UK Amateur Radio – A Guide for Parents

If your son or daughter has expressed an interest in amateur radio, you may be keen to find out just what you (and they) are letting yourselves in for!

Want a one-page printable guide? See our Getting Started Guides

What is Amateur Radio

Amateur radio is a hobby that lets radio enthusiasts talk to each other locally, and around the world.

Radio amateurs complete a short training course and exam, and then get a licence to transmit on special radio frequencies. Radio amateurs learn about radios, frequencies, aerials, the legal aspects of transmitting and some of the technical basics that help with general understand of things like voltage and how to be safe.

It’s an ideal hobby for the technically-minded, and is suitable for all ages from around 6 to 106. Watch the following short video for  a 2 minute overview:

How to Get Your Youngster Started

Radio amateurs start at “Foundation” and can move up to higher levels later if they wish. “Foundation” involves taking a short multiple-choice exam and completing some basic practical exercises. Most people study for the exam by taking a short course at a local amateur radio club, at home using the low-cost book Foundation Licence Now!, or online distance-learning course like the  Ham Train Foundation Online

There is a fee for taking the exam (£27.50 in 2016), and clubs typically charge a fee for training. For more on what’s involved, see the following video:

First Steps

Once your youngster passes their exam, they’ll get a special licence and ‘callsign’ that allows them to start talking to other amateurs around the world. They will also need a radio and an antenna. They will learn about this on the course, but in summary, there are two common types of amateur radio frequencies that amateurs use:

VHF / UHF Depending on the height of the aerial, distances of up to 50 miles are possible.
Many get started with a battery-powered handheld radio (£25+). These come with a short antenna that can be used over a fairly short range (a few miles), and are typically used outdoors. They can be connected to better antennas for better range.
Colinear AntennaIf your youngster wants to transmit from indoors, they can use their handheld connected to a better antenna, but will ideally want a “base station”. These start from around £75, and require a power supply unit (£40+).Antennas: The best results will come from a rooftop antenna (about a metre long, £30+). This will be connected to the “base station” via co-ax cable. If you can’t get an antenna on the roof, an antenna placed high in your loft is an option. In some cases, an antenna close to a window, or hung securely out of the window will work too.
HF Radios for HF are more expensive (£400+) and allow users to talk around the world. HF radios require a power supply unit (£40+) and often need an antenna tuning unit (£100+). HF frequencies require larger antennas, which can be as simple as a long length of wire (between 5 and 40 metres). Antennas are ideally set up in the garden, but loft antennas can be effective too.
Digital Voice If you can’t set up an HF station at home, you can consider Digital Voice – these are fairly new and mostly use UHF. Radios are usually handheld, and so need antennas like those mentioned under “VHF/UHF”. The two main systems are ‘DMR’ and ‘D-Star’.

Digital Voice radios connect to local “repeaters”, which are connected to the Internet. This means that from a handheld radio, it’s possible to talk around the world. A basic DMR radio costs £100+. The system is fairly new and are only used by a small percentage of amateurs. Repeaters are only available in some parts of the country.

Is Amateur Radio Safe?

Yes, however there are some precautions you should observe. Foundation training courses and the course book cover the safety issues, and we recommend you review the safety section yourself, to understand what’s involved and to make sure all family members appreciate the basics. For more, see our Foundation Safety Slides

Also, just as allowing your youngster to talk to strangers on the Internet has risks, so to a lesser extent does amateur radio. You may want to supervise (or keep an ear) on what’s being said.

Any questions?

Any questions about amateur radio? Please ask in the box below, and we’ll try to help.

Thanks to Nick G4HCK for suggesting this article!

More Information

The following video, released by the Radio Society of Great Britain, is aimed at highlighting how youngsters can engage with amateur radio:

Related content