Amateur radio is …
a form of communication; a hobby; a community service. It could be a school teacher in Nova Scotia making friends over the radio with another Radio Amateur in New Zealand; an Alberta teenager using her computer to upload a chess move through her radio which is retrieved by a fellow chess fan in Florida via an amateur radio space satellite; or a truck driver in Manitoba contacting Radio Amateurs in a hundred countries during a single weekend contest. In particular, Radio Amateurs save lives as part of an emergency communications network, the most important aspect of Amateur Radio. More Emergency Radio Operators are needed.
This unique mix of fun, convenience and public service is what distinguishes Amateur Radio. People get involved in Amateur Radio for many reasons, but they all have in common a basic knowledge of radio technology, regulations and operating principles. All have passed an examination leading to an authorization to operate on the “Amateur Bands.” These frequency bands are reserved for use by Radio Amateurs at intervals from just above the AM broadcast band all the way up through the microwave frequencies. Even though Amateur Radio conversations may be heard around the world by anyone with a suitable radio receiver, given the right frequency and propagation conditions, Amateur Radio is basically two-way communication between Radio Amateurs.
The appeal of Amateur Radio
is the ability to communicate across the country, around the globe, and even with astronauts on space missions. Some Radio Amateurs build and experiment with radio. Computer hobbyists find digital modes to be a low-cost way to expand their ability to communicate. Those with a competitive streak enjoy “DX contests” where the object is to see how many distant Radio Amateurs they can contact. Some like the convenience of a technology giving them portable communication. Others use it to open the door to new friendships over the air, or through participation in an Amateur Radio club. Many combine Amateur Radio with the internet in various ways.
Typical Radio Amateurs
come from all walks of life – lawyers, entertainers, missionaries, doctors, ministers, politicians, students, workers, shut-ins and retired folks – all ages, sexes, income levels and nationalities. Some like voice communication on a hand-held radio. Others prefer Morse code through a low-power transmitter. Many transmit computer messages through amateur radio satellites. They all use radio to communicate with their fellow Radio Amateurs.
What is the history of Amateur Radio in Canada?
In 1901, Marconi transmitted the Morse code letter “S” from Poldhu in Cornwall, England, to St. John’s, Newfoundland. Soon early radio experimenters were trying out the first “spark gap” transmitters. To control interference to marine shore stations, Parliament passed the Radiotelegraph Act in 1913. In 1914 the Radiotelegraph Regulations were issued, prescribing the first operating and technical proficiency examinations for Amateur Radio operators in Canada. Administered by various government departments, Amateur Radio grew in Canada to over 56,000 certificates at present.
How is Amateur Radio different from Citizens’ Band or Family Radio Service?
These unlicensed services are legally limited to voice operation over low powered equipment on a single frequency band. Amateur Radio may involve voice, Morse code, computer data, or television modes on any of a number of bands, either direct or via repeater stations or earth-orbiting satellites, and may use considerable power and directional antenna systems.
Why must Radio Amateurs pass an examination?
Although a major purpose of Amateur Radio is recreation, it is called the “Amateur Radio Service” because it also has a serious face. The government created this “Service” partly to fill the need for a pool of experts who could provide communications in times of emergency or war. Countless lives have been saved when these skilled hobbyists acted as emergency communicators to render aid during or following a hurricane, tornado, ice storm, earthquake or other disaster. In addition, the government acknowledged the ability of Amateur Radio to advance communication and technical skills, and to enhance international goodwill.
How are Amateur Radio operators “authorized” in Canada?
There is only one authorization to transmit – an Amateur Radio Operator Certificate with the Basic Qualification and Call Sign.
Morse Code is no longer required! With the Morse Code Qualification for 5 words per minute sending and receiving, added to your Basic Qualification, you receive all privileges on all the Amateur Radio bands below 30 MHz , except high power transmitter operation.
However, either a Morse code qualification or a “Basic with Honours” qualification (awarded to persons who get 80% or higher on the 100-question, multiple choice exam), allows access to HF. Passing a Morse Code test is no longer required in order to operate Amateur Radio equipment capable of world-wide communications!
