Do You Need a Ham Radio License To Operate It?

A lot of people shy away from HAM radio because of the license. They either don’t want to take the time and effort to get it, or they simply don’t want the Government tracking them. But is it really true? Do you really need a license to use a HAM radio?

Yes and no on using a HAM radio without a license. You can use it for a few things such as listening to FM or Emergency Weather radios, or local amateur radio transmissions. You can also use a HAM radio in an emergency to ask for help.

Baofeng UV 5R5 HAM radio

So through looking through the list, you can do a whole lot of listening, but no transmitting. What fun is that? All in all, you do need a license in order to use a HAM radio to its full extent…

There is one exception to being able to transmit. If in the event of an emergency you have no other way of communicating, you can use this to try and raise help.

This doesn’t sound half bad as a backup communication device for when SHTF. Well if you have ever used or even looked at one of these radios, they have thousands and thousands of frequencies.

You would have to know exactly which frequencies to tune into so you can try and raise help.

They have several reasons of limiting communication without a license. Most local police/fire use the VHF and UHF bands. They use these so the communications is limited to their region.

It does no good if Kansas City’s police traffic is heard in New York. So depending on your location and the power of your radio, you can do great harm by communicating on channels not on the amateur bands.

Sometimes, these bands are just a few hertz away from the amateur ones. They are band plans out there that you will learn more about if you decide to get licensed that let you know which frequencies a HAM radio can operate on.

There is also proper radio etiquette and procedures that are used when communicating. These airways are monitored and fines are given for rules breakers. They can also pinpoint abusers of the amateur radios and track you down.

So why would you want to get your license?

HAM radios operate on a wide range of frequencies that allow armatures to talk around the world.

Once you purchase your equipment, get your license and learn what you are doing, you can communicate locally and sometimes around the world for free.

How do you get your license?

There are three different levels of licenses that are issued to HAM radio operators.

  • Technician
  • General
  • Extra

The technician is the “entry” level license. This allows you to talk on most frequencies above 50MHz. These are the VHF (very high frequencies) and UHF (ultra high frequencies) frequencies.

These will be for mostly local communications up to 100 miles away depending on equipment.

These are a great way to learn to the basics of using HAM radios. This level of license also allows you to talk through Morse code on lower frequencies (they have a longer wavelength and have further transmission distances).

As a technician you can talk around the world through Morse code if you have the correct equipment.

After I found out that the radio I bought was a HAM radio I started researching on how to get my license. I found a test site that had a test scheduled in 1 week.

I signed up for the test and started looking for study material. There are many online courses that you can sign up for and cost $25-$30. I am not about spending money on stuff unless I absolutely have too

I found a really good study guide here. This one is free! I started reading through this and was lost at first.

I knew there had to be a better way. I did some more research and found this YouTube video:

Introduction to Ham Radio and Technician Training Class (Old Version)

It goes step by step through the study guide listed above. The video is just under an hour and a half long. This was a turning point for my studies.

I went through the study guide and this video once together. Then for the next two days I watched the video while driving to work and home again.

I listened to the video 3 times and felt pretty comfortable in my knowledge. I was ready to try some practice tests.

In order to get your technician license you must pass a 35-question test out of the 426-question pool. You are asked a certain number of questions from the various categories.

The general license is probably the most used class. This allows you to use most of the HF (high frequency) bands. With this license you can also use all the frequencies used by a technician.

Where with the technician you can only communicate on the lower frequencies by Morse code, you can with the general license you can talk or send data through these.

There are real popular frequencies/bands that allow you to talk around the world. The great thing about using the amateur band network is that the standard worldwide language is English. So if you are reading this you are set.

No need to learn a different language to talk with other around the world. I have searched for a free study guide, but have not yet found one that is worth it.

I have however found a very good YouTube video. It is broke up into 3 parts and each is 2-3 hours long. They are extremely informative, but very easy to follow.

Ham Radio General License Training Class, 2015-2019, Part 1
Ham Radio General License Training Class, 2015-2019, Part 2
Ham Radio General License Training Class, 2015-2019, Part 3

You can purchase a study guide for $8, through. This is a very well put together guide. It has the same writer as the one that wrote the one for the technician license.

This license requires you to pass a 35-question test as well out of a pool of 463 questions. You are asked a certain number of questions from the various categories.

The extra license allows you even more frequencies/bands to talk on. If you want to be able to use any frequency on the amateur radio network then this is the one for you.

There are also other perks that come with being an extra. You can get a custom shorter call sign.

You can also volunteer to test others to become HAM radio operators. There’s a great study guide here for only $10. This test is 50 questions out of a pool of 712 questions. You are asked a certain number of questions from the various categories.

Whichever license you are planning on taking you can get the entire question pool here, practice tests, or flash cards. All these are completely free and will greatly assist you in getting your license.

So now you are ready to take your test, what is the next step?

Here you can search for a testing center near you. The great part about getting your license is it only cost $15 per session. That isn’t $15 per test, but per session.

You can show up, take and pass your technician, then take your general, then if you pass take you extra. All this for only one fee of $15. I you study hard you can walk out with your extra license in one day.

