Become A HAM

Writing the Amateur Radio exam(s) is FREE, and your certificate and call sign are FREE with no renewal fee. There is NO CHARGE to use the assigned Radio Amateur frequencies, but you DO NEED TO WRITE AN EXAM TO GET CERTIFIED

I am an Industry Canada Accredited Examiner, which means that when you are ready to write the exam(s) to get certified, get in touch with me by email at
The exam is not too hard if you do some self study or take a class (especially if you have a communications or technical background), and you DO NOT NEED TO LEARN MORSE CODE anymore (but you still can if you want too).

Getting Started

If you have an interest in Amateur Radio but are a beginner, you are probably confused and wonder where to start. All hams were there at one time, so don't feel bad. Here is some background information to get you pointed in the right direction.

Amateur Radio (often referred to as Ham Radio) is defined as follows by Industry Canada (the federal government agency that regulates radio in Canada): 

"'amateur radio service' means a radiocommunication service in which radio apparatus are used for the purpose of self-training, intercommunication or technical investigation by individuals who are interested in radio technique solely with a personal aim and without pecuniary interest."

The term "without pecuniary interest" simply means you can't get paid for being a ham, for example you can't use it for business purposes like dispatching taxis.

Everyone has used a radio receiver to listen to AM, FM broadcast stations or to watch TV. Those broadcast stations are licensed by the federal government to use the radio frequency (such as 680 Kilohertz on the AM band, or 104 Megahertz on the FM band). 

Also, most of us have used a radio transmitter  to talk to someone if we have used a cell phone. When you pay for the use of a cell phone service from a supplier like Bell, Rogers or Cantel, they are licensed to allow you and others use the cell phone frequencies.

Ham radio operators are certified by the Canadian federal government (under international ITU regulations) to receive and transmit on a variety of  dedicated (or sometimes shared) ham radio frequency bands using either their spoken voice to talk to people locally or around the world. Hams also use a variety of other operating modes (don't worry, you can start simple with voice). The goal of all this is to carry out their self-training, intercommunication or technical investigation. There is NO CHARGE to use the frequencies, but to get the FREE CERTIFICATION from Industry Canada you must study, either using reference material yourself or by taking a course and then pass one or more examinations

After passing the exam, you get your own personal ham radio callsign (like VA3EP) that you use to identify your station when you go on the air. You can choose any available call signs. You can then make arrangements to use the club station, or make a minor investment in a new or used handheld trasceiver (HT) or base station transceiver and start communicating. 

There are many, many activities that you get involved in (see bottom of this page) which you can learn about by browsing this website and others, some more focused on the communications aspects, and other more focused on the technical aspects. Whatever you find most interesting you will be sure to have a of fun and to learn a lot of skills and knowledge that will be valuable in your life and perhaps your job.

We recommend that you work with a mentor like me or someone else you know (hams traditionally call a ham mentor an "elmer") to help you get going. You can also drop by a local ham radio club meeting at  PERC in the County or QARC in Belleville and introduce yourself and you will find someone will be glad to help. If you are not from this area, see if you can find a local club. Be sure to ask if they are running a course which you can register to attend, if not you can still prepare for the exam with self study.

Here are some other good articles and beginner sites on what ham radio is all about (for a quick scan and reference, you don't need to pour over all this right now):

Preparing for and Taking the Exam(s)

In 2005 Industry Canada made changes to Canadian Amateur Certification, and Morse Code is no longer required to become a ham (although you can still learn it and pass the Morse Code test if you have an interest). There are 2 examinations that you can write to obtain 3 different levels of privileges:

  • Basic - Passing the closed book Basic test with 70% gives you most privileges frequency bands above 30 Mhz, especially the 144 Mhz (2 meter) band which is one of the most popular bands for local communication using handheld, mobile or base transceivers. This closed book, theory only exam must be done first. 
  • Basic with Honors - Passing the closed book Basic test with 80% gives you most privileges on ALL frequency bands
  • Advanced - Passing the more technical closed book Advanced exam with 70% allows you additional privileges including the ALL frequency bands (if you did not already have that) ability to build your own transmitter from scratch, use more transmitting power, and sponsor a repeater or club station. You must pass the basic test first.
Now on with the details of passing the exam:

Step 1:

Have a quick read of the overview material here, especially the introduction. Don't try to learn/memorize it, just get a general feel for the big picture of how the material is laid out for later reference.

Step 2:

Now study the "Basic Study Questions" here .

I would recommend that you go to the section to where you can "Print All Basic Questions" as you can download the entire 117 page PDF document. The PDF document  shows the right answer for each question. I would recommend that you get it printed out and put it in a 3 ring binder, you can then add your notes as you study, and insert other pages with notes and references that you might print out from the internet. Maybe I am old school, but I like to study using paper.

This is the key document with EVERY question and answer that you have to know. It is obviously better to study and understand the underlying technical theory rather than just memorize the question and answer, but in the case of things like regulations, you just have to memorize it.  

As you study use Wikipedia or Google to look up terms you need help with, or ask you elmer for help. Sometimes your local ham club may run a course that you can enroll in.

You can also buy the " Canadian Amateur Radio Basic Qualification Study Guide " book (IMHO it covers a LOT more than you really need, but is a great study guide and reference).

As well, if you can find a local club that is running a course, that is even better.  Here is a list of clubs that may be closer.

Step 3:

When you think you know the material try the "Basic Practice Exam" here.

