Canada & USA
Traditionally, amateur radio operators were issued two separate authorizations; an Amateur Radio Operator Certificate and a radio station license. The Amateur Radio Operator Certificate was issued for life and had no fee associated with it, while the radio station license was issued on a yearly basis and a license renewal fee was charged.
Effective April 1, 2000, Industry Canada has combined these documents into one authorization, the Amateur Radio Operator Certificate. This certificate is the sole authorization required to operate amateur radio apparatus in the amateur radio service.
Although it is no longer necessary for amateurs to renew their licence annually, they are required to inform Industry Canada of any changes in their mailing address.
How to Obtain a Amateur Radio Operator Certificate
All administrative activities for amateur radio, e.g. the issuance of amateur radio operator certificates and call signs, changes of mailing address and requests for special event or special prefix call signs, are carried out from a central location: the Amateur Radio Service Center in Ottawa.
If you are the holder of an Amateur Radio Operator Certificate issued before April 1, 2000, you may obtain a new certificate with a call sign by completing the application form available on our Internet Web site.
If you are not currently an amateur radio operator but wish to become one, please consult the Radio Communication Information Circular 3 (RIC-3), Information on the Amateur Radio Service
There are two means by which an individual may obtain the Amateur Radio Operator Certificate with Basic, Morse code (5 w.p.m.), Morse code (12 w.p.m.) and Advanced Qualifications. They may:
1. be examined by an accredited examiner; or
2. be examined at the local district office of Industry Canada.
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Accredited examiners are available in many areas throughout Canada to provide both Morse code and written examinations on behalf of Industry Canada. They may be contacted through amateur radio clubs, technical schools or the Amateur Radio Service Center.
Information regarding the accredited examiner program can be found in the Radio Communication Information Circular 1 (RIC-1), Guide for Examiners Accredited to Conduct Examinations for the Amateur Radio Operator Certificate.
How to Obtain a Call Sign
Complete the Application and Report for Amateur Radio Operator Certificate and Call Sign, which is available from the Amateur Radio Service Center.
Please note that a call sign in the amateur service can only be issued to a person who holds an Amateur Radio Operator Certificate with Basic Qualification.
When completing the section, "Personal Choice of Call sign", please consult the Amateur Radio Operator Cetificate Services website at www.ic.gc.ca/callsign to confirm what call signs are available. This will increase the chances of your being assigned the call sign of your choice. If you do not indicate your choice of call sign, or if none of your three choices are available, you will be automatically issued the next available call sign.
The call sign will be issued using a prefix based on where the applicant resides. Prefixes currently used for assignment are in accordance with the following table:
|VE1 VA1||Nova Scotia|
|VE7 VA7||British Columbia|
|VY2||Prince Edward Island|
*VE0 call signs are only intended for use when the amateur radio station is operated from vessels that make international voyages.
The application must be sent by mail, fax or e-mail to the Amateur Radio Service Centre.
For detailed information on the Call Sign Policy and Special Event Prefixes, please refer to RIC-9
A fee is not required for the issuance of an Amateur Radio Operator Certificate in accordance with the following:
- to issue an initial station call sign and Amateur Radio Operator Certificate with Basic Qualification;
- to issue a replacement certificate due to loss or damage;
- to issue a replacement certificate with a new call sign, due to a change in address to a new province or territory; and
- to issue a replacement certificate as a result of obtaining an additional qualification such as 5 w.p.m., 12 w.p.m. or advanced.
A fee of $60.00 is required for the issuance of an Amateur Radio Operator Certificate in accordance with the following:
- to change an existing call sign (including changing to a two letter call sign);
- to issue a call sign to the station of a club or other organization;
- to issue an amateur radio operator an additional station call sign; and
- to issue a special event or special prefix station call sign.
How to Operate your Amateur Radio Station
Please refer to the Regulation by Reference (RBR-4), Standards for the Operation of Radio Stations in the Amateur Radio Service.
The Radio Communication Information Circular 3 (RIC-3), Information on the Amateur Radio Service, provides information on various international agreements and arrangements related to amateur radio operation.
Canada has negotiated a number of reciprocal operating agreements that allow Canadian amateurs to operate their stations while temporarily visiting other countries, and also allow foreign visitors to operate in Canada on a reciprocal basis.
