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How to Become a Radio Amateur

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This booklet is an introduction to the interesting, educational, challenging hobby of amateur radio. It also attempts to answer some of the questions asked by prospective, new (and sometimes experienced) radio amateurs.

What does amateur radio offer me?

Amateur radio is a unique hobby in that it allows you to develop and experiment with radio equipment; for some amateurs, building equipment is the most satisfying part of the hobby. It also enables you to communicate with other radio amateurs throughout the world. Most countries allow amateur radio operation, so regardless of your language, circumstances, age or cultural background, there will always be the excitement of a possible chance contact (which may lead to a life-long friendship) with someone hundreds or even thousands of miles away. In this way amateur radio can be a great asset to those who are housebound, or find mobility a problem, because of the opportunity it provides to make friends. Even language differences need not be a barrier when you use Morse code and 'Q' codes (these are three-letter codes, which have the same meaning throughout the amateur radio world).

The hobby also enables you to help others. Many amateurs offer their services to the first aid organisations, and even the police, at public events and during disaster relief operations at home and abroad.

For more than a hundred years radio amateurs have been at the forefront of developments in telecommunications. Today you can even use your PC, if you wish, as an additional component of your amateur radio equipment, thereby combining IT and radio technology. You can also experiment with antennas, television, RTTY (radio teletype), data (including computer controlled communications such as packet radio and the internet), satellite communications and, of course, short range voice or Morse code transmissions.

What is the difference between a radio amateur and a person who operates Citizens' Band (CB) radio?

A CB licensee does not have to pass any examinations or obtain any qualifications before being allowed to operate. The CB service is short range, with a limited coverage area and may be used for some business purposes. Amateur radio, especially in the HF bands, can enable an amateur to make contact with people in other countries, but business use is not allowed.

How do radio amateurs communicate?

But why do I need a licence?

It is a legal requirement under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949. You must first obtain a licence from the Radiocommunications Agency before you may legally send and receive messages by radio, unless you are operating under the direct supervision of a Full licensee. The licence terms, provisions and limitation documents BR68, BR68/I and BR68/F set out the conditions that apply.

Why must I pass an exam before I have a licence?

The amateur typically transmits from a domestic environment using high radio power. The terms of the licence oblige all radio amateurs to avoid causing interference to other wireless telegraphy services (which include television). A major reason for an examination is to ensure that a potential licensee is fully aware of the interference potential of radio equipment and knows how to remedy any problems that arise. In some circumstances the amateur may need to modify the way he or she transmits, to minimise any problem to neighbours.

Preparation for the examinations has benefits – it helps people acquire technical knowledge and skills that, for some, assist the development of their future careers and livelihood. The RAE certificate is accepted in many parts of the world as evidence of achieving a recognised standard in technical skills in radio.

The Foundation exam is available "on demand" usually at the end of the Training Course. It consists of 20 multiple-choice questions and lasts half an hour.

Licence fees

The fee for all amateur radio licences is 15. The licence is renewed annually and the fee must be paid before the anniversary of the issue date of the licence. On renewal a new Validation Document will be issued indicating validity of the licence.

Since 1997, all amateur radio licences have been free for the under 21s and from 1 April 2001, they have been free for those aged 75 years and over. Such licence holders are required to confirm on an annual basis (via their renewal notice) that they wish their licence to remain in force.

What if I just want to listen to amateur radio?

Many people gain a lot of enjoyment simply from listening to amateur radio transmissions. No licence is required for this, provided that the radio equipment you use is designed for reception only. If you do not wish to take the Training Course and exam, or are not sure how to proceed, a period of listening to amateur transmissions can be a very useful introduction to the hobby.

As a beginner, where should I start?

You can enter the hobby by getting a licence to operate at any one of the three levels – Foundation, Intermediate or Full. The easiest way is to start with a Foundation Licence.

The Foundation Licence

The Foundation Licence has been designed for people of all ages and abilities. The aim of the Foundation Licence is to make it as easy as possible to get started in amateur radio.

This licence provides access to most amateur radio bands, and restricts licensees to a maximum radio frequency output power of 10 watts. The transmitting equipment must be either a commercially manufactured transceiver, or a properly designed commercial kit.