With the Advanced Qualification added to your Basic Qualification you can build and operate your own transmitting equipment, sponsor a club station, run higher power and operate your own repeater station. To earn this requires passing a 50-question examination on radio theory.
Are there Amateur Radio events during the year?
Most Amateur Radio clubs meet weekly or monthly. Hamfests are popular events that often feature the sale of new and used equipment and parts. Various radio contests are held throughout the year. Most important is Field Day. This contest, with emphasis on emergency conditions, is held on the last full weekend of June. Operation, using temporary antennas and generator or battery power, adds to the realism and complicates operations.
How can I learn about Amateur Radio?
Radio Amateurs of Canada publishes study guides and The RAC Operating Manual, available on-line from the RAC web site and some radio stores. Best of all, talk to an Amateur. Probably there is an Amateur Radio club near you that teaches Amateur Radio classes.
What do Amateur Radio operators do during and after disasters?
Amateur Radio operators are most likely to be active after disasters that damage regular lines of communication due to power outages and destruction of telephone lines. They may set up and operate local and long distance communication networks, as backup for failed or overloaded communication networks. They may also provide non-commercial communication for both private citizens affected by the disaster, and their worried families and friends outside the disaster area.
How Do Radio Amateurs Help in an Emergency?
Many Radio Amateurs are active as communication volunteers providing backup communications for their local public safety organizations. In some disasters, radio communications among public safety or relief officials fail, when radio towers or other elements in the normal communication infrastructure are damaged. Radio Amateurs may be able to help using their technical skills and their own portable or mobile radio equipment.
Radio Amateurs may organize “traffic nets”, operating through the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) or the National Traffic System (NTS). Most ARES groups have formal agreements with their local municipalities and are included in the municipal Emergency Plan, for callout in an emergency. The Canadian Red Cross, as the lead relief agency, coordinates support for other relief agencies and has a formal agreement for ARES across Canada. In areas that are prone to tornadoes and hurricanes, many Amateurs are involved in CANWARN, under Environment Canada.
Can I use Amateur Radio to contact loved ones in a disaster area?
Radio Amateurs in a disaster area are usually very busy helping with immediate relief problems. Since they may be called upon to assist emergency officials, you should wait until the crisis has passed and restoration efforts have begun. At that time, local Amateurs may begin handling what is known as “welfare traffic.” If you know a nearby Amateur in your community, he or she may be able to send a message into a traffic net that can then relay it to the affected site. The message should be brief (e.g. “Fred, We’re worried. Call home. Mother”), with the addressee’s name, address and phone number. Once received at the disaster site, your message may take a considerable time to reach the addressee. Amateurs there may have no way of reaching your loved one because of road blockages, or outages in telephone service.
Can I use Amateur Radio to get word out of a disaster area?
Yes, but have patience. When disaster strikes, all communications are overloaded. Amateur Radio operators in the disaster area must give priority to supporting local safety and relief efforts. When the immediate danger has passed, most provide “welfare” communications for local residents unable to telephone. If you are in an affected area, locate an Amateur Radio station (often identified by a sign or banner) and leave a very brief message (e.g. “All is well here. Love, John”) with the address and telephone number for the addressee. The Radio Amateur will put your message in line as part of the daily “traffic”, and it will be relayed to the area where the addressee lives. An Amateur there may then deliver your message by telephone (but don’t expect that Amateur to incur long distance charges to deliver your message).
How can Amateur Radio help with news gathering during or after a disaster?
Media representatives often use Amateur Radio as a source of information and news about conditions in the affected region. Many Radio Amateurs will provide interviews concerning information from the disaster site. In addition, reporters may wish to develop stories on the role of Amateur Radio in disaster relief. However, Amateur Radio may not be used to assist the news media in gathering information in a professional capacity, nor may radio or TV broadcasts be transmitted by Amateur Radio.
For more information about Amateur Radio and how YOU can get involved, please see the Radio Amateurs of Canada website at http://www.rac.ca