|Getting Started in Amateur Radio Many people get started in amateur radio by finding a local club.
Clubs can provide information about licensing in their respective area,
local operating practices and technical advice. Drop us a line, or if you run into any of our members listed on the members page, feel free to ask them any questions. Amateur radio is a relatively inexpensive hobby depending on how far you would like to go. It is also a fun and exciting hobby when you talk to people around the world on a mobile or hand held radio! Emergency services is our main priority and the active "ham" has no problem assisting emergency services with communications. Our club has it's own examiner and can assist you in training for the examinations needed to become amateur radio operators.
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Getting Started in Amateur Radio
A guide for interested Canadians
Author: LD Blake
Current: February 2008 | Original: March 2006
Amateur radio , also called "ham" radio, is an interesting and diverse hobby. It's
all about communication and technology. You can talk to your neighbour
down the street or make new friends half way round the world. You can
use voice, morse code, digital or internet based modes of
communication. You can work on technical projects with other hams, join
communication teams, sign up for the local club, and lots more. No
other hobby brings people together the way Amateur Radio does. If you
enjoy talking with interesting new people and tinkering with
electronics projects Amateur Radio is the hobby for you.
Unlike times past, modern radio equipment is very
simple to operate and often small enough to fit in your pocket. For
example: the FM walkie talkie on the right nestles very comfortably
into your hand, yet it's got enough power to easily talk across town
and can remember dozens of your favourite repeaters and contact
frequencies. Operation is as simple as pressing a button and speaking
into the built-in microphone.
However; before you can transmit on any of the
Amateur Radio frequencies in Canada you will require an Amateur Radio
Operator Certificate; your license to go on-air. There are several
different qualifications you can earn and there is a test to be taken
for each. You can do them all at once or over the course of time, as
In Canada the priveledges are:
You must pass the Basic test with 70% or better before you can transmit on any Amateur Radio frequency and you must pass this test before any other qualifications are valid.
Studying For Your "Ticket"
Anything worth doing always starts with learning.
In fact, a significant part of the hobby is learning about new
technologies and exchanging information with others who are also
learning. For this reason your study goals should exceed merely passing
the tests. You should shoot for a good understanding of the hobby and
the technologies involved.
The Basic test is dominantly about operations and
regulations. You will need some basic electronics knowledge (resistors,
transistors, ohm's law etc.) general knowledge about station setup, a
thorough understanding of the regulations and some basic knowledge
about the various modes of communication.
Your basic qualification allows you to
communicate with other licensed amateurs on all frequencies allocated
for amateur use above 30 Megahertz (mhz). You can use all modes of
transmission with transmitter power up to 250 watts. You are allowed to
build some of your own equipment (antennas, receivers, microphones
etc.) but any equipment capable of transmitting a signal, including 2
way radios, must be designed and manufactured explicitly for use in the
Amateur Radio Service.
Basic with Honours
This isn't actually a separate qualification but if you score 80% or better on your Basic test you will be granted an "Honours" Certificate. This allows you to transmit on the High Frequency (HF) amateur radio bands below 30mhz but, in all other respects, this remains a Basic certificate and the operating restrictions above still apply.
A Morse Code qualification is no longer required in Canada. However; once you pass your Basic exam you can add it to gain access to the Amateur Radio bands below 30mhz.
You must send and then receive 5 words per minute for 3 minutes with no more than 5 errors, to pass this test.
Although there are other ways to get your "HF"
permissions, Morse Code skill is coveted in Amateur ranks world wide
and this skill can be a big help in meeting and getting along with
You must pass the Basic test
before this qualification is valid. Score 70% on your Advanced test and
the entire hobby is open to you.
The test is dominantly technical. You will need
in-depth knowledge of transmitter and receiver circuitry, antenna
systems and troubleshooting. You will also need a more in-depth
understanding of the various modes of communication.
In addition to your Basic permissions, an
Advanced Certificate allows you to access all amateur radio bands below
30mhz, use up to 1000 watts of transmitter power and --here comes the
interesting part-- it lets you design, build, adjust, modify and deploy
your own transmitting equipment. This includes homebrew transmitters
and amplifiers, reprogramming business band equipment, owning and
operating a repeater, setting up stations for other amateurs, creating
"club stations", building and maintaining emergency communications
equipment and a lot more.
As a bare minimum you will need to know enough to select, deploy, adjust, maintain and operate your station equipment.
It is not all that difficult to get your Basic
Amateur Radio Operator's Certificate. If you've had any exposure to
radio equipment at all, it is likely you already have half the
information needed. The advanced is more difficult and will take some
deliberate study as you will need a working knowledge of electronic
circuitry. Neither is so deeply technical that an average person cannot
do them. There are courses you can take, text books and documents you
can study and there are always other hams who will give you a hand if
you get really stuck. Approach it as a challenge, get curious about the
subject and you should do fine.
