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Old May 27th, 2013, 09:02 AM #1
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Amateur Radio FAQ

Amateur Radio FAQ

Seeing the interest here, I decided to create this. Keep in mind that as you read that the FCC is always considering rule changes.

What is Amateur (Ham) Radio?

It is a service created by law and treaties for the use of private individuals for the enjoyment, emergency, personal, and experimental, use of parts of the radio spectrum.

Here's the text of the law's “Basis and Purpose”:

Quote:
“ The rules and regulations in this part are designed to provide an amateur radio service having a fundamental purpose as expressed in the following principles:

(a) Recognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications.

(b) Continuation and extension of the amateur's proven ability to contribute to the advancement of the radio art.

(c) Encouragement and improvement of the amateur service through rules which provide for advancing skills in both the communication and technical phases of the art.

(d) Expansion of the existing reservoir within the amateur radio service of trained operators, technicians, and electronics experts.

(e) Continuation and extension of the amateur's unique ability to enhance international goodwill.”
How do you obtain an Amateur radio license?

You pass tests written and administered by fellow hams on the subjects of laws governing radio operation, health and safety issues regarding radio use and installation, electronics, radio theory, operating practices, methods of radio operation, and emergency operations.

Do I have to pass a Morse code test?

No. Code tests for all amateur licenses were done away with several years ago in the U.S., following the same practice in other countries. This was mostly due to the adoption of digital modes of radio communication that perform the same (or enhanced) functions using computers. Manual use of Morse code is still very much alive and is still a useful skill to learn however.

How hard is it to pass the tests?

The first two tests are the Technician and General tests. There are 35 questions on the test, chosen from a pool of 396 questions for Technician, and 484 for General. The tests are multiple choice, you have to get 70% correct (26 questions for Technician and General) to pass. There are a preset number of questions from each area. There are generally two "distraction" answers, and a close answer, given with the correct answer. Test questions are written to a high school level.

And...

All of the questions in each pool, and the answers, and the correct answers, are published and easily available.

Subject areas for Technician Class test:

T0: Electrical and RF Safety
T1: FCC Rules, station license responsibilities
T2: Control operator duties
T3: Operating practices
T4: Radio and electronic fundamentals
T5: Station setup and operation
T6: Communications modes and methods
T7: Special operations
T8: Emergency and Public Service Communications
T9: Radio waves, propagation, and antennas

Subject areas for General Class test:

G0: Electrical and RF Safety
G1: Commissions Rules
G2: Operating Procedures
G3: Radio Wave Propagation
G4: Amateur Radio Practices
G5: Electrical Principles
G6: Circuit Components
G7: Practical Circuits
G8: Signals and Emissions
G9: Antennas

Extra class is the highest amateur license level. There are 50 questions chosen from a pool of 701 and you have to answer 75% of those correctly (37 questions) to pass. Otherwise, the format of the test is the same. You'll also see a lot of the material from the earlier tests.

Subject areas for Extra Class test:

E0: Safety
E1: Commissions Rules
E2: Operating Procedures
E3: Radio Wave Propagation
E4: Amateur Radio Practices
E5: Electrical Principles
E6: Circuit Components
E7: Practical Circuits
E8: Signals and Emissions
E9: Antennas

Young people, 12 and under, pass the Technician (and higher) test every month. As a matter of fact, there is no age limit to be an amateur radio operator.

How much does it cost to take the test and get your license?

Tests are given by volunteer amateur radio operators, called Volunteer Examiners (VEs). They are allowed by the FCC to collect actual costs for conducting the tests, that is pencils, copying, etc. The limit is $20. However, most if not all tests in this area are given through the Laurel VEC (Volunteer Examiner Coordinator) and are completely free no matter how many times you take or retake the test.

Go here for a schedule of exams given under the Laurel VEC: http://larcmdorg.doore.net/vec/

Suppose I don't pass the first time, how long do I have to wait to test again?