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Amateur Radio Service Centre Co-ordinates
For additional information, please contact the Amateur Radio Service Center:
Amateur Radio Service Center
P.O. Box 9654
Postal Station "T"
E-mail address: Spectrum.firstname.lastname@example.org
Telephone: 1-888-780-3333 (Toll free)
Fax number: 1-613-991-5575
Current License Classes
Amateur radio licenses in the United States are issued and renewed without charge, although the private individuals who administer the examinations may recoup their expenses by charging a fee. Licenses currently remain valid for 10 years from the date of issuance.
- The entry-level license, known as Technician Class, is awarded after an applicant successfully completes a 35-question multiple choice written examination. The license grants full operating privileges on all amateur bands above 30 MHz and limited privileges in portions of the high frequency (HF) bands.
- The next level, known as General Class, requires passage of the Technician test, as well as a 35-question multiple-choice General exam. General class licensees are granted privileges on portions of all amateur bands, and have access to over 83% of all amateur HF bandwidth. However some band segments often used for long distance contacts are not included.
- The top US license class is Amateur Extra Class. This license requires the same tests as General plus a 50-question multiple-choice theory exam. Those with Amateur Extra licenses are granted all privileges on all US amateur bands.
The current FCC classifications of licensing were not always the way they are currently and in fact have evolved considerably since the program's inception (see History of US amateur licensing, below). When the FCC made the most recent changes it allowed certain existing operator classes to remain under a grandfather clause. These licenses would no longer be issued to new applicants, but existing licenses may be modified or renewed indefinitely.
- The Novice Class operator license was for persons who had passed a 5 word per minute (wpm) Morse code examination and a basic theory exam. After the 1987 restructuring, privileges included four bands in the HF range (3–30 MHz), one band in the VHF range (30–300 MHz), and one band in the UHF range (300–3,000 MHz). This class was deprecated by the restructuring in 2000. Novice operators gained Morse code only privileges in the entire Morse code and data only segments of the General class portions of 80, 40, 15 and data and Morse code in the general section of 10 meters in 2007 just prior to the end of the Morse code requirement.
- The Advanced Class operator license, whose privileges included 275 kHz of additional spectrum in the HF bands over and above that allocated to General class licensees. It was deprecated by the restructuring in 2000.
In the United States, amateur radio licensing is governed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) under strict federal regulations. Licenses to operate amateur stations for personal use are granted to individuals of any age once they demonstrate an understanding of both pertinent FCC regulations and knowledge of radio station operation and safety considerations. December 2012 will mark one hundred years of amateur radio operator and station licensing by the United States government.
Operator licenses are divided into different classes, each of which correlates to an increasing degree of knowledge and corresponding privileges. Over the years, the details of the classes have changed significantly, leading to the current system of three open classes and two grandfathered (but closed to new applicants) classes.
Each station is assigned a call sign which is used to identify the station during transmissions.
Amateur station call signs in the US take the format of one or two letters (the prefix), then a numeral (the call district), and finally between one and three letters (the suffix). The number of letters used in the call sign is determined by the operator's license class and the availability of letter combinations.
The format of the callsign is often abbreviated as X-by-X where a number in place of the X indicates the quantity of letters, separated by a single digit of the call district.
Currently there are 13 geographically based regions. There were 9 original call districts within the 48 contiguous states, also known as radio inspection districts.    The 10th district (with numeral 0) was split from the 9th district. Three additional regions cover Alaska, the Caribbean (including Puerto Rico), and the Pacific (including Hawaii).
In the last few decades the FCC has discarded the requirement that a station be located in the corresponding numerical district. Whereas at one time the callsign W1xxx would have been solid identification that the station was in New England (district 1), that is no longer the case, and W1xxx may be located anywhere in the USA. Even particularly distinctive calls such as KH6xxx which used to be exclusively in Hawaii, may be assigned to license holders on the US mainland. However, those licensees with KH6, KL7, KP4, etc., call signs must have been living in Hawaii, Alaska or Puerto Rico when they received those call signs.
A newly licensed amateur will always receive a call sign from the district in which he or she lives. For instance, a newly licensed Technician from New England would receive a call sign of the form KC1xxx. The amateur may thereafter apply for a specific or specialized call sign under the Vanity Licensing program.
According to the website Vanityhq.com, approximately 88% of all amateur radio operators have call signs that reflect the district in which they live.