Here is a list of things you need to get started:
RAC Study Guides
"Study Guide for The Basic Exam" and the
"Advanced Study Guide" from
Radio Amateurs Of Canada (RAC) are an absolute must. Buy both even if you are only planning
to try for the Basic Certificate. There is some overlap and the
Advanced study guide most often provides the better explanation.
Once you've got your study materials together
it's time to start thinking about the best way to learn all this new
stuff. If you are a reasonably good study you can can quite likely do
this without taking any courses or joining a club. The guides and
documents above are everything you need.
Use your credit card with RAC's On-line Order Form
or contact RAC in email at:
firstname.lastname@example.org to make alternative arrangements.
EMO/ARES Online Course
In addition to the manuals from RAC, the
Emergency Measures of Ontario ARES group, headed by Jim Taylor (VA3KU) has produced a very
complete online training course, sufficient to obtain your Basic
Certificate. The course is available in either
Power Point or
HTML formats on their site. This is a complete course with all supporting documents offered online and free of charge.
Industry Canada Documents
Industry Canada is responsible for Amateur Radio in Canada. They publish a series
of documents that spell out the rules for Amateur Radio operations. Two
of these are required reading if you are to pass your examination:
RBR-4 titled "Standards for the Operation of Radio Stations in the Amateur Radio Service" sets out the general rules and regulations you will be expected to follow.
(Note: The information in these documents supercedes that in your study guides. These documents are updated periodically so be sure to review the latest versions right before your tests.)
RIC-3 titled "Information on the Amateur Radio Service" gives general information about licensing and regulations.
Health Canada Documents
There are health risks involved with Radio Frequency energy. This has been studied and standards have been set by
Health Canada .
You will need to familiarize yourself with
Safety Code 6
both to pass the tests and for your own protection.
Morse Code is used by by Amateurs world wide. There are as
many ways of learning code as there are of cooking eggs but generally
code is learned in two phases:
First you learn to hear code as a "language" or some will
suggest as "music" in that you hear it and make the translation without
having to think "Dah Dit, that's an N" because by the time you do that
the person sending is already well into the next letter. There are
literally dozens of software programs that will help you hear Morse
Code. I prefer
Just Learn Morse Code
It's easy to set up and sends code very nicely.
If your local Amateur Radio Club has courses, you
should probably sign up. You can get in contact with your local club
through the Radio Amateurs of Canada
on their website. Alternatively, there are high tech gadgets that can be used to help you learn morse code on your own.
has several products to help you get started.
Sending code is a whole different experience. Once you can hear code
fairly well, this is mostly a matter of practice, practice and more
practice. You will need to buy a code key and a practice beeper and
you'll likely wear it out. My very best suggestion in this area is to
get hooked up with an experienced Amateur as a critic and find a study
partner to send and receive code with.
All About Circuits if you need a little extra help with the electronics. They have
complete on-line tutorials, reference sections and forums to help you
Test your progress with the Industry Canada
Examiner software This is the actual software Industry Canada uses for tests so don't
get too carried away with it... you want to learn about Amateur Radio,
you do not want to simply memorize the answers. The program can
generate thousands of different test combinations.
Learn more about the hobby at the
websites. They are a wealth of information and each has links to even more sites that are just as helpful.
Get more depth on the
Rules and Regulations
from the RAC regulations page.
Get some on-air experience by hooking up with your local amateur
radio club. Many amateur radio clubs have a "club station" where you
can get some on-air time as a guest under the supervision of an
advanced level ham. To find the club nearest you, see the
on the RAC website.
However, I strongly recommend that you do take
the course and join that club. It's not only going to make learning the
techy stuff easier, club membership is going to help you join in with
others in your area who are already invested in the hobby. Only a small
part of being a ham is messing with technology, the lion's share is
Most clubs either hold their own courses or can steer you onto one at a nearby college or high school. A comprehensive list of
Amateur Radio Clubs
all across Canada can be found on the Radio Amateurs of Canada website.
You should approach the licensing phase as an
opportunity to learn, not an obstacle to talking on the air. The things
you learn and the friends you make while studying will be essential to
your success in the Amateur Radio hobby.
Taking The Tests
There are two ways to be tested for your Amateur
Radio Operator's Certificate. The first is through a system of
volunteer examiners, most often affiliated with amateur radio clubs or
educational facilities. The second method is to be tested by Industry
You can find the volunteer examiner nearest you at The Canadian Amateur Radio
Call Sign Database
(Look in the menus at the top of the window).
If there is no examiner in your immediate area you can contact the Amateur Radio Service Center at either 1-888-780-3333 (toll free) or by sending email to
Spectrum.email@example.com and they will assist you. There are no set fees for license
examinations overseen by volunteers and your certificate is free.
However, a small fee is often negotiated between examiner and examinee
to cover the costs of travel, paper, postage etc.