Study for the Foundation Licence can be undertaken over a single weekend or a longer period (whichever suits you best), and is based on the tradition that amateur radio is learnt mainly through self-training. The Foundation Licence is based on a concept of producing "safe and competent" radio amateurs:

Will knowledge of the Morse code be necessary?

The International Radio Regulations require that, to operate on HF frequencies, the operator must "demonstrate an ability to send correctly by ear, texts in Morse code signals". In practice, this will consist of a simple assessment using crib sheets to encode messages into Morse, for example for the letter "A" you would look at the crib sheet, write the letter "A" as a dot and a dash and then send it. The same would work in reverse when decoding a series of dots and dashes - you write them down and using a crib sheet, translate them into letters.

Could a home-designed and built transmitter be used by a Foundation licensee if it is "signed off" by an Intermediate or Full Class licensee?

No. The use of home-built transmitters (i.e. equipment constructed by the amateur without using commercially produced kits) will not be allowed under the Foundation Licence. The reason for this is that to properly construct home-built equipment, a greater technical knowledge is required than the Foundation course would provide, and there is a risk that the equipment may cause interference to other radio users.

What costs will be involved with attending the Training Course?

This will probably be based on recovering the administrative costs of running the course. For example, one club may have to hire a hall, while another might have facilities available that they would not charge for. There is also a charge for the assessment of 5.

Does my licence allow anyone else to operate my radio station?

No one may transmit under your supervision. Licensed amateurs may operate your radio station under their own call sign, using the suffix/P and entering the details in their own logbook.

Can existing Intermediates and Full Class B radio amateurs gain access to HF?

Yes, by a simplified route to a Foundation Licence. Class B Licensees need only take the Foundation Licence Morse Assessment. Class B licensees operating in the HF bands must abide by the terms and conditions of their Foundation Licence and must only use their Foundation call sign.

I am an existing amateur. Is not the Foundation Licence lowering the entry standards for amateur radio?

Clause 1(1) of the Amateur Licence makes it clear that amateur radio is a service for self-training. The Agency and the RSGB believes that a sensible balance needs to be struck between an entry level that is high enough to ensure levels of safety and competence, and yet is not so high as to discourage those who, with the right encouragement, will go on to progress up the licensing structure to Intermediate or Full level. It is this balance that the Foundation Licence seeks to achieve.

The Foundation Licence course

The course is straightforward and focuses on safety, how to avoid interference and good operating practice. It lasts about 10 hours altogether, and is followed by an assessment consisting of 20 multiple-choice questions.

The course covers the following:

  1. The nature of amateur radio
  2. Licence conditions
  3. Technical basics
  4. Transmitters and receivers
  5. Feeders and antennas
  6. Propagation
  7. EMC
  8. Operating practices and procedures
  9. Safety
  10. Morse "assessment"

The Intermediate Class Licence

The Intermediate Class Licence is the next stage up from the Foundation Licence. Before 2001 it used to be called the Novice Amateur Radio Licence. There are two classes of Intermediate Licence: A and B.

The Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB) administers the 5 wpm Morse tests on behalf of the Radiocommunications Agency. For further information, application forms and details of test centres, please contact the RSGB.

The Intermediate Licence Training Course

The Intermediate Licence Training Course is run by the RSGB. It is available at many locations throughout the UK. The aim of the course is to train Intermediate licensees in the basic skills of amateur radio and to make sure they are well prepared to go on air.

The course covers how to operate an amateur radio station, an outline of basic radio theory and practice in constructing your own equipment. It also covers the conditions of the Intermediate Licence, Morse code and many practical aspects of amateur radio. The course lasts for about 30 hours, spread over 12 weeks, although some trainees may need longer than this. Trainees will be continuously assessed and will have to complete specific construction projects. All areas must be passed satisfactorily before a course completion slip can be obtained from the RSGB. Trainees will have to meet the cost of materials used such as components for construction projects and worksheets.

Further information about the Training Course can be obtained from the RSGB - see the contact details at the end of this leaflet.

The Intermediate Radio Amateur Examination (IRAE)

The IRAE is a 75-minute examination, consisting of 45 multiple-choice questions on the subjects covered in the Training Course.

