Is. which are DXCC entities #211 & #252 respectively. Call sign prefixes are issued according to one's province or territory of residence by the following table:

Prefixes Province/Territory ITU Region ITU Zone CQ Zone # within prefix issued[7][8] # amateurs[9]
VE1 VA1 Nova Scotia 2 9 5 2,986 2,536
VE2 VA2 Quebec 2 4, 9 2, 5 17,031 16,975
VE3 VA3 Ontario 2 3, 4 2, 4, 5 20,623 20,752
VE4 VA4 Manitoba 2 3 4 1,844 1,810
VE5 VA5 Saskatchewan 2 3 4 1,465 1,452
VE6 VA6 Alberta 2 2 4 5,942 5,967
VE7 VA7 British Columbia 2 2 3 13,836 14,130
VE8 Northwest Territories 2 2, 3 1 113 73
VE9 New Brunswick 2 9 5 1,447 1,853
VE0* International Waters 582 0*
VO1 Newfoundland 2 9 5 1,260 1,242
VO2 Labrador 2 9 2 179 66
VY1 Yukon 2 2 1 186 172
VY2 Prince Edward Island 2 9 5 273 335
VY9** Government of Canada 5
VY0 Nunavut 2 3, 4 2 37 19
CY0*** Sable Is.[10] 2 9 5 0 0
CY9*** St-Paul Is.[10] 2 9 5 0 0
Overseas addresses 29
* VE0 call signs are only intended for use when the amateur radio station is operated from a vessel that makes international voyages. First assigned in 1954, Canada is the only country to assign a special prefix to operators on its ships in international waters.[11] None of the operators reside at sea, but have residence within one of the other call-sign areas.
** Industry Canada lists five (5) call signs with VY9 prefix issued to individuals related to that government department. These individuals reside in or near Ottawa, as well as Sherbrooke, Quebec, and Fort Smith, NWT.[12]
*** Sable Is. and St-Paul Is. are assigned separate call sign prefixes by virtue of being directly under the authority of the federal government of Canada. They are respectively DXCC entities #211 & #252. St.-Paul Is. used to be covered by the VY9 prefix and Sable Is. used to use VX9 (which is now used by experimental stations).
Note: calls issued do not reflect the actual number of amateurs in a call area – some amateur operators have more than one call sign, and due to lag in reporting changes some might currently be issued to an operator living in another call sign area

Special event call signs[edit]

Industry Canada reserves the right to issue temporary special event call signs to licensed amateurs using the other available prefixes.[6][13]

Typically, for national or regional observances licensed amateurs add their suffix to the assigned special event prefix as per the following explanation. An individual amateur may apply for a single special event callsign that has any of the 24 prefixes and an appropriate suffix related to the event. For instance, VA3OR received the special event call CF3NAVY from 4 June to 3 July 2010 to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Royal Canadian Navy.In 1973 for the centennial of the RCMP a call sign VE3RCMP was issued and used from N division in Ottawa from April to November. The operators were all members of the RCMP who were also amateur radio operators.

For the special national event commemorating the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, from 1 Feb to 31 Mar 2010 amateurs could substitute VG for VA, VX for VE, XJ for VO, XK for VY so that an amateur with call sign VE3AAA could use VX3AAA, or VY0AAA could use XK0AAA.[14]

Call Signs with more than one numeral[edit]

Some special event call signs have been issued by Industry Canada with more than one numeral. For instance, VE2008VQ was issued for the 400th anniversary of the founding of Québec City from June 28 to July 27, 2008. Also, CG200I was issued for the 200th Anniversary of the Lighthouse of L'Ile Verte (Green Island), Québec.[15]

Technically speaking, the first digit is the numeral separating prefix from the suffix, and the rest are part of the suffix.

Automobile licence plates for amateur operators[edit]

Canadian provincial and territorial motor vehicle licensing authorities can issue special licence plates to amateurs resident in their jurisdiction.[16][17] In British Columbia, The ICBC application form clearly allows only call signs beginning with VE7 or VA7,[18] but calls from other jurisdictions sometimes slip through.

