The New Regulations for HF Access - What do They Mean?

(Thanks to RAC Vice President Regulatory Affairs, Jim Dean, VE3IQ)

In response to the RAC Proposal on Morse Code and Related Matters, and in line with the decisions taken at WRC-2003, Industry Canada has removed the Morse Qualification as a mandatory requirement for access to the HF band below 30 MHz. However, qualifying in Morse still remains an option. The pass mark for both the Basic and Advanced Qualification examinations has been raised to 70%. Some other recommendations from the RAC proposal were also implemented. The necessary regulatory changes have been incorporated by revisions to RIC-2 and RIC-3 (see Issues dated July 2005), which govern operations by Canadian radio amateurs. Every amateur should obtain a copy of these RICs from the Industry Canada web site at http://strategis.ic.gc.ca/epic/internet/insmt-gst.nsf/en/h_sf06073e.html  .

So what do the new regulations mean? For the most part, they only affect those amateurs who hold just the Basic Qualification.

Well, first they mean that Industry Canada has responded positively to the proposal from RAC and to the wishes expressed by the majority of amateurs who responded to the RAC internet survey of 2003 and to the Industry Canada public consultation of 2004. Industry Canada was not able to implement all of the proposed restructuring of the amateur service to accommodate an Intermediate Certificate because that would have required changes to the Radiocommunication Regulations, which requires approval of the Cabinet and promulgation by Order of Governor-in Council. That can be a very lengthy process. Industry Canada made changes to the extent possible through amendments to RIC 2 and RIC-3, which can be approved by the Minister.

Second, they mean that the HF bands are now available for use by those of the approximately 23,000 Basic-only certificate holders who were previously restricted to operating above 30 MHz, but who now meet simple eligibility criteria. This provides a great opportunity for them to go on HF under the new rules and expand their technical and operating knowledge and experience.

The increase in the pass mark from 60% to 70% means that Basic and Advanced Qualification candidates will have to study a little harder to achieve these qualifications. For access to the HF bands, candidates will have to achieve the Basic + Honours Qualification (80% or greater on the Basic exam), or qualify under one of the other options shown in Schedule 1 of RIC-2. This was not done to make it more difficult to become a radio amateur, but was done in recognition of the fact that operation in the HF bands requires special knowledge and skills not necessary for most operations in the bands above 30 MHz. It was also done because it was determined that the old pass mark of 60% for the multiple-choice examinations did not provide a sufficient test of the candidate's ability.

Holders of only the Basic Qualification who were certified before 2 April 2002, are considered to have accumulated enough experience to be permitted to also operate on the HF bands. Holders of the Basic Qualification who were certified after 1 April 2002, will have to demonstrate to Industry Canada that they achieved 80% or greater on their exam. These amateurs should get their Accredited Examiner to fax their mark to the Amateur Radio Service Centre, or obtain a certified copy and fax it themselves. Those who achieved less than 80% and wanting to operate on HF, will either have to rewrite the Basic exam, or take the options of writing and passing the Morse or Advanced exams.

Retaining Morse as a voluntary Qualification means that it still can be included on the holder's certificate. This may be needed in some countries that still require a Morse capability for reciprocal operation. Indeed, it is understood that some countries that drop Morse as a mandatory requirement for HF access, may still require a Morse qualification to operate using the CW mode within their country.

The new rules have invalidated some of the current Basic examination questions. RAC will be working with Industry Canada to determine how best to identify and handle these questions and advise Accredited Examiners.

Industry Canada has also recognized that it will have to find a method of noting the Basic + Honours Qualification on the Amateur Certificate and Call Sign (ACCS) data base that is displayed on the RAC web site. It is understood that Industry Canada is planning to revise the ACCS, but that will take some time to realize. As an interim measure, the names of holders of only the Basic Qualification who were certified before 2 April, 2002, have been grandfathered as Basic + Honours and their names now have been annotated with a (+) sign on the data base to show this. Those amateurs holding only the Basic Qualification who were certified after 1 April, 2002, should now contact the Accredited Examiner (AE) who tested them. The marks should be available as RIC-1 requires Accredited Examiners to retain the examination results for three years. If your AE has your mark, and if it is 80% or greater, then ask him to fax the information to the Amateur Radio Service Centre at (613) 991-5575 or fax the information yourself if he provides you with a copy.

Under the new rules, holders of the Basic Qualification may now assemble, install and operate commercially available transmitter kits of professional design. Basic holders have always been able to build, install and operate receivers and station accessories; only designing and building or modifying transmitters was prohibited. This is a positive step to expand the practical skills of amateurs.

All in all, the rule changes mean that Industry Canada has followed the trend to delete Morse as a mandatory qualification, but has provided flexibility in options to meet Canadian requirements for HF access. The technical and regulatory knowledge requirements and the examinations to become an amateur remain unchanged. CW remains an honoured and standard mode of amateur communication.

RAC will notify radio amateurs of corrections in the examinations and the update of the Call Sign data base through announcements on the RAC web site and in the pages of TCA.

Note: The Industry Canada French Language rules are available at : http://strategis.ic.gc.ca/epic/internet/insmt-gst.nsf/fr/h_sf06073f.html