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. Download the ExHAMiner here. 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 you prefer.

In Canada the priveledges are: Basic 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.

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.
Morse Code 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 other Amateurs.

Advanced 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.

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.

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 The "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.

Use your credit card with RAC's On-line Order Form or contact RAC in email at: service@rac.ca 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.
RIC-3 titled "Information on the Amateur Radio Service" gives general information about licensing and regulations.
(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.)

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 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.

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.
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 Clubs List on their website. Alternatively, there are high tech gadgets that can be used to help you learn morse code on your own. MFJ Enterprises has several products to help you get started.

Extra Help Try 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 along.

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 HF Radio and Ham Universe 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 Clubs List on the RAC website.
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.

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 social.

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 Canada itself.

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.amateur@ic.gc.ca 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.

Success! 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 added expense.

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 good bargains.

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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