Many VE (Volunteer Examiner) teams will let you test again immediately if they think you were even close to passing. Keep in mind that these are volunteers however and try not to waste their time if everyone else is finished and you are not prepared. Testing is offered on a staggered schedule throughout the region so it's also possible to re-test the very next day or next week.

What are the costs to prepare for the test, and how do I prepare for it?

There are too many ways to count. If you like a classroom approach where you can ask questions, many local clubs offer classroom study. These classes are free however they may ask that you purchase a manual such as the ARRL manual (~$20). They may also loan you one if they have a current one available.

You can study by yourself using a manual such as the ARRL manual, CD ROMs, audio CDs, or online study materials that clubs and other amateurs have posted.

There are also a number of free practice tests available on line. Two of the best are at http://qrz.com and http://aa9pw.com/ . Also, there is a new free site: https://hamstudy.org/

NEW ADDITION: http://www.radioqrv.com/index.html

They have all the actual questions, answers and correct answers incorporated. They will also tell you what questions and subjects you need to concentrate on after you've taken the practice test. The aa9pw site also has an option to print out a paper sample test if you want something to do in that boring meeting that it would be conspicuous to take your laptop to.

How long does it take to prepare for the tests, and how long do I have to wait between tests?

All people vary and keep in mind some already have a great deal of this knowledge from school or work. I would say two months should be plenty of time for a working person to study for the Technician test. Thanks to the on-line tests however, you can gauge your level of preparedness as you go.

You don't have to wait a single day to challenge all the tests. You can take them all the same day if you feel you are prepared, however you cannot skip a test, you have to take and pass them all in order.

What's the best manual to get?

There seem to be two poles in the study manual spectrum. On the one end you have the ARRL manuals that try to teach you the underlying reasons for the questions as well as the theory. In other words, they try to make you a good operator first. The other end of the spectrum are books sold that strictly "teach to the test". They give you all the test questions and answers, the correct answer and maybe a sentence or two about why the correct answer is the best. Middle of the road are the Gordon West texts and CDs. Gordon West will teach the test somewhat but he also gives you a great deal of background information on amateur radio and what to do with your new privileges. He provides some helpful hints for memorizing the correct answer and formulas.

Note: Make sure you get the manual for the correct question pool for the class of license you are studying for. They change the question pool for a given class of license every four years and they stagger what year each (Technician, General, Amateur Extra) changes. For instance, the Extra class exam just changed the question pool in July of 2012. The year before that it was the General. The questions in the pool only change a few percent so it's not the end of the world if you have the last question pool manual. On the other hand if you are having trouble making a passing score on the practice tests you may need that small percentage.

I suck at math (or whatever) how can I pass the test?

First, the math for the Technician class or even the General class license is not that difficult. Single unknown variable algebra, metric conversions (ex. kilohertz to megahertz) is about the limits of it, if, you work out the answers.

Second, keep in mind you can you can easily find all of the questions and correct answers beforehand. While I believe you should always do your best in whatever you do, it is possible to simply memorize all the correct answers and in fact, for some of the other subject matter questions, that's all you can do. You probably won't know intuitively for instance that you need a minimum of three Volunteer Examiners to conduct a license examination.

Last, since the tests have a maximum number of questions from each category, it's possible just to concentrate more on the other subjects you feel good about and still obtain a passing score.

One thing to remember though is that the VEs only have to give so many questions from each subject area. They can, and do, mix up the order of the answers so memorizing that an answer is A, B, C, or D, will do you no good. You need to know the correct answer itself, not just the letter.

What can I/should I bring to the test?

It is a very good idea to check the test provider's website for what to bring/not to bring before the test. If they don't have one then call or email them.

Most in the area will provide everything you need including pencils and calculators.

You can bring your own calculator, however you will have to let the VE team examine it and clear any memory or program functions before the test. Bringing your own calculator is advised, if you intend to use one, because the ones provided may be Spartan feature-wise and unfamiliar to you.


What can I do once I'm licensed?