DO NOT just repeat the practice exam as a way of studying, as there is a chance that there are questions you would never see.

Step 4:

Email me at to book the exam, I generate an exam using the same exact safe questions and answers that you studied from (random questions from the exact same question bank) and then you write it (closed book, you can use a non programmable calculator).

The exam has to be conducted in person. If you are not close, you can book with any other examiner on the  Accredited Examiner list.

I do not charge a few to write the exam (some other examiners do, as they can legally charge for expenses).

If you get between 70-79%, then you can get on the air on 6 meters and higher in frequency. If you miss, you can re-write as many times as you want.

If you get 80% or more, you can get on all bands with up to 100 watts of power. (You can also do that with 70% + 5 wpm Morse code, but most people find studying for the extra 10% is easier than learning Morse Code).

After you have done the test, you select a call sign from the list of 
available call signs 
(actually you pick 3 in case someone else picks the same one and their application just beats yours to Ottaw), we fill in the form and then send it to Ottawa, and when your call shows up on the database, you can get on the air.

Then you can go back and study for the advanced test : - )

What Next?

If you just passed your basic exam, welcome to ham radio! Your lifelong learning adventure has just started. Here are a few suggested next steps, you can pursue some or all of them:
  1. If you don't already have one, get a mentor (or in ham parlance, an “elmer”) to help you continue you continue with the next steps and help you when you get stuck. For help on all of the items that follow, see your “elmer” first!

  2. Get a radio. Most hams start with a 2 Meter HT. You can get a brand new unit from a distributor such as or for a few hundred dollars. You can get a good used unit starting from under $100 (if you shop around) from another ham, a ham swap shop on the air or internet, or even eBay

  3. Get on the air on 2 Meters! This is the whole point, isn’t it? The best place to start here is a  “net” on local 2M repeater(s). Best advice here is “listen first, talk later”. You will quickly learn the operating practices and feel comfortable on a net

  4. Start Monitoring local repeater(s) and have non net QSOs. If your HT supports it you can set it up to scan all the repeaters in your area.

  5. Answer ham’s who calls “monitoring” or call “monitoring” yourself on a repeater (especially if you hear 2 hams just ending a QSO, one may come back to you if he’s not busy). Try breaking into a QSO if it is a friendly chat by saying your cal in between transmission. Also, investigate if local repeaters support linking to other repeaters via RF links or Internet Repeater Linking Project (this may require joining a club or repeater support group for access).

  6. Work Simplex, you can get the 2 Meter band plan from . Arrange on the repeater to move to a simplex frequency if you are in range with the other station. You can tell by monitoring the input frequency of the repeater.

  7. Get a better antenna. You can increase the range of your HT with a simple “roll up antenna”, or a home made or commercial outdoor antenna and feedline.

  8. Go mobile. You can temporarily set up your HT in the car with a speaker mic, accessory socket power cord and window clip or mag mount antenna, or go all the way with a permanent dedicated mobile rig. Great if you travel a lot in your car.

  9. Get On HF: If you have a "Basic with Honors" certificate, you can get an HF rig and antenna and work the world.
  10. Build up your paper and electonic library. Any of the books mentioned in the references are great to have in your library for continuous self learning and reference. If you have a computer the web also has great resources, start with the sites listed in references. Setting up bookmarks to things like bandplans, reference data, regulations, operating tips is a great way to have a large “virtual library” at your fingertips

  11. Join a local ham club PERC in the County or QARC in Belleville .You may even want to get involved in the executive. Here is a list of clubs that may be closer.

  12. Join RAC. You can use the money you save not having to pay for your certification anymore on joining Radio Amateurs of Canada, the national association in Canada. As well as getting the magazine, your dollars support lobbying the government to avoid negative changes to laws governing ham radio.

  13. Join ARRL. The dues include a subscription to their journal, QST, which is alone worth the money. You also have get online access to past issues of QST. You can pick up QST at a full service newsstand.

  14. Pursue some digital modes on VHF+, such as APRS and Slow Scan TV.

  15. Pursue the 5 wpm Morse Code test .

  16. Study for and pass the Advanced Test.

  17. Recruit and elmer some other new hams!

If the Communications Aspects Are of Most Interest

  1. Field day: Hams simulate operating from a field to prepare for emergencies.

  2. Public Service Events: You can lend your communications skills to local events or others such as the Forest City Marathon and Goblin Patrol.

  3. ARES: Get involved in preparing for emergency communications during storms and other disasters.

If the Technology Aspects Are of Most Interest 

  1. Experiment with modes such as APRS, PSK31, SSTV, and others

  2. Try working some ham radio satellites (yes, we have our own), with voice or packet

  3. Build up a set of basic hand tools: screwdrives, pliers, soldering equipment

  4. Build up a set of basic test equipment: Analog Multimeter, Digital Multimeter, Audio Signal Generator. RF Signal Generator, Oscilloscope, Power Supply

  5. Conduct some electronic experiments

  6. Build some antennas

  7. Learn how to repair / restore rigs

  8. Build some radio kits

Like we have said all along, getting the basic is just the first step in a long and enjoyable journey. Have fun!

NOTE: You may find an older version of this information at The London Amateur Radio Club   which I created there when I was Webmaster for LARC. The last time I looked that information was inaccurate, so please use the information on this page as it is being kept up to date.

All Contents Copyright 2000-14 Eric Pierce