An amateur operator with an Amateur Extra Class license can hold a call from any of the four call sign groups, either by keeping an existing call sign (indefinitely, since there is no requirement to change call sign upon license renewal), or by choosing a Group B, C or D call sign under the Vanity Licensing Program.
Likewise, Advanced Class licensees can hold Group C or D call signs, as well as Group B, and any operator may choose a Group D call sign (in reality, all new licensees, except Amateur Extra, are assigned Group D call signs, since the supply of available Group C "1x3" call signs was quickly depleted with the introduction of the elimination of the Element 1A Morse Code requirement for the Technician Class in 1991)Amateur Radio Callsigns in the United States
|Group A||Amateur Extra Class||Four characters||1-by-2||K, N, or W plus two letters||W1AW|
|2-by-1||AA-AL, KA-KZ, NA-NZ, or WA-WZ plus one letter||AB0C|
|Five characters||2-by-2||AA-AL plus two letters||AB2MH|
|Group B||Advanced Class||Five characters||2-by-2||KA-KZ, NA-NZ, or WA-WZ plus two letters||NZ9WA|
|Group C||Technician or General Classes||Five characters||1-by-3||K, N, or W plus three letters||K9DOG|
|KL, NL, or WL; NP or WP; KH, NH, or WH, plus two letters||KL5CD|
|Group D||Novice, Club, and Military Recreations Stations; and sequentially to Technician or General||Six characters||2-by-3|
(Novice or Club)
|KA-KZ, WA-WZ plus three letters||KA2DOG|
|KA-KZ plus three letters||KN0WCW|
|Source: FCC Callsign information|
The call district assignments are as follows (note that a station may not actually be located in the district indicated by the numeral in the stations's callsign) :
|District||Numeral||States and Territories|
|1||1||ME, NH, MA, RI, CT, VT|
|3||3||PA, DE, MD, DC|
|4||4||KY, VA, TN, NC, AL, GA, SC, FL|
|5||5||NM, TX, OK, AR, LA, MS|
|7||7||WA, OR, ID, MT, WY, NV, UT, AZ|
|8||8||MI, OH, WV|
|9||9||WI, IL, IN|
|10||0||ND, SD, NE, KS, CO, MN, IA, MO|
|11||L0 - L9||AK|
|12||P1 - P5||Caribbean|
|P1: Navassa Island||P3/P4: Puerto Rico|
|P2: U.S. Virgin Islands||P5: Desecheo Island|
|13||H0 - H9||Hawaii and Pacific||H5K: Kingman Reef|
|H1: Baker, Howland Islands||H6/7: Hawaii|
|H2: Guam||H7K: Kure Island|
|H3: Johnston Atoll||H8: American Samoa|
|H4: Midway Island||H9: Wake Island|
|H5: Palmyra Atoll, Jarvis Island||H0: Northern Marianas|
Sequentially assigned call signs
During the processing of a new license application, a call sign is selected from the available list sequentially using the sequential call sign system. This system is based on the alphabetized regional-group list for the licensee's operator class and mailing address.
As of March, 2010, the sequential system for Group C is assigning 2-by-3 formats beginning with the letter K.
The FCC offers amateur licensees the opportunity to request a specific call sign for a primary station and for a club station. The format of the call sign is limited to the same Group or lower, meaning a Technician Class operator can select an available callsign from Group C (e.g. a 1x3) or Group D (e.g. a 2x3), but not from Group A or B (e.g. a 1x2). RACES and military recreation stations are not eligible for a vanity call sign.
Special event 1x1 call signs
The FCC allows the use of special event "1x1" call signs to denote special occasions such as a club's anniversary, a historic event or even a DXpedition. As an example, the call sign "N8S" was used for the April 2007 DXpedition to Swains Island in American Samoa. These call signs start with the letters K, N or W, followed by a single numeral from 0 to 9 then followed by a single letter from A through W, Y or Z. The letter X is not allowed as it is reserved for experimental stations. Thus, there are 750 such call signs available. Each call sign may be used for 15 days from its issue. Each station using the special 1x1 call must transmit its assigned call at least once every hour.
Five coordinators (ARRL, W5YI Group Inc, Western Carolina Amateur Radio Society/VEC Inc, W4VEC Volunteer Examiners Club of America and the Laurel Amateur Radio Club Inc) are authorized to handle these call sign requests.