The examination is based on subjects covered in the practical Training Course. The Amateur Radio (Intermediate) Licence Schedule is available for reference throughout the examination. The subjects covered in the examination are as follows:

  1. Receivers and receiving techniques
  2. Components, applications and units
  3. Measurements
  4. Propagation and antennas
  5. Transmitters and transmitting techniques
  6. Operating techniques
  7. Station layout
  8. Construction
  9. Safety
  10. Licensing conditions

Copies of the syllabus and sample question papers are currently available from City & Guilds (see the contact details at the end of this leaflet).

Note: It is envisaged that the syllabus will be revised early in 2003 and a pass at Foundation level will be required before sitting the Intermediate exam.

The Full Amateur Licence

As with the Intermediate Licence, there are two classes of Full Licence, A and B. The Class A Licence permits the use of all the frequency bands allocated to the amateur service, including the HF (high frequency) bands, which may enable gobal communications. To become a Class A licensee, it is necessary for you to have passed the Radio Amateur's Examination (RAE) and also the 5 wpm Morse test. Details of the Morse test are covered in the Morse information sheets (RA402).

The Class B Licence only permits the use of frequency bands allocated to the amateur service above 30MHz, which does not however, normally facilitate communications over more than a few hundred miles (unless the Amateur Satellite Service is used). It is necessary for you to have passed the RAE to obtain this licence.

The Radio Amateur Examination (RAE)

Courses are run and examinations conducted in technical colleges, evening institutes, local radio clubs and schools throughout the country. Enrolment normally takes place in September each year. If you have difficulty in finding a convenient course, you should contact either the Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB) or your local Regional Advisory Council for Technological Education, who should be able to tell you where your nearest course is being held. No previous qualifications or experience are required for entry to this examination – all that is needed is enthusiasm and (perhaps) persistence.

The RAE consists of one multiple-choice question paper covering:

Copies of the syllabus are available from the City & Guilds of London Institute (see contact points).

Exams – questions and answers

Who sets the question papers and decides on the syllabus?

An advisory group (whose members include representatives from the RA, C&G, RSGB, electrical engineering and educational bodies) is responsible for each syllabus and compiles the question papers. Any changes in a syllabus will be notified to the colleges well in advance of the examinations.

Can I take an examination if I am disabled or housebound?

Yes. Special arrangements are made for candidates with disabilities. Subject to receiving satisfactory evidence, City & Guilds (C&G) may agree to make certain allowances and can allow more time or permit you to take the examination at home or in hospital. If, for example, you have difficulty writing because of a temporary problem (such as a broken wrist), an amanuensis (a writer) may be allowed. In these cases adequate medical evidence must be supplied to the Head of Examinations at C&G whose decision is final. If you think you come into this category, please contact C&G.

Is there an age limit?

No! Anybody, regardless of age, can obtain any class of Amateur Radio Licence, as long as they have passed the relevant examination.

Note: It is envisaged that the syllabus will be revised early in 2004 and passes at Foundation and Intermediate level will be required before sitting the Full RAE exam.

Subject to availability there is nothing to prevent a candidate sitting all three exams in quick succession.

I've passed the exam – how do I get my licence?

Once you have attained the required qualifications, please complete the relevant application form (RA395 Foundation or RA188 Full) and send it to:

Radio Licensing Centre (RLC)
P.O BOX 884
Bristol BS99 5LF

Tel: 0117 925 8333

Minicom: 0117 921 9550

In order to comply with the requirements of the Criminal Procedures and Investigations Act (CPI) 1996, all telephone calls to the RLC are recorded.

Please include the following documents:

For a Foundation Licence:

or, for those with an existing class B licence

For an Intermediate Licence:

For a Full Licence:

NB: If you are under 21 or over 75 years of age, you need not include the fee.

Call signs

Your call sign will be assigned to you when you get your first amateur radio licence. It is unique to you, and you will use it to identify yourself every time you transmit. Not only radio amateurs use call signs – ship radio licensees do too.

Call signs are necessary under international law – Article 25 of the International Radio Regulations (to which the UK is a party) says that the Amateur Service must use a system of licence identification.

