Should Amateur Radio Licenses Be Good for Life?

The ARRL reports that

The Anchorage VEC — one of 14 Volunteer Examiner Coordinators in the US — asked the Commission to give permanent credit to radio amateurs for examination elements they have successfully passed. This would, in effect, create a license exam credit that would be valid throughout an amateurs’ lifetime, never expiring.

I’m not exactly sure of the reasoning behind this, but it seems to me that instead of granting a lifetime credit, we should be going the other direction and asking for re-examination.

Now, I know that the logistics of doing this might be too cumbersome, so I’m not seriously proposing this, but the lifetime credit just doesn’t make sense to me. Just because someone passed a test at some point doesn’t mean that he or she could pass it again. That’s especially true for those who have been out of the hobby for some time (which they would have to be if they’d let their license expire and then not even renew during the two-year grace period).

I’m not sure when they changed the rule, or if they ever enforced the rule, but back in the old days, to renew your license you had to provide proof that you were active by producing your station log if asked. Showing that you’re active doesn’t necessarily prove that you could still pass a test, but it does show continuing involvement. I kind of like having that as a requirement for license renewal.

Perhaps that’s another responsibility that could be given to VECs. In addition to administering the tests, they could be tasked with ensuring that an amateur has been active before allowing a license renewal. And those that don’t qualify for a renewal based on activity would be required to take an examination.

I know this is still a partly-baked idea, but what do you think?


  1. If the ongoing maintenance of a US amateur radio license required periodic testing or even just proof of activity, the number of licensed hams would fall to less than 200,000 and become a teeny, tiny voting bloc – something the ARRL could never allow to happen else it would be the end of the amateur service in the US.

    Lifetime licenses are a much better way to keep our numbers inflated.

    73, Jeff

  2. Dan,

    Agree with you completely! The requirements should not be getting lax to the point of being meaningless.

    Larry W2LJ

  3. Sam Barrett says:

    I almost think that I remember that we were actually subject to recall at any time to prove that we could still pass the test. I was stuck at Technician for a few years after High School and before I finished college. I always had a touch of fear that the FCC would call me in to make sure I could still do 5 WPM CW.
    I think that the resources required to retest current licensees would be better spent monitoring the Amateur frequencies with the aim of removing the small minority of bad actors. I’m not sure that the licensed folks who are not operating are any threat. The ones who operate badly or illegally or even unlicensed, most certainly are a menace.
    Interesting thread. Thanks.

  4. Seems a lot of paperwork to have licences that expire. They don’t in Canada.

  5. Dan KB6NU says:

    This has been an interesting thread. In addition to the comments above, I received two via e-mail.

    Marshal, KD8QAW, who just recently got his license says,

    I agree with you totally. Those of us who have concealed pistol permits have to provide documentation that we actually continue to shoot and train to maintain some sort of proficiency in order to get our permit renewed. No lifetime permit. Competency, or at least “continuing involvement” is essential for all.

    Norm, WB4BKO, notes,

    A Pilot’s License has no expiration date. It can be revoked for violations of the law and civil air rfegulations, but not for lack of activity. I don’t see why an Amateur Radio License cannot be issued under similar conditions.

    I found it interesting that there was such a difference in licensing practices between the two.

  6. John K2JLM says:

    I have nothing against a lifetime license. I don’t think the government would change the current renewal though.

    I don’t agree with the retesting idea. I’m tired of this thinking that this is our little exclusive club. We need to grow our ranks and utilize our spectrum or we are going to see it slowly dwindle away to big business interests.

  7. Jim Lommel says:

    I don’t think that amateur licenses should be permanent (I’m also amazed that pilot’s licenses are permanent) If you renew your license at the ten year intervals you don’t have to re-take any tests so it should not be a problem.

  8. Bob, KG6AF says:

    I’m absolutely fine with a lifetime license. What I hope the FCC doesn’t do is grant lifetime credit for exams elements passed years ago. As a VE, the last thing I want to spend my time doing is figuring out whether the John Smith who claims he had a license in 1968, and whose proof consists of a Callbook page from that year, is actually the same John Smith. (If you think that’s a ridiculous example, consider the fact that under current regulations, a Callbook listing is sufficient