FCC Drops Morse Code Requirement for SSB Ham Licenses
By Daniel Piltch, Marine Computer Systems
December 16, 2006
American Radio Relay League
Power Squadron book on Marine Amateur Radio
Useful Marine SSB Links
MMSI Numbers Demystified
On December 15, 2006, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a public notice which stated that they were dropping the Morse Code requirement for all amateur radio licenses. Previously a 5 word-per-minute test was required for all but the most basic (technician-class) license.
Marine License Requirements
Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit - good for life FCC Form 605
FCC Form 159
Ship Station License (callsign) -
good for 10 years FCC Form 605
FCC Form 159
more info available at FCC's website
The technician-class license provides a good starting point for exploring amateur radio within a local area. However, most mariners are interested in the next step up to a general-class license which allows for operating on frequencies that can reach longer distances than those allowed on the technician-class license.
Amateur License Requirements
Technician Class 35 question test
General Class Technician class license
add'l 35 question test
Extra Class General Class license
50 question test
more info available at FCC's website and ARRL's website
Sailors without an SSB, who sail only in domestic waters might not even be required to carry a license at all. However, if you intend to transmit on any of the marine MF/HF frequencies availble on an SSB radio, you'll need to get a Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit. This permit is good for life, and enables you to transmit on any of the frequencies reserved for marine use. You'll also need a ship station license (callsign); this is good for ten years.
However, there are a number of other non-marine frequencies that are reserved for use by amateur radio operators. For boaters, these channels are most often used for "ham nets" or daily gatherings of cruisers with a similar interest. Some examples are Herb Hilgenberg's Southbound II Net (12.359 MHz at 2000 UTC) for cruisers interested in weather conditions, and the Caribbean Maritime Mobile Net (7.241 MHz at 1100 UTC) for cruisers in the Caribbean.
Another common use of amateur (ham) frequencies on boats is to participate in the WinLink network of volunteers which enables users to send and receive email for free. You'll need a Pactor modem to participate.
In order to use the "nets" and WinLink from your boat, you'll need a general-class (or better) amateur license. Now that the Morse code requirement has been dropped, it's easier than ever to get one.
The best source for those interested in getting licensed is the America Radio Relay League (ARRL) which maintains a site for beginners.
Regarding the new FCC announcement, there's still some uncertainty as to when the new rules become effective. Typically it would be 30 days from publication in the Federal Register (which would mean the rules would be effective early 2007 in this case). See the ARRL's informative article, and keep an eye on their web site for updates.
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