Call signs:

A radio amateur call sign is made up of:

Appendix 42 of the International Radio Regulations specifies the call sign prefixes available. The UK has G, M and 2. G format call signs are fully allocated. At present Full Class A licensees are issued with call signs commencing "M0" and for Class Bs "M1". Foundation licensees will be issued an "M3" call sign. A secondary element is added to the "M" prefix to indicate that transmissions are from a region other than England, as follows:

WALES MW
SCOTLAND MM 

NORTHERN IRELAND

MI 

GUERNSEY

MU
JERSEY MJ
ISLE OF MAN MD

Therefore, a Class A licensee living in Wales could have the call sign "MW0ZZZ" a Class B licensee in Jersey could have the call sign "MJ1ABC" and a Foundation licensee living in Northern Ireland could have the call sign "MM3DOH".

Format for the Intermediate call sign:

Intermediate call signs start with the number "2". At present, Class A licensees are issued with call signs commencing "2 + letter + 0" and Class Bs with "2 + Letter + 1". The secondary regional locators are identical to those for the Full series with the addition of England, which for the Intermediate is "E".

Call signs – questions and answers

If I have just qualified, can I request a particular call sign?

Yes, you will be able to choose any call sign in the current series providing that it has not already been issued or requested. Applicants will need to contact the Radio Licensing Centre to check that the call sign is still available. The call sign will then be allocated once the licence application is received. Call signs will be issued on a "first come, first served" basis.

Can I change my call sign for a different one in the same class?

Very rarely, because of the Agency's obligations under the International Radio Regulations to maximise the use of call sign series available, very few changes of call signs are agreed to. Changes will ONLY be considered on a case by case basis where the newly issued call sign is found to form an obviously offensive word or acronym or where a medical condition such as a stutter makes the use of the call sign impossible. In most cases where the radio amateur anticipates a facetious reaction to a call sign, the reaction soon disappears as the novelty wears off, and the call sign returns to its proper place as an administrative device.

Can I hold more than one call sign?

Class B licensees (both Full and Intermediates) who subsequently pass the Morse test or Morse assessment can apply for a Class A or Foundation Licence and retain their Class B call sign. They would have to pay two licence fees and must ensure that they use the correct call sign when operating below 30MHz. They must also abide by the terms of the relevant licence.

Can a call sign be passed on to another amateur?

We are aware of some instances of unwelcome approaches to the families of deceased amateurs, seeking their call sign. Whilst it is usually the case that such approaches are due to an over enthusiastic reaction to obtain an attractive call sign the only way to avoid problems of this nature is to restrict the type of requests for transfers that we would consider. Furthermore, transferring call signs puts quite an administrative burden on the RLC and the Agency at the expense of other licensees.

Requests of this kind will only be considered on a discretionary basis e.g. where the request comes from a member of the "immediate family" of the deceased. In addition, the Agency will consider requests made in a will. We may also consider cases where the "immediate" member of a family becomes a Class B licensee and wishes to adopt the original Class B call sign once held by another member of the family who now holds a Class A Licence.

Can old call signs be re-issued?

Except as noted above, only if the call sign was your own originally. Anyone who once held a full UK licence may apply for its re-issue. Application forms and details of the documentation that is required is available from the RLC (see contact points).

What call signs do visiting amateurs use under a reciprocal licensing agreement? And what call signs do amateurs use under CEPT Recommendation T/R 61-01?

UK visitors with a reciprocal licence use their own national call sign preceded by the current UK indicator currently M + the regional locator. Amateurs operating under CEPT Rec. T/R 61-01 will use their own call signs prefixed with the appropriate letter for the country visited.

What is a special event call sign, and when and how can I obtain one?

This type of call sign (using the special "GB" prefix) is administered on our behalf by the RSGB using Notices of Variation (NoVs). Special event stations permit the amateur to pass third party messages from unlicensed people. Such messages must not be longer than five minutes and the station must remain under the direct control of the licensed amateur who obtained the NoV. Using these NoVs, the RSGB is able to provide a service to radio amateurs, which is intended to promote the amateur service in the public eye. Each NoV is valid for 28 days only. These special call signs are not available for Intermediate or Foundation licensees.