With an inexpensive handheld radio you can talk directly and through repeaters to fellow amateurs around your local area. In some places with linked repeaters this can be a very large area. You can use the same radio (with a better antenna) to talk to other amateurs through orbiting satellites. You can take part in hidden transmitter (fox) hunts some of these can become very challenging of both your fitness and transmitter locating skills.

You can volunteer to take part in providing emergency communications for local disaster relief and hospitals.

As you pass more tests, you gain more privileges. Mostly in the phone (voice) parts of the high frequency (HF) bands. Technician class operators have limited voice privileges on some of the HF bands. The HF bands are what mostly comes to mind when you think of amateur radio, that is, communications over great distances from one radio operator to another using no intermediary medium other than radio. Technicians have greater privileges using data (computer encoded and decoded messaging) and CW (Continuous Wave AKA using Morse code) in the HF bands than using voice.

This is however a very brief list, there are too many to list in a FAQ.

I don't want to put a lot of money into something I might not like, how much is this going to cost me?

How about free? There are cheap dual band (VHF/UHF FM) Chinese handhelds on the market these days from ~$40 that work fairly well, however, there are actually ways you can get on the air for zero $.

It may seem like a contradiction to use the Internet to do amateur radio but people will actually let you use their equipment (if you are licensed) on-line. You connect to their radio and see a virtual control panel display and actually send and receive via their radio using your computer's microphone and speakers. Without being licensed there are additional receivers that allow you receive only however, you still tune the radio, control filtering and even de-code messages sent using electronic data formats or CW. I highly recommend doing this as a matter of fact, as you are studying because it gives you a good feel for frequencies, band limits and bandwidth of various means of modulation.

You can also use a radio over Internet formats such as Echolink. Using this and only your computer, microphone and speakers you can connect to and operate from FM transceivers around the world. You must first be licensed and apply for access.

Clubs constantly need volunteers to fill needs to operate their equipment during special events and emergencies, they even provide training.

A couple of clubs in the recent past have given brand-new radios to people who took their Technician class course and passed the exam.

I want to buy my own equipment, what should I get?

Some of the best advice I got was to first buy a dual band 2 meter and 70 centimeter (cm) FM handheld transceiver. Get one with a keypad because this will allow you to directly enter frequencies or DTMF (dual-tone multi-frequency ie. Telephone dialing tones) tones that are needed to use features of repeaters or some types of communication such as Echolink.

I would really put off buying equipment until you are licensed or otherwise know more about the hobby. Your ideas may change as you learn more about what you'd like to do.

How do I find someone to talk to?

There are procedures for simply saying the equivalent of “Hello! Who's Listening?”.

There are local, national and International “nets” where people are encouraged to join in and just say hello, if you wish. Some are dedicated to a subject, many are not.

In an emergency you can say “May-Day” (there are other procedures depending on the frequency and the means of communication however calling May-Day is always acceptable in an emergency) but it really better be life or death if you do that.

You'll of course meet fellow amateurs through clubs and other activities.


What do you talk about on the radio?

You can't play music (except as "incidental" to a manned spacecraft!), use your privileges for business, or sell things (except the occasional piece of amateur radio gear) and you can't use profanity but pretty much after that you can say anything you normally would in public. There is a convention of not talking about politics or religion but this is not hard and fast, there are “nets” devoted to religion.

Other than that of course, most people talk about radio but that's not all. From raising chickens to their pasta primavera recipe to making bio fuel in your backyard you'll hear it all. If you don't necessarily want to converse there are plenty of people who are just in it for purely technical reasons and like nothing better than getting a rare contact and signal report from a far away station.

You can use many digital forms of communications including text, still pictures and video, and even use spread spectrum, however you may not do anything to deliberately obscure the meaning of the transmission.

I live in an apartment or a neighborhood controlled by the homeowners association NAZIs, how can I put up a big antenna?

This is so common there are actually books on the subject.

First, a handheld radio that can probably reach a local repeater from inside your house is about the size of a pack of playing cards. Some are (not surprisingly) cell phone sized.

