How to get an amateur radio license in the UK

Amateur radio or ham radio isn’t just another part of radio history.

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If you’re interested in finding a new shortwave listening hobby, and you have a passion for technology, amateur radio could be the perfect environment for you. Here’s how to get an amateur radio license in the UK…

Amateur radio or ham radio isn’t just another part of radio history.People who enjoy the amateur radio hobby use it to communicate with other radio amateurs around the world. You can learn how to use your ham radio to communicate worldwide. 

Or you can just search for new DX stations (the term describes long distance, rare amateur radio operators in countries with few radio amateurs, or even uninhabited islands!) and share your discoveries with your new found friends worldwide. 

There are even amateur radio competitions

Before you can begin exploring this exciting world, you need to know how to get your radio amateur license. That’s what we’re here to help with today.

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What is an amateur radio license?

Amateur radio is a service and a hobby involving various kinds of radio equipment, including SW (Shortwave) transceivers. To legally use the amateur radio bands for your hobby, you’ll need an amateur radio license. 

Licenses are there to make sure that people use their radios properly. You need to show that you can be sensible with your shortwave transmissions in order to not interfere with other signals. 

Not so long ago, the entrance exam for an amateur radio license was very hard. You needed to be able to transmit and receive Morse code at a minimum speed of 15wpm (Words Per Minute) and answer a lot of electronic technical questions. 

These days, applying for licensing isn’t as difficult, you don’t need to learn Morse code, though many still do. With the help of a local amateur radio club, you can train for your test or use one of several online courses to prepare. 

There are different levels of radio license available for ham enthusiasts. The Foundation option is generally the best when you’re getting started unless you already have good knowledge of electronics. However, if you enjoy experimenting with amateur radio you can then take your skills to the next level. 

The Intermediate and Full/Advanced licensing exams are tougher, but they allow you to explore more radio bands and use more power. 

Even as a Foundation radio amateur you can:

  • Use shortwave radio to communicate and send messages.
  • Use radios to talk to other amateurs around the world. 
  • Use transmitter powers of up to 10 watts.
  • Experiment with different kinds of transmissions; digital, images, satellites and much more.
  • Use transmitters and receivers to unlock the mysteries of radio.
  • Build your own transmitters, antennas – your imagination is the only limit.

How do you apply for an amateur radio license?

To get an amateur radio license it is necessary to first pass that examination, then it is an online application. You can find the forms you need from the regulatory authority for amateur radio in the UK: Ofcom. 

When you visit the licensing website for the first time, you’ll have to complete a registration form. If you want to renew amateur radio licenses online, you can use the same website where you’ll need a copy of your current license details. 

If you’re logging in for the first time, you’ll have the option to apply for your new license with your examination pass details on the website. 

Complete details on how to apply for your Foundation amateur radio license are on the main amateur radio page at Ofcom, which you find here

Help with your examination and license application is always available at your local radio club, you can find your nearest here.

The three levels of examinations and courses for all types of amateur radio license are conducted by some local clubs and the RSGB (Radio Society of Great Britain), find your local club at the RSGB course and examination page here.

The good news is that the amateur radio license examinations, which are administered by the RSGB, are fairly straightforward. If you pick the Foundation exam for beginners, the questions are now multiple-choice. They test your knowledge of radio terminology, the regulatory conditions of using amateur radios, and the basic technical principles of radio and antenna operation.

The Intermediate exam, which will allow you to use even more bands and power, is also multiple-choice. There is no longer a requirement to take a practical test, but most local clubs incorporate simple circuit building into their training. 

You can even do the course online with various providers including those provided by GM6DX ( …that’s an Amateur Radio callsign by the way!).

For the final level – the Full or Advanced Amateur Radio license, there’s a demanding two hour multiple-choice examination on electronics theory and radio use. There are various online forums and communities that can help you with brushing up your knowledge. 

You might even find some helpful information on the amateur radio subreddit.

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How to renew amateur radio licenses

Getting your amateur radio license can be a little confusing for beginners. The amateur radio license in the UK is called a “license for life,” but it doesn’t last forever. You’ll need to learn how to renew your amateur radio license online too. 

All radio amateurs need to renew their license at least once every five years. Usually, the process is simple enough. You login to your account at Ofcom and let them know whether your details have changed since you last updated your license. 

The quickest way to go about renewing your amateur license is to go on the Ofcom website or send your information to the Ofcom group via email. Ofcom has its own online licensing portal where you can manage everything on your own. 

If you need some extra help, there are staff available to respond to your questions. 

Just keep in mind that getting a response from Ofcom isn’t always quick, particularly when the organisation is busy. Ofcom also deals with a lot of other things in the UK, including the internet and telecommunications. 

One point worth noting is that it’s free to renew an amateur radio license online. However, if you’re sending your application via direct mail or post, then you’ll need to spend £20. You also need to pay a fee if your license has expired. 

You can’t use the renewal portal to update your license if it has already run out. Instead, you have to complete a new application form. 

Re-applying for an amateur radio license in the UK is something that you can only do by post with proof of your examination and expired license, which means that you incur the £20 fee.

Do you need an amateur radio license?

So, should you be looking into getting an amateur radio license?

If you’re planning on experimenting with ham radio, it’s vital to make sure that you have the right certificates in place. Even if you only experiment with amateur radio for a short time then do not pursue the hobby, having a license will stop you from getting into trouble. 

The good news is that most people fall in love with ham radio operation after getting their license. According to statistics released by Ofcom, the number of licensed people in the UK is growing all the time. 

In 2017 alone, there were 52,195 people in the UK with full advanced licenses.

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In addition to those Full license amateur radio operators in the UK, there are also 9,739 people using Ham radio at an intermediate level, and 22,649 people at Foundation level. This adds up to a 10% increase between 2012 and 2017. 

As the number of people experimenting with radio technology increases, the licensing trends continue to go up. 

The fact that the UK has more Advancedlicense holders than people with any other kind of amateur radio certificate also suggests that amateurs want to keep learning and experimenting as they progress. There’s a good chance that you’ll enjoy getting your license if you’re interested in amateur radio.

Become a radio amateur

Becoming a radio amateur is a great way to take your love of radio to the next level.

You will be able to explore the airwaves and interact with other amateurs in a new way. At the same time, ham radio offers an excellent way to connect with people around the world. You might also find yourself joining an amateur radio club where you meet a lot of new like-minded friends. 

If you want to learn more about amateur radio, or just radio history in general, check out the other articles here at Radio Fidelity! 

Radio Fidelity: For the love of radio.