The special event call signs must reflect an existing call sign series, which relates to the class of licensee. However, you may choose one, which you consider to be appropriate for the occasion if it is still available. Thus you may be a Class A licensee with a G0 sign but may choose GB4SO if you are celebrating the 4th anniversary of a particular scout outing. There is a limit to the amount of flexibility to be gained from these call signs for special events, and you may not be able to choose one that is fitting, so be prepared with alternatives to avoid disappointment.

Note: All applications to the RSGB should be made at least one month prior to the date of the event.

Special event call signs, e.g. GB100PRC are sometimes requested for special anniversaries such as centenaries. Such call signs do not conform to the amateur radio call sign format stipulated in the International Radio Regulations. They are therefore only issued on a very exceptional basis and are subject to clearly defined criteria. Call signs are granted only to national organisations and only to celebrate events of international or more rarely national importance.

For further information, please contact the RSGB.

Amateur radio and the Internet

Intermediate and Full Amateur Licence holders are now able to use amateur radio to access the Internet.

If you are interested in this facility you can apply online at the RSGB Datacommunications Committee (DCC) website at http://www.dcc.rsgb.org and click on "Internet Linking".

Repeaters and gateways

A repeater is essentially an unmanned amateur radio station, which receives and transmits signals. They are necessary in situations where it is difficult for radio amateurs to receive signals such as a valley. Repeaters are usually set up on hillsides to ensure the required coverage.

If you require access (to the Internet) via a repeater, you should contact the RSGB in the first instance. Please note that no applications will be processed unless permission has been sought and approved by the repeater keeper (in writing). For further details, please contact the RSGB.

Repeaters and gateways – questions and answers

What exactly will I be allowed to do?

"The licensee will be permitted to connect his station to non-amateur networks for the purposes of establishing a gateway at the main station address."

Control of the gateway:

The licensee:

Are there any identification requirements?

Yes – the licensee must transmit his call sign:

How much power can I use?

This will depend but in most cases not more than 4 watts (6dBW erp) will be permitted.

I have heard about a one-kilowatt licence – does this exist?

There is no such thing as a "one kilowatt licence". However, there is a Special Research Permit. It is usually granted to individuals in remote areas who wish to conduct specific scientific experiments such as "Meteor Scatter" and "Moonbounce". The power allowed may (in some circumstances) be up to 1 kilowatt. Those requesting such permits must apply via the RSGB VHF committee with a detailed proposal. The RSGB "vets" the proposal on behalf of the Agency. Once this process has been completed the RSGB sends the details to the Agency for approval* after which an NoV is issued.

What sort of information will the RSGB require?

The RSGB will require the following:

All permits may allow up to 30dBW pep.

Contact points

For all enquiries i.e. licence renewals/general enquiries concerning individual licences or their issue:

Radio Licensing Centre
PO BOX 885
Bristol BS99 5LG

Tel: 0117 925 8333
Minicom: 0117 921 9550

In order to comply with the requirements of Criminal Procedures and Investigations Act (CPI) 1996, all telephone calls to the Radio Licensing Centre are recorded.

* NB: Not all applications for an NoV are approved.

Further reading

Subject listing of RA information sheets and applications forms:

Order ref no

 
Application for Amateur Radio (Foundation) Licence
RA395
Application for Amateur Radio (Intermediate) Licence A or B
RA165
Application for Full Licence (A or B and Club)
RA188
Application for a Temporary Licence for non-UK Residents
RA189
Foundation Licence Information Sheet
RA400
Intermediate Licence Information Sheet
RA166
Amateur Radio Clubs and Societies
RA401
Morse Information Sheet
RA402
Radio Amateur Information Sheet Operation Under CEPT
RA247
Electromagnetic Compatibility and the Radio Amateur
RA234
Abuse of Amateur Radio
RA345
Receive Only Radio, Scanners etc
RA169
Amateur Radio (Foundation) Licence Terms, Provisions and Limitations Booklet
BR68/F
Amateur Radio Licence (Intermediate) Licence (A) or (B) Terms, Provisions and Limitations Booklet
BR68/I

Amateur Radio Licence (A) or (B) Terms, Provisions and Limitations Booklet

BR68

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RA 190 (rev 13)
MARCH 2002
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