Second, there are many antennas you can buy or build that are either indoors or stealthy to avoid the prying eyes of the home owners ass. Some of them are reported to work surprisingly well.

This is the link to several articles on the ARRL website on the matter, unfortunately you have to be a member to see some of them:

http://www.arrl.org/limited-space-and-indoor-antennas

What about amateur radio in emergency situations?

Amateur radio is tied in with emergency communications in both official and un-official ways.

In fact, the first subpart of Title 47, Part 97 of the Federal regulations that create amateur radio state:

Quote:
"§*97.1***Basis and purpose.

The rules and regulations in this part are designed to provide an amateur radio service having a fundamental purpose as expressed in the following principles:

(a) Recognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications."
RACES and ARES are two groups tied to the FCC and the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) respectively, for the express purpose of providing volunteer emergency radio services.

The Hurricane Watch Net which listens for traffic from stations when an active hurricane is threatening land masses to relay to others or take meteorological on site reports to pass along to the Weather Service.

Likewise Skywarn stations take weather and damage reports in severe weather and pass these along to the Weather Service.

Many hospitals have amateur volunteers to provide emergency communications in the event that normal channels break down in emergencies. Likewise, amateurs work alongside professionals in many Emergency Operations Centers on the local level.

While these examples may not fit in with everyone's ideas about the zombie apocalypse and TEOTWAWKI, not all emergencies are those. Amateur radio played a part in helping many people in recent disasters.

There is in fact one day of the year where amateur operators practice emergency communications, Field Day. Clubs and individuals simulate operating under “field” conditions from tents using portable power sources. These events are usually open to the public and are a great way to learn about amateur radio, the different ways of operating and even try them yourself under the control of a licensed ham.

Why can't I just buy some amateur radio equipment and start operating it, or not, and just have it to use in an emergency?

Hopefully if you read some of the preceding answers you now realize it's not that hard to get licensed.

The FCC has recently fined a number of people for operating in the amateur bands without a license, interfering with amateur radio and using amateur radio equipment on frequencies restricted to other uses.

These fines run into the tens of thousands of dollars and can be applied on a per-incident basis.

Part of the reason for the licensing process is to ensure that you are a competent operator and don't interfere with anyone else or get yourself in trouble.

Amateur radio operators don't answer calls from unlicensed stations or stations in other services unless it's an emergency.

If you get licensed and practice the skills necessary, you'll know your equipment works correctly, you'll know what frequencies work when and where, and you'll know others to communicate with in times of need.

Wasn't Amateur Radio more popular in the past?

Actually, the opposite is true in the US. The number of new licensees has never been higher and has been increasing for decades.

http://www.arrl.org/news/2012-marks-...radio-licenses

Can I use my amateur transceiver as a scanner to hear police, fire, aviation, railroad, weather, etc frequencies?

Most modern amateur radio transceivers can scan programmed frequencies, whole bands or parts of bands. Most amateur hand-held VHF/UHF transceivers today are built with wideband receivers for just that reason. Some even include features to monitor the weather channels and switch to them when there are severe weather alerts.

However, a great many public safety departments, especially in the more populated areas of this and other states, have gone to "trunked" communications that newer scanners can "un-trunk" allowing you to listen to them. Since listening to non-amateur communications is not the primary purpose for amateur transceivers the ability to listen to trunked communications (at least in an intelligible form) is not found on them. At least not to date.

Another thing to consider is whether the particular model transceiver you are contemplating buying covers the frequency you are interested in listening to. It is usually easy to find this information for a given transceiver in the manual or sales material.

What are the advantages of getting the General or Extra Class license?

Technician class license holders have very limited privileges on the High Frequency (HF) bands.

Here is a link to the US "band plan" which shows where each class of license can operate while in the US (or in the international zone of which the US is a part).

www.arrl.org/files/file/Hambands_color.pdf‎

E = Extra, A = Advanced (a license class no longer offered but that is valid), G = General and T = Technician

As you can see General gets privileges on most but not quite all of each band. Extra gets all.