Notes and references
- Thomas, Ronald (2006-06-28). "The Novice License Helped Shape the '50s Ham Generation". American Radio Relay League. Archived from the original on 2007-01-26. http://web.archive.org/web/20070126104653/http://www.arrl.org/news/features/2006/07/28/1/. Retrieved 2007-04-20.
- See FCC Docket 99-412, page 3
- Friedman, Neil D., N3DF, "83 Years of U.S. Amateur Licensing," The AWA Review, Vol. 9 (1995)
- Hennessee, John (November 1991). "Washington Mailbox". QST: pp. 1
- See FCC Docket 99-412, page 6
- "Impact of new rules on Novice and Technician". The W5YI Group, Inc.. 2007-01-07. http://www.w5yi.org/ama_news_article.php?id=155. Retrieved 2007-04-20.
- FCC Report and Order #90-55, Codeless Technician Decision
- Dinkins, Rodney R.. "Amateur Radio History". Archived from the original on 27 April 2007. http://ac6v.com/history.htm. Retrieved 2007-04-20.
- FCC Order, 9 FCC Rcd 6111 (1994)
- "Trends in Amateur Radio licensing over the last ten years". The W5YI Group, Inc.. 2007-03-19. http://www.w5yi.org/ama_news_article.php?id=173. Retrieved 2007-04-20.
- (PDF) FCC Report and order, 99-412 page 12. Federal Communications Commission. 1999. pp. 12 of 70. http://www.arrl.org/files/file/Regulatory/wt98-143ro.pdf
- FCC's Report and Order #99-412
- Lindquist, E. (2000-02-11). "FCC gives morse element credit to expired novices". American Radio Relay League, Inc. http://www.arrl.org/arrlletter/00/0211/#morse. Retrieved 2007-04-20.
- FCC Report and Order #06-178
- FCC press release, FCC MODIFIES AMATEUR RADIO SERVICE RULES, ELIMINATING MORSE CODE EXAM REQUIREMENTS AND ADDRESSING ARRL PETITION FOR RECONSIDERATION December 15, 2006
- Application Avalanche Under Way as New Codeless Testing Regime Ramps Up. ARRLWeb Bulletin. February 28, 2007
- N4MC's Vanity HQ, retrieved 18-Dec-2011
- Note: vanity only; not used for new licensees
- FCC: Wireless Services: Amateur Radio Service: Call Sign Systems: Sequential
- FCC: Wireless Services: Amateur Radio Service: Call Sign Systems: Special Event
- Special Event (1x1) Call Signs
- AC6V's History of Amateur Radio
- Exam preparation
- QRZ's Online practice exams
- AA9PW's practice exam site (flash not required)
- HamTesting.com Online Practice Exams and Study Tools (Flash not required)
- K2BSA at the 2010 National Scout Jamboree
- General information
- ARRL's US License Privileges by Band Chart.
- FCC Information on Amateur Radio Service Operator Licensing
- FCC Information on Volunteer Examiner Coordinators
- National Conference of Volunteer Examiner Coordinators
Any individual regardless of citizenship who wishes to apply for a US amateur radio license must appear before Volunteer Examiners (VEs). VEs are licensed radio amateurs who conduct examination sessions, frequently through permanently established teams on a monthly or quarterly basis. VEs are governed by Volunteer Examinator Coordinators (VECs), organizations that "coordinate the efforts of Volunteer Examiners ... in preparing and administering amateur service operator license examinations." Although the FCC currently recognizes 14 VECs, the two largest VEC organizations are the one sponsored by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) and the one started by W5YI, now sold and operated by another party. The ARRL VEC coordinates about two-thirds of all U.S. license examinations.
Prior to 1984, many Novice exams were administered by volunteers, but all other exams were taken at FCC offices. Some of the exam times were not always convenient for candidates, so a few exceptions were allowed in cases where candidates were physically unable to get to the field offices (such as the Conditional license, discussed elsewhere in this article).
In the 1950s and 1960s, Novice, Technician and Conditional exams were given by licensees acting as volunteer examiners. No Advanced and very few Amateur Extra exams were administered during this period, leaving the General exam as the only exam class regularly administered by the FCC.
The government's use of licensed amateur radio operators as voluntary examiners dates back to the founding of the Amateur Radio Service as a government-regulated entity in 1912 (Amateur Second Class licenses)