This page contains the information you need to obtain your Ham Radio License, formally called a Certificate of Profiency in Amateur Radio in Canada.
Finding a Club
Radio Amateurs of Canada (RAC) is Canada’s National Amateur Radio Society. It is a national, non-profit representing the interests of amateur radio operators to governmental agencies and the public in Canada. Both individuals and regional amateur radio clubs can be members. RAC is also the Canadian voting member society of the International Amateur Radio Union, (IARU). See the RAC “Getting Started” page for basic information about amateur radio in Canada. While RAC provides a wealth of online information, and publications and services for it’s members, finding a local amateur radio club can provide the necessary mentorship and training to successfully enjoy amateur radio.
Apart from the RAC, you may want to join a local club to get hands-on and face-to-face experience with ham radio. Use the RAC Canadian Clubs web page to find a club near you. I’m a proponent of supporting both a local and the national organization as my time and finances permit.
Finding a Course
RAC’s website lists upcoming courses being put on by local clubs across the country. Additionally, a few times per year, RAC runs their own online courses. (if this link becomes inactive, harness the power of Google “RAC Basic Course” or “RAC Advanced Course” and the current year as your search terms. In the event that your local club has not posted their course with RAC (not all do this) check with them directly to see if and when their next course is running.
You can consider taking a self-paced course with either the Cold Lake Amateur Radio society or with Ylab. Pro-tip: don’t judge a program from it’s entry page, both of these have excellent materials but are structured differently. An advanced course is also available on YouTube from the Algoma ARC.
See the following links for study materials:
- Canadian Amateur Radio Basic or Advanced Study Guide
- Industry Canada documents and regulations
- You can purchase the guides from Coax Publications at the link above or at Radioworld (Toronto) or Radioworld Central (Calgary)
- University of Waterloo Radio Club’s Study Guide (pdf)
- Annapolis Valley ARC course study resources is a set of companion materials to the Coax Publications Guide
There are three levels of examinations in Canada, the Basic, Advanced, and the Morse Code Qualification. The Basic and Advanced examinations are multiple choice tests with a 70% pass/fail criteria. Additionally, an 80% on the Basic test gives the candidate privileges of Basic Qualification with honours. The Morse Code test involves sending and receiving Morse Code at no less than 5wpm for 3 minutes.
Examinations are performed by volunteer accredited examiners like myself. Once passed the Basic Qualification, Innovation, Science and Economic Development or ISED (formerly Industry Canada) will issue the candidate an amateur radio license and Callsign, which does not need to be renewed for the lifetime of the operator. More information on how I administer exams can be found here.
After reading and learning all the material that is needed, the first thing to do is to look up where the nearest exam will take place and when. Most local clubs set up examinations after annual ham radio courses, so contact them to find out about upcoming exams. Alternatively, see the Industry Canada’s list of accredited examiners to schedule an exam directly. During the COVID-19 Pandemic, some examiners administer an exam remotely and this situation is changing frequently so ask the examiners close to you if they can offer a remote exam.
Periodically during your study, take a practice self-test with ISED’s Amateur Radio Exam Generator. I recommend you do this no more frequently than a few times per week so that you can truly assess how well you are absorbing the material. Once you are scoring over 85% on a few exams you are most likely ready to write the exam.
Choosing your callsign
Once your exam has concluded, the volunteer examiner will submit your scores to ISED which starts the creation of your online account. ISED will send you an email inviting you to complete the account set-up and then will step you through choosing your callsign. While you can choose any three-lettered suffix in your callsign area, you should consider the choice of your callsign as to how it will sound to the person you are speaking with on-air. I encourage people to speak the callsign out loud (in front of a mirror) to themselves both using full phonetics and not. Avoid letters and sounds that are the same in sequence, variety is key to having an intelligible callsign for the listener. You can see what callsigns are available by checking with ISED at this link. Once your callsign is viewable in the database, you may begin using your new skills on-air, and they will mail your certificate within 3-4 weeks.