If you travel to Europe, as an Extra or General class license holder you can get full reciprocal privileges for your Extra or General class license, but there is no reciprocal Technician license.

http://www.arrl.org/cept

(Keep in mind Europe is in a different international zone from the US however and therefore where you can operate in each of the bands is different.)

While it may seem trivial, as a higher class license holder you also have a greater selection of "vanity" call signs to choose from (a call sign you pick for yourself within set criteria for number/letter combinations versus one assigned by the FCC when you get your first license).

http://www.arrl.org/vanity-call-signs (open "Choosing a Vanity Call Sign")

If you wish to become a Volunteer Examiner (VE), you can only be one with a General or Extra class license. General class licensees can administer the Technician test only. Extra class licensees can administer any amateur class test. Since most classes of tests are offered at the same time, you probably won't find too many tests being administered by General class VEs.

How can I find where repeaters are in my local area and what are the minimum specifications of the transceiver I would need to communicate through them?

This answer is focused on 2M and 70cm FM repeaters since these are the ones that are likely to be active in your area. There are 10M, 6M, 1.25M and even gigahertz repeaters in Maryland.

One way to start looking for repeaters in your area is simply to Google "Maryland repeaters" to find lists people have compiled. You'll find
the city location where the repeater resides. Frequently these lists also have links to the owner websites for more information and more repeaters.

A good source is also The Mid-Atlantic Repeater Council (TMARC).

www.tmarc.org

TMARC is the official repeater coordinator for the area. A repeater coordinator assigns frequencies, tones, and power output so repeaters don't interfere with one another (much).

It is possible to have and run an uncoordinated repeater. However, if you get into a pissing match with a coordinated repeater, you lose. Therefore, if you find an uncoordinated repeater you like, it may not be around forever, or at least not on the same frequency.

If you've obtained your radio from a brick-and-mortar store you can also ask them if they will program it with local repeaters. Along the same lines you can ask at local clubs or on club websites if someone has the same model radio as you and the programming software and would be willing to "clone" their radio. You could also obtain the programing software and a programming cable and ask if anyone would be willing to send you their saved local memory locations. Frequently, these are in, or can be saved in, common spreadsheet formats such as .csv. Make sure you are using the same programming software as the donor. Be careful however, this may wipe out locations you've already entered by hand. Programming software has the ability to backup your radio's memories. Do that first.

One other way to find active repeaters is that most amateur radios (particularly VHF/UHF) can scan bands. You set the limits of the scan to the repeater output frequencies, on 2M these are: 145.20-145.50, 146.61-146.97, 147.00-147.39 Mhz and on 70cm the input and output frequency ranges are 442.00-445.00 Mhz. This method won't give you the access tone unless they broadcast it as part of their identification message (some radios also scan for the access tone as well) and if the repeater is using some strange offset you won't find that either. Some transceivers will even scan a band for activity and when it finds it, stores it in memory for later retrieval.

Last, yes, there are repeater directories sold. However, these are only complete up to the time they are published. Unless I was planning a cross country trip, I would not bother purchasing one.

Keep in mind that even though you may find a local repeater the level of activity may be low. Also, most repeaters are more active at certain times. Morning and evening commuter nets, club on-air meetings, for instance.

The minimum you need to communicate through a local VHF or UHF (2M or 70cm) repeater is a Handheld Transceiver (HT) although it is limited in power (5 Watts (W) max. usually) and range. The range can be increased somewhat with a better antenna (most HTs come with rubber duck antennas which are a compromise for size and bandwidth).

To communicate through a repeater once you have found the frequency you need to enter the repeaters output frequency, input frequency or offset, and you may have to enter a tone. You have to have the manual for your radio because this differs between makes and models.

You generally first enter the repeaters output frequency. To enter the input frequency, you typically enter a "shift" or offset from the output frequency. It is usually 6Khz for the 2M and and 5Mhz for the 70cm band. If entering the input frequency as a shift, you must also apply a + or minus to show how the shift is to be applied. Some radios have a default that applies the default offset and shift for you based on the output frequency you enter if you allow it to. This is usually correct (but not always). By entering an input frequency you just enter it as you did the output.

