Becoming a Ham Radio Operator

This page contains an overview of how to become an amateur (ham) radio operator. Radios are often the only reliable form of communication after a major disaster. We encourage you to consider getting your ham license.

Check out our Get Ready resources for links we've compiled about personal preparation and disaster awareness.

What is a Ham license?

In order to use a radio in the amateur frequencies, you need to have an FCC license. There are three licenses: Technician, General and Extra. For emergency purposes, all you need is a Technician license.

How do you get a Ham license?

To get any of the licenses, you need to pass a test that covers a lot of technical and regulatory information. The good news is that the test questions are all published and our recommendation is that you use one of the methods below to prepare for and pass the test. Once you do this and purchase your radio (we can help you with that choice), then one of our local, very helpful hams will help you learn to use it.

In other words, just past the test any way you can. The important part comes after you get your license!

How to prepare for your test

HAM CRAM: Our local hams recommend that you attend a HAM CRAM session. A CRAM is not a class. It is a guided study broken into six 45-minute reading sessions. The sessions begin at 8 AM with a break for lunch. The actual HAM test begins at 4 PM. The CRAMs enjoy a pass rate of over 80-90% of those attending the sessions. As there is no extra charge you are encouraged to take the General and even the Extra Exams after passing your Technician exam. Go to (click the “Sign Up” link in the left menu) to read details about upcoming HAM CRAM sessions. Cost is $35.

ONLINE CLASSES: Michelle Dragony of Coastside Buzz has compiled some online training videos for those of you who prefer to study this way.

STUDY BOOK: There is also a great study manual by Gordon West that rearranges the questions into logical topics with good explanations.

TESTING APPS: If you study online or with the book, we recommend that you just take the test over and over and over again until you know the correct answers. The Ham Radio Exam Tech by Roy Watson is available on iTunes and the Google Play store.


Taking the test

Get your FRN first: Before you go to your exam, register online for and receive your FCC Registration Number (FRN). You will need this number before you take the exam.

If you’re taking the HAM CRAM, then the test is part of the experience. If you’re studying on your own, you can check out the Sunnyvale VEC website for exam session dates and information. The actual test only has 35 questions and you have 30 minutes to take the exam.

After the Exam

The fun really beings after you pass your exam. Now it is time for you to buy a radio and learn how to use it. Let us know when you’ve passed your exam (email: and we will coordinate help for you through our local Ham group (the Half Moon Bay Amateur Radio Club, HMBARC).

We will be working with them to schedule some practicals and exercises. You can also gain a lot of experience by shadowing an experienced ham at Dream Machines or one of the other races that happen frequently on the coast. These events are organized in a command structure like we would have in an emergency and are a great way to get over the anxiety of pressing your talk button for the first time!

Why we need Hams in our neighborhoods

We need at least a couple Hams in each neighborhood plus some that can go to key points in our communication NET during an emergency. That means at least 60-70 hams. We currently probably have approximately 20 active hams. Please join us in becoming a ham!