Now, once you pass either your technician or you go all the way through to extra, you can’t start talking that day. You have to wait for the FCC to issue you your call sign. This took about 10 days for mine to post on the website, but well worth the wait.

In conclusion, anyone can study a little, buy a radio for under $50 and pass a 35-question test to be able to talk on your own radio up to 100 miles away. This is perfect for when SHTF or event for daily communications.

The above links are a great resource for passing your tests, but they barely scratch the surface on using your radio. I suggest joining a local radio club and share their knowledge and equipment to better you skills.

Matt Tholen – ke0oyu

16 thoughts on “Do You Need a Ham Radio License To Operate It?”

  1. When SHTF and this country goes under it isn’t going to matter weather you have a license or not the Rules and Laws won’t mean anything anymore. I Do thank you for this article I have been really thinking about getting my ham license and I hope this will help me.

    1. I felt the same way at first, but when trying to fumble through the frequencies I had. I clue where to turn or what to do. By getting my license it has provided me with the knowledge to actually operate my radio.

      I hope you get your license and maybe one day we will talk on the radios!

      1. Matt, Just stating here. I am, however a former NY police officer and Navy pilot so radios were a standard part of my equipment I am 100% totally new to Ham radios. I bought a book for the general class test, not knowing it was not technician class test. If I study the general book, wilt give me enough information to pass the technician class test?

  2. Thank you VERY much for this information. I have been thinking of doing this for several years, but as a older woman I was intimidated. This information is very helpful. I would like to know what radio you purchased
    “After I found out that the radio I bought was a HAM radio I started researching on how to get my license.”
    Thank you!!

  3. Sure get your license so the government knows you have a radio.So when the SHTF they come and confiscate your radio and possibly kill you like the Nazis did.

    1. When SHTF I won’t be at my home listed on my license registration. If the government wants to track people down and take their radios they can use directional antennas to find you. This is a common practice with ham radio operators. All I am trying to do is get more people informed on the licenses and the benefits of having one. It does me no good to have a radio and not know how to use it to the fullest extent.

      1. Great information and much appreciated.
        My dilemma has been what type radio should I get because from reading your post, it made me realize that I probably dont need anything real high tech but would like to be able to hear what is going on around the world but not transmit. Probably just looking at obtaining the technician license so I could transmit locally if needed.
        Can you reccomend a couple options?
        On another note, it amazes me that we have gotten to the point in the United States of America that we would even have to be concerned that our government would know that we have a HAM radio. Sad but true.

    2. Check… u r right!!! Any self respecting red neck-er-son knows that!!! buy one and when the Shit does hit the fan like maybe after another 6 months or so.. (today in 01-21) chat all you like!!! 🙂 Like it the people would band together and no one pay taxes, what they going to do? Put 300 Million american taxpayers in prison!! LOL the Fed’s say they are over crowded now!!!! It would take 400 years to take them all to court!!!!

  4. Great information! If I want to set up a way to communicate with my son in case everything goes down, is HAM the way to go? He is in college 350 miles away, in L.A. and I am in San Jose. What is your recommendation? I figure that he will have a difficult time getting out of the area with the masses of people and traveling to come home, and the cell towers will eventually fail. His school doesn’t have any plans, and will probably just shut down. He is in a dorm and has his own car. Please advise. I would really appreciate it.

    1. Yes, unless it is a CB or your basic 20 channel walkie-talkie. There are certain frequencies you can use without a license.

  5. Maybe there are thousands of frequencies, but only a hand full of them are usable to HAM users. It isn’t that hard to figure out what frequency to use if you don’t have a license.

  6. Brian I totally agree. HAM radios are not difficult to figure out or use. The licensing thing actually makes me laugh as do most the people using these radios. I did not need a license to transmit anything when I had bullets flying at my face, we seemed to be able to use frequency based radio comms without any problem. I read a post by a HAM operator talking about how dangerous they are and getting a license could save your life. The radios aren’t dangerous, electricity is. If you don’t feel confident taking your toaster apart while it’s plugged in, then don’t take your radio apart or play with your antenna while your radio is powered up. Lastly, the HAM operators who seem to think they are way more important than they actually are ( apparently all of them saved Louisiana after Katrina ) are not even remotely helpful. They have no interest in helping anyone who isn’t part of their group. So…. my advice is to research radios, read up on frequencies and signal propagation, and familiarize yourself with the functions of the radio that u will most likely use. There is a lot of good info out there that you can read.

  7. Great article, but one correction. Your license didn’t get you the knowledge you have…. studying for your licence did. If you didn’t take the test you would not know any less than you do now. Licenses don’t bestow knowledge, they only state you had enough to pass the test.

    I still do NOT like how people’s information is public when they are licensed. I don’t like the government knowing, but adding to that a general “anyone who wants to know can see” layer…. not cool at all.

  8. I just bought a second handheld for my wife. It’s for if the grid goes down and she’s at work or something, we can communicate and get back to each other safely. If anyone asks, I’ve instructed her to give my callsign. I’m not abusing it. Maybe she’ll get her lic. eventually anyway.

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