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During my instrument check ride a couple years ago I was given an unpublished hold by ATC at a fix in the approach. For the hold ATC said something to the effect of "... hold west of [fix name] ..." with no radial, course etc. to hold on specified (at least that's the way I remember it from the check ride...I could be misremembering). Ultimately the hold was cancelled before we got there so I was bailed out from my confusion. However, my question is: am I remembering the instructions right? Will ATC give a hold with no course specified? And if so, what is the expected course?

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Unless it is a published holding pattern, ATC should issue, as you show in your question, a "radial," "course," etc. in addition to the direction from the holding fix.

If there is a published holding pattern at the fix, ATC could instruct you to, as an example: "HOLD EAST AS PUBLISHED." (Ref: AIM para. 5-3-8 b.)

The image below is from the FAA JO 7110.65AA, paragraph 4-6-4 (the U.S. Air Traffic Control Handbook) regarding the issuance of holding instructions. (emphasis is mine)

enter image description here

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  • $\begingroup$ Most likely I missed the course in his instructions. $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Jul 30, 2023 at 17:26
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From FAA Order 7110.65AA:

4−6−4. HOLDING INSTRUCTIONS

When issuing holding instructions, specify:

a. Direction of holding from the fix/waypoint.

b. Holding fix or waypoint. NOTE− The holding fix may be omitted if included at the beginning of the transmission as the clearance limit.

c. Radial, course, bearing, track, azimuth, airway, or route on which the aircraft is to hold.

[...]

So this information is required.

It does say elsewhere that this can be omitted if it is a published hold. Even then, it instructs ATC to give full directions at pilot request. You can and should (and must, per 14 CFR § 91.123(a)) ask for clarification any time you are uncertain of an ATC clearance.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks. I probably missed the course in his instructions then. $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Jul 30, 2023 at 17:25
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    $\begingroup$ @Tom That or an ATC mistake, or the hold was published and you didn't realize it, I suppose. $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Jul 30, 2023 at 17:30
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    $\begingroup$ Sadly, "published" doesn't always mean "published on the chart I'm looking at right now". A holding pattern published for a fix on a low chart might not always show up on a high chart or on an approach chart, or vice versa. Databases tend to help in that regard, but you're still left with needing to confirm what the database pulled up. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Jul 30, 2023 at 18:20

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