There are so many unanswered questions for the new HAM enthusiast. In this HAM Radio 101, we’ll find out what you need to do to get your HAM Radio License
HAM Radio 101 – Get Your HAM Radio License
What does it take to get your HAM radio License?
I’m sure you can think of all manner of hoops that you must jump through.
What you have to do to get your HAM license
- Study (it’s pretty simple, really)
- Then you just have to take a simple test, made up of 35 questions.
- Pay $15 to take the Exam
What you get when you pass your HAM license Exam
- A cool call sign
- A license good for 10 years
- Privileges: All VHF/UHF Amateur bands (frequencies above 30 MHz).
- Limited operations in certain HF bands.
I don’t need no stinkin’ license
I hear so many people say “I don’t need a license after SHTF”.
This is true, but good luck figuring out a HAM radio, without the internet to help you. It’s not intuitive, there really is a lot of things you need to understand. This is why you need your license and need to practice before it’s to late!
Otherwise you may be stuck using a CB for your comms. I’m not hating, I have 2 CBs just for post-SHTF listening. Got to get my local recon somewhere.
Preparing for your HAM License Exam
Class Room Training
Some people learn better in a classroom environment, or don’t trust themselves to dig in and learn on their own. That’s fine. There are many classes organized by ARRL (American Radio Relay League). You can find a class in your area on their website: Find an Amateur Radio License Class
Once you feel like you have a good grasp there are many places where you can take practice tests, that use the same questions, that you’ll see on the Exam.
Tidbit of knowledge: Remember that wavelength = 300 / frequency in MHz (Trust me, you’ll need to know this to answer some of the questions, and it comes in handy later on while HAM’ing)
Practice Tests Sites:
- https://www.qrz.com/hamtest/ (My favorite and the one, I am using right now, for my General License Practice)
- https://www.arrl.org/exam-practice (provides information and additional resources, like links to flash cards)
My Tactic to pass the exam
Once you’ve registered you free account on QRZ.com, head to the practice tests (Resources > Practice Amateur Radio Exams).
Click the green plus sign beside “2014 Technician Exam Practice Test -or- study a specific sub-category“. The image below shows the wrong expand, expand the most recent version of the exam you are taking!
This allows you to take a “practice test” for each subcategory (these are the real exam questions). I took each sub-category one at a time, until I could answer every question correctly, then I’d move on to the next subcategory.
It may take you a few weeks, but once you can answer all the questions take the full practice exam.
Wisdom from Others
It may behoove you to find a local Amateur Radio Club. This is a group of people who are experienced HAM operators and will welcome you with open arms to their club. They will share their knowledge with you, answer any questions you may have and can help prepare for your Exam. Many of them will also help you figure out how to get on the air and work these fancy radios too.
Many of these radio clubs offer classes for their members or to get new members. They will likely be the same people who are administering the ham exams in your area.
I can’t recommend this highly enough. My club meets once a month in person, but every Tuesday we have a “Net”, which is a meeting via Radio.
Taking your HAM Exam (hey, that rhymes)
Once you’re kicking butt on those practice tests (I know it won’t take you long, because you are AWESOME!), it’s time to find a testing location in your area.
Chant the mantra “wavelength = 300 / frequency in MHz“!
That’s all there is to getting your HAM license. It’s easy, you can study in your spare time, and you get some great communication abilities!
I’ve heard all the excuses from people who think they don’t need to get their Ham Radio License. Now see why they are wrong!
Why Do You NEED a Ham Radio License?
I’ve heard so many people say “I won’t need a license after SHTF!” or “No one is going to be checking licenses after SHTF”.
Ok. It’s probably true that no one is going to be coming around checking for valid amateur radio licenses.
How are you going to practice operating ham radio without a license? Is your master plan to hold off on practicing any survival skills until after SHTF?
Other awful ideas on this same type of list:
- Not driving until after SHTF.
- Not learning to shoot until after SHTF.
- Not storing food until after SHTF.
- Not putting together your bug out bag until after SHTF.
- Never having a fire drill with your family.
- Not putting on your seat belt until after you’ve had an accident.
- Not buying toilet paper until after you’ve pooped.
Shame on you.
Listening to ham radio and communicating on ham radio are two very different things.
You need to start working a radio now. I guarantee you that just because you can pick up a microphone and push a button this doesn’t mean that you will ever make contact with anyone.
The only way to assure that you can make contact is practice, research and working with other experienced ham operators. It takes years to fine tune those skills and your gear to know the how and why of establishing communications.
You spin the dial and home in on a voice. You push the transmit button and start shouting into the microphone. The voice on the other end keeps on talking.
Did he hear you? Is he ignoring you? What is going on?
Even when you do things right, sometimes the sun and atmosphere don’t cooperate. If this happens, do you have enough experience to know if it’s the conditions that are failing or if it’s your gear that is failing?
Unless you’ve worked your gear and know how it behaves on each band, you are severely reducing your chances of post-SHTF contact. You may have the best radio that money can buy, and an awesome antenna, but that antenna may not work for you, might be positioned poorly or may need tuned properly so that it resonates on the current frequency that you are trying to transmit on.
What if your rig dies and you have to go scrounge up another? Beggars can’t be choosers, so shopping around for an exact replacement won’t be very likely. Do you know how to use a hybrid rig, or a tube transceiver?
Do you know how to dip a plate?
Finding the right gear
I like my radio, but I’ll take a crappy ham radio and a good antenna over a great radio and a poor antenna any day. The antenna is the true key. There are hundreds of books on antennas and antenna theory.
Maybe OpSec is important to you, or you might live in an area with an HOA or other restrictions against amateur radio antennas. I live in one of those very areas and I turned to a book, Stealth Amateur Radio: Operate From Anywhere, to help me work around those issues. My HOA and neighbors have no idea that I not only have a ham radio antenna, but I have multiple stealth antennas. It’s amazing where you can use and hide an end-fed antenna!
Off Grid Use
How do you plan to power your radio after the grid is down? Maybe you plugged in your radio, to your solar battery bank and did some listening. Great.
Now watch your power drain as you pump out 100watts of power, trying to transmit. How will you plan for the proper amount of stored power, if you don’t really know how much power your rig uses to communicate?
The only way to truly get yourself fully immersed is to transmit and to receive, before it’s too late. This means that every day you procrastinate is one less day that you have to practice.
Go take your ham test and get licensed so you can truly learn how things truly work. Unless you are one of those people who are waiting to drive until after SHTF, because no one will be checking for drivers licenses after SHTF. Sad, just sad.
There are so many things to learn, and ham radio, while fun and rewarding, isn’t always easy. It seems like every time I have a handle on this hobby, I turn another page and find out something new. You could spend a lifetime trying to master ham radio, and never do it all.
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