Reciprocal agreement with the United States[edit]

Under a reciprocal agreement between the United States and Canada, United States citizens licensed by the FCC can use their call sign within Canada as long as they affix the appropriate Canadian area-prefix to the end of their American call sign. For instance, a United States amateur with call sign W6AAA operating in British Columbia would sign as W6AAA/VE7.[19]

History of call sign allocation[edit]

The following paragraphs outline the history of amateur call sign allocation in Canada.[20]

before 1913[edit]

Before 1913 amateur and experimental operators in Canada identified with the initials of their name.


The first regulation came in 1913 which required that an operator begin the call sign with an "X" (for "experimental"), followed by the first letter of their surname. The last letter in this 3-letter code was assigned in alphabetical order as people applied for a call sign.

The Berlin and London Radiotelegraphic Conventions[21] of 1913 assigned the block VAA–VGZ to Canada; however, amateur radio stations were not yet part of this international lettering scheme.


In 1920 a preceding number was added to the call to indicate the region within Canada the operator resided.

1920 Prefixes Province/Territory
1 Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island
2 Quebec
3 Ontario
4 Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba
5 British Columbia, North West Territories and Yukon Territory
6 Training Schools
9 Experimental
10 Amateur broadcasting

As international communication became more frequent, Canadian amateurs by habit put a prefix of 'C' in front of the number above, and Americans similarly used a 'U' as a prefix. On 1 Feb 1927, European countries began using a two-letter prefix beginning with 'E' in front of their regional identifying numbers. Following that practise North American operators put a leading 'N' in front of their calls, so that Canada's prefix became 'NC' and Americans used 'NU'. For example a British Columbia amateur would sign their transmissions with a prefix of NC5.


At the International Radiotelegraph Conference (Washington, 1927) Canada was assigned the ITU blocks of CFA–CKZ and VAA–VGZ.[22] These came into force 1 Jan 1929 and amateur radio was now included in the ITU lettering scheme. The amateur radio prefix used was 'VE' which replaced the prefix 'NC', as the N series had been allocated to the United States.


Following World War II, the International Radio Conference (Atlantic City, 1947) met and refined the international call sign blocks. Canada was issued with CFA–CKZ, CYA–CZZ, VAA–VGZ, VXA–VYZ, XJA–XOZ and 3BA–3FZ.[23] These came into force 1 January 1949. The 3BA–3FZ block eventually was reallocated between Mauritius, Equatorial Guinea, Kingdom of Swaziland, Fiji, and Panama.

The Canadian government reformatted amateur call signs according to this table.

1946 Prefixes Province/Territory
VE1 Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island
VE2 Quebec
VE3 Ontario
VE4 Manitoba
VE5 Saskatchewan
VE6 Alberta
VE7 British Columbia
VE8 Yukon and Northwest Territories
VE9 Experimental, transferred to NB in 1994


In 1949 Newfoundland and Labrador joined with Canada and the VOA–VOZ block of prefixes came with them. In 1954 the federal government made VE0 available to Canadian operators in international waters. The additions to the 1946 prefixes are summarized as:

Date Prefix(es) Province/Territory Comment
1949 VO1 Newfoundland Newfoundland entered Confederation
1949 VO2 Labrador entered Confederation with Newfoundland
1954 VE0 International Waters for Canadian operators at sea
1977 VY1 Yukon Northwest Territories retained VE8
1990 VY2 Prince Edward Island Nova Scotia retained VE1
1994 VE9 New Brunswick Experimental prefix transferred to NB, NS retained VE1
1990s VY9, VX9 Government of Canada Reserved for Government of Canada operators and St.-Paul Is.; Sable Is. assigned VX9
1990s CY0, CY9 Sable Is., St.-Paul Is. Now considered separate DXCC entities (#211 & #252) so assigned unique prefixes, VX9 given to experimental stations
1995 VA3 Ontario VA3 prefix adopted to increase number of available call signs
1999 VY0 Nunavut Nunavut recognized as a territory on Apr 1, NWT retains VE8
1999 VA NS, QC, MB, SK, AB, BC VA1, VA2, VA4, VA5, VA6, VA7 prefixes adopted

See also[edit]


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