Been holding off getting a HAM radio license because of that niggling five words per minute Morse code requirement? Well, wait no more! In a rule change, the FCC has dropped the Morse code requirement, with the effect of making HAM radio a lot more accessible.
This is good news for a lot of voyagers, because high frequency radios are one of the best and least expensive ways to keep in touch while on passage or in truly remote areas. Many offshore boats carry a marine SSB radio, which allows communication over a specific set of frequencies dedicated to marine use. With a special radio modem (Pactor), email is even possible, though access to the non-profit SailMail service requires an annual fee. However, there are advantages to having access to HAM communications in addition to SSB, e.g., unlike SailMail, the Winlink volunteer-operated email gateway is free. And having more frequencies and modulations available to you can sometimes be a life-saver (literally).
As you may know, some SSB radios can be HAM enabled (though they may be missing some of the features of a full HAM rig), but a HAM radio is not allowed to use SSB frequencies. So, if you want to do both marine SSB and HAM with one radio, start with a marine SSB that can be used in HAM mode (the Icom 802, for instance). So, dust off those marine SSB manuals and see if your radio can access HAM frequencies.
NEWINGTON, CT, Feb 23, 2007 — A new Amateur Radio Service regime now is in place. The requirement to demonstrate Morse code proficiency to gain HF privileges officially disappeared from the FCC’s Part 97 rules today at 12:01 AM Eastern Time. At the same time, some 200,000 Technician licensees without Morse code exam credit acquired HF privileges equivalent to those available to Novice licensees. The League is marking the occasion with a W1AW special event aimed at welcoming newcomers to the HF bands. The “W1AW HF Open House” has included exam sessions under both old and new rules. ARRL Chief Operating Officer Harold Kramer, WJ1B, points to the still-growing number of ARRL Volunteer Examiner Coordinator (ARRL VEC) test sessions now on the schedule across the US as evidence that the rule changes will provide a shot in the arm to Amateur Radio.