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The Amateur Radio licence

Examination required

Sealing wax and string, plus 400 Watts

The Radio Amateurs' Examination

Morse Code

Free Licence?

Training Courses

The Amateur Radio licence

Amateur Radio licences are very different from Private Business Radio licences as used by taxi firms, rescue teams, St. John Ambulance, police, fire, ambulance etc. With an Amateur Radio licence, the PERSON is licensed to transmit.  With a PBR licence, the RADIO EQUIPMENT is licensed.

Instead of one PBR licence per radio with a possibility of many users per radio, an Amateur Radio licence could mean one licence for one person to own and use a hundred radios.  It would, however, require the possession of an indecently excessive amount of arms and mouths for one person if the radios were to be used at the same time.

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Examination required

Anybody may legally receive Amateur Radio signals. To transmit on Amateur Radio bands, an Amateur Radio licence is required.  This will only be issued by Ofcom if the Radio Amateurs' Examinations have been passed.  Until several years ago, there was also a requirement to pass a Morse Code test at 12 words per minute.  This is no longer required in the UK.  The USA and some other countries have also followed the UK and abandoned the requirement of passing a Morse Code test.

Many people can't understand why there are so many legal restrictions on the use of Amateur Radio equipment. Many Radio Amateurs also can't understand it.  The main reasoning behind it is that compared with other users of radio transmitters, Radio Amateurs often have a greater range and therefore have a much greater capability of causing undue interference to other authorised users of the radio spectrum.

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Sealing wax and string, plus 400 Watts

In addition, other radio users are limited to type approved equipment and perhaps 4, 10 or 25 Watts of radio power with simple aerials.  They can't usually use high gain aerials.

Radio Amateurs may make and use their own transmitters.  The legal power limit varies, depending on the different bands used and in how the power is measured or expressed.  It could be 150 Watts or 400 Watts.  There is no limit to the height of an aerial (except near airports) or the gain of an aerial.

The fact that we can squirt out a 400 Watt signal to cover the world using home built transmitters and possibly accidentally jam a hundred other radio systems at the same time is the reason for the nature of the exams.

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The Radio Amateurs' Examination

Until recent years, the RAE was in two parts.  One part was the thorough knowledge of the legalese of the Amateur Radio licence conditions.  The other part was technical knowledge of radio systems, the main causes of interference, how to recognise that it could be occurring and how to prevent it.  Older Radio Amateurs took the exam in essay format.  Later, it became of the multiple guess variety.

Many of the oldies say that the multiple guess format made the exam too easy for newcomers.  The truth is probably that the oldies couldn't pass the multiple guess exam without much revision, so it can't have been that easy.

Nowadays, newcomers can't just take one exam and achieve a full licence.  They must go through the stages of Foundation Licence, Intermediate Licence and Full Licence.  Some local Amateur Radio Clubs provide official training courses on a voluntary basis.

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Morse Code

The reason why Radio Amateurs needed to be proficient in Morse Code until several years ago is that some bands were shared with ships' marine radios.  Ships tended to use voice transmissions when close to shore and then had to use Morse Code to get a good distance.

Marine radio traffic always had priority over Amateur Radio transmissions on shared bands.  The argument was that if a ship's wireless operator needed to tell a Radio Amateur to change to another channel, he would do so in Morse Code.  If the Radio Amateur couldn't read Morse Code, he wouldn't know he was being instructed to move frequency.  The Morse test was not just a UK idea.  It was an international requirement.

It has been a number of years since international maritime laws removed the need for qualified wireless operators on all large vessels.  Nowadays, ships can use satellite radio links to get long distances without the need for people with specialist technical knowledge and the ability to use Morse Code.  International agreements stated that each country could drop the requirement for a Morse test if they wished.

Some Radio Amateurs hated Morse and the requirement to pass such an exam.  Others love Morse and still use it every day.

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Free Licence?

In 2005 and 2006, Ofcom considered various methods of collecting revenue from holders of an Amateur Radio licence.  At that time, licences were 15 per year.

On 4 Jul 2006, Ofcom published a draft version of the lifetime amateur radio licence.  The target date for the new licence was 1 Oct 2006 and the licence regulations have now been changed to allow a free lifetime licence.  The licence is issued electronically via the internet, with the option of it being sent via the post.  Amateur licence holders will have to confirm with Ofcom that they wish to continue holding an amateur licence at intervals of not more than five years.  This seems to be a method of confirming home addresses and that the person is still alive.

Although the lifetime licence is free of charge, there is no change to the requirement to pass training courses and examinations.

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Training Courses

Some amateur radio clubs are registered to teach the amateur radio syllabus and examination courses.  Two such clubs in the Teesside area are:-

East Cleveland Amateur Radio Club

Meets every Friday, September to May, from 7 pm to 9 pm in the Committee Room of The New Marske Institute Club, Gurney Street, New Marske, Redcar. TS11 8EG.

If you use an e-mail application similar to MS Outlook, you can send an e-mail message to the club contact person by clicking here.   If you use web-based e-mail, hover your mouse over the underlined word and you will be able to see the e-mail address in your web browser's status bar.

Stockton and District Amateur Radio Group

Meets every Wednesday, except the summer school holidays.
From 7:15pm to 9pm in The Community Centre, The Causeway, Billingham, Stockton-on-Tees.

You can send an e-mail message to the club contact person by clicking here

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Note that the following hyperlink, to the rules about the Full Amateur Radio licence, shows a document which is several years out of date.  It doesn't indicate that a Morse Code test is no longer necessary.  It seems to be the most recent version available from Ofcom.  There haven't been such things as a Class A and Class B licence for years.  They are both now called a Full Licence.

How to become a Radio Amateur   Amateur Radio Societies

Ofcom Amateur Radio Lifetime licence

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You can send an e-mail message to Cleveland RAYNET Group by clicking here.   This will fail if you use web-based e-mail.
Page updated on 09 January 2017

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