Most repeaters also have an access tone. This is a low frequency audio tone applied your signal. Many repeaters are close enough to one another to pick up signals meant for another repeater using the same input frequency, especially when atmospheric conditions favor communications on these bands beyond the normal range. These access tones try to prevent a transmission meant for one repeater from triggering another on the same frequency. The most common you will find is CTCSS or Continuous Tone Coded Squelch System also known as PL for Private Line as it was named by Motorola who created it. These tones are in discrete choices found in the menu for your radio. Less commonly used is Digital Code Squelch (DCS) which performs the same functions as the PL CTCSS tone but is digital.

I only see practice tests (or manuals) offered for previous years, where's the up to date information?

The question pools are changed every four years on a staggered basis for each of the license classes. So, if you see a reference to a question pool less than four years old, it is probably the current one.

Questions are withdrawn occasionally within a four year cycle. Usually because the question was found to be flawed in some way, the correct choice was ambiguous, for instance. This changes the over all pool very little however and is probably to your benefit.

You can find the dates question pools are valid, the question pools, withdrawn questions and other information related to the question pools at the National Conference of Volunteer Examiner Coordinators website:

http://www.ncvec.org/
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Last edited by K31; May 13th, 2015 at 09:08 PM.
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Old May 27th, 2013, 09:59 AM #2
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very nice write up
thanks for putting in this time
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Old May 27th, 2013, 10:07 AM #3
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Excellent FAQ.

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Old May 30th, 2013, 02:18 AM #4
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Good stuff. November three on your radio.
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Old June 19th, 2013, 07:11 AM #5
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New free study/intro website:

https://hamstudy.org/
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Old June 19th, 2013, 05:26 PM #6
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Old June 19th, 2013, 06:53 PM #7
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GREAT write up K-31, thank you!!!

Is the current ARRL book available locally? I'm here in AA today and again next week and would like to grab a copy if I can.

I've got a decent HH I've never used for anything but monitoring NOAA, commercial FM and marine radio traffic and would like to get my license ASAP.
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Old June 19th, 2013, 06:59 PM #8
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Thanks, I need to get on this.

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Old June 19th, 2013, 09:27 PM #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by E.Shell View Post
GREAT write up K-31, thank you!!!

Is the current ARRL book available locally? I'm here in AA today and again next week and would like to grab a copy if I can.

I've got a decent HH I've never used for anything but monitoring NOAA, commercial FM and marine radio traffic and would like to get my license ASAP.
I avoid subscriptions at all costs, but I signed up for Amazon Prime. I think it's a great deal. I just ordered the ARRL book, and got free two-day shipping. Clearly it's not worth it if you're just going to order the book, but for my purposes, it's great.

My next purchase will be Baofeng UV5RA Ham Two Way Radio 136-174/400-480 MHz Dual-Band Transceiver (Black). I don't see how you can go wrong for $35.
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Old June 20th, 2013, 03:50 AM #10
Minuteman Minuteman is offline
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Minuteman Minuteman is offline
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Join Date: Dec 2009
Location: Maryland, let's make it a better place.
Posts: 20,540
K31- thanks so much for this clear and concise FAQ on HAM radio. I've long been flirting with the idea of taking up this hobby, now might be the right time.

I'm curious to find out where repeaters are in my local area and the minimums I would need to communicate through them.

At this time, I believe I would want a unit that would also allow me to be able to listen to emergency frequencies. I'd also like to be able to use it to allow Internet connection (digital telemetry) in the event of an emergency (not too sure about this). But definitely want to be able to easily take it with me on vacation.

Really appreciate hearing what others (in this forum) are investing in and their logic for doing so.

I don't yet understand the differences / advantages of obtaining the various levels of certification. Other than them being progressively harder, doesn't an individual still have the same capabilities to operate, same call sign, etc?

Anyone interested in taking a class or at least the test together?

https://www.google.com/search?q=port...ives+emergency
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