Saturday, January 02, 2010

Renewing your amateur radio license

So you've had your license now for ten whole years and it's about to expire.  Obviously, you're going to want to renew it.  The question is, how do you go about doing this?

Well, you have several choices.  You can fill out a paper FCC Form 605 and mail it to the FCC.  The problem with doing this is that this form is used by the FCC for about a half dozen different services; filling it out correctly is something of a challenge.  So don't do that unless you have no other choice.

Second, you can renew through a VEC.  The ARRL offers free renewals (except for vanity calls) through ARRL/VEC for its members, and will process renewals for nonmembers for a small fee. 

Third, and probably simplest, is to renew online through the FCC's website.  Every amateur licensee has been issued a CORES account by the FCC, and using this account information, can log into the FCC's site to manage his or her amateur license (as well as any other FCC licenses that he or she might have).  This includes renewals, modifications of the various details on the license such as address or even name, and applications for vanity call signs.  The only thing you cannot change via CORES is your license class; that can only be done via a VEC. 

If you're like most people, of course, you've not used CORES since you got your license ten years ago (or never, if you got your license before CORES came online in the early 2000s) and so you don't know your password.  Don't fret, the FCC will send you a password at your mailing address if you ask them to.  (Of course, this assumes you've kept your address current on your license, but you're required to do that anyway.)

The only time the FCC charges a fee to renew an amateur license is if that license was issued a vanity call sign.  In this case, to renew the license you must pay a new regulatory fee for a vanity license.  If you do not wish to do so, you can first file a modification asking the FCC to issue you a new sequentially-issued call sign, which will convert your license back to a standard amateur license, which you can then renew for free.

You can renew your license beginning 90 days prior to its expiration, and for up to two years after it has expired.  If you go beyond the two year grace period, you will have to retest, and you won't be able to get your call sign back, except by using the "former holder" provision of the vanity call sign program (for which you will have to pay a fee).

Remember also that the two year grace period is strictly a renewal-without-retest grace period.  If your license expires, you may not operate on the air until the FCC has received, processed, and granted the renewal of your license, as reflected by the FCC's ULS license database.

This post has been brought to you by pool questions T1D06, T1D07, and T1D11.