I certainly do not wish to dampen anyone's
enthusiasm for the hobby but I do feel duty bound to point out that on
occasion there have been clashes between aspiring Amateurs and the
local clubs and examiners. Don't let a few bad actors put you off. You
have every right to try your tests and get on-air, with or without
their support. Simply go around them; contact Industry Canada (phone or
email as above) tell them your story and make arrangements to take your
tests through them. The fee for this is $20.00 per examination, your
certificate is free.
The tests are closed book. You are allowed to
use a "four banger" calculator but not one that can store formulas or
run scripts. The Basic test is 100 questions, multiple choice. The
Advanced is 50, much harder questions, also multiple choice. It took me
about 45 minutes to do each test but of course your speed may be a
little different than mine.
I strongly suggest that whenever possible, you
should do your Basic and Advanced tests together. If you pass the
Basic, do the Advanced. If you fail the Advanced, your Basic
certificate will still be valid and you can re-try the Advanced any
time you are ready. However, if you do pass both tests, the hobby is
all yours to explore, without any added restrictions or limitations you
have to follow.
So far the process has been relatively
inexpensive; a couple of books, a course fee, maybe a club membership,
all easily affordable. But, once you get your Call Sign it's time to
start setting up your station. Here you can spend anything from $20.00
for a used walkie talkie to tens of thousands of dollars for some truly
exotic equipment. Most likely you will want to start someplace between
the two extremes.
Many Amateurs wisely suggest making a station
plan when starting out. This plan will guide you as you begin
participating in your new hobby. To make a workable plan, you will need
to decide what parts of the hobby you want to start with and what
equipment you need. You should also give some thought to which parts
you want to build and which you want to buy.
I put a lot of thought into how I wanted to do this and I think I hit on a pretty good startup plan...
The two meter band, part of the VHF spectrum,
is very attractive for a beginner. It is heavily supported as most
amateurs have 2 meter radios and every city has 2 meter repeaters. The
repeaters tend to be meeting places where it's easy to contact new
people and there are quite a few within easy range of my hometown... so
this was my starting point.
I wanted a base station to use from my home. The advantage of the base
station is greatly increased power and range. However; there isn't a
lot of VHF-only base station equipment available so I decided to use a
mobile radio hooked to a power supply. This part of the plan is handled
by a Yeasu FT-1802 50 watt 2 meter FM transceiver, like the one pictured on the right.
Next I needed a power supply. For this I decided to go with overkill
and purchased a power supply many times what I actually needed. I did
this because I know my first radio will not be my only radio and I will
need power for various peripheral equipment as well. The Samlex
SEC1223, pictured, is a switching supply that does the job very nicely.
It also struck me that I needed a good portable radio to use outside my
home, during various activities. For this I went with a Yaesu VX-170
handy talkie like the one pictured on the right. This is a 5 watt 2
meter FM radio, it's fully portable, has good range and will allow me
to "hit" at least one of the local repeaters wherever I go.
You might also want to consider dual band
VHF/UHF gear such as the Yaesu FT-7800 and VX-6R. If your budget
allows, the advantages in coverage and contact will far outweigh the
Beyond the technotoys, there's still the
matter of antennas, towers and such. This is one area where I had to
make a couple of nasty compromises. Living in an apartment, it rapidly
became apparent I'm not putting up any 80 meter beam antennas. I was
going to be doing my thing on VHF and UHF, at least until I move to a
better spot. I also decided I was going to have to build my own
antennas, designed to work from a balcony without flooding the entire
building with RF radiation. Lots of antennas will work from a balcony
but none that I found were purpose-built for this task, so a 2 meter
version struck me as a very interesting construction project.
We are all individuals. Your plan might be
very different than mine. Your interests, on-air permissions, budget
and the availability of equipment will affect your decisions as will
matters such as space, antenna permissions, etc. The important thing is
to work out a plan that helps you become successfully involved in the
ham activity in your area.
And, eventually we all move beyond our initial plan...
Your station will grow and change over time as
new equipment is added and changes are made. The real fun begins after
you exceed your initial plan.
For those with space to put up a proper
"antenna farm" or at least a decent tower, my suggestion is to not
scrimp on antennas. A poor antenna can render a truly excellent radio
almost useless. If your budget is tight, buy a less expensive radio and
put the extra money into a good antenna; you won't regret it.
Then,if you have HF privileges, there's the matter of a whole lot of
different bands. Most of the bands below 30mhz are covered by "HF"
radios similar to the one on the right. These are expensive radios,
some get over $5000 and then there's antennas and towers to think
about. You might want to consider some used gear to get started with.
If you keep your eyes open, attend the various Flea Markets and
Hamfests and shop patiently you will almost certainly catch some very
Of course your situation, your budget, your
interests and the time you have will all alter your decisions. Within
your constraints, I suggest that when first getting on the air you
concentrate on that one core piece of equipment, spend the money, buy
new and get the warrantee. Then, at the very least, you're able to
start making on-air contacts and friends. The rest, as the mystics say,
will reveal itself as you need it.
So now you are up and going...
Enjoy the hobby and maybe one day we will talk!
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