Silent Key (SK)

The term SK is another bit of ham-speak that is not obvious to new or prospective radio amateurs and you should know what it means.

While widely used in ham circles, SK has two differing meanings.  Specific to CW work, SK is a Morse code procedural signal (prosign) for indicating a final transmission in a message or QSO.

More generally, SK means silent key, a term of respect for a deceased ham.  It’s a classy way to denote the loss of a member from the radio amateur community.  Hams will sometimes give tribute to SKs in their biographies as influencers or Elmers.

Silent Key is a dignified term going back to wired telegraphy, adopted in the early days of ham radio when only Morse code was used to honor a CW operator whose key will not be heard again.  This tradition has carried over into modern times when voice, video and data have been added to the amateur radio repertoire.  Considering the prosign SK as “end of transmission,” the double meaning of SK is very fitting.

The ARRL monthly magazine QST prints a list of Silent Keys reported to them.


QRZ also has a page dedicated to listing Silent Keys….


….and they will also note such on individual ham pages of SKs:

QRZ SK Indiv

If you know of a ham who has passed on, consider reporting this to the ARRL and to QRZ.

While not commonly heard, the occasional on-air Silent Key ceremony may actually be conducted for a prominent or beloved ham.

There is also a Canada/USA Silent Key archive dedicated to “collect and preserve photographs, life event narratives, and data artifacts of deceased Amateur Radio operators”.

SK is occasionally confused or mis-used to denote straight key, a traditional telegraph type of Morse key for CW work.  The straight Key Century Club (SKCC) is an excellent group that promotes using non-electronic Morse keys.  Unfortunately the SK part of their name may get twisted around.  They’re not dead; quite the opposite.

So now you know, and we hope that we don’t have to report you as a Silent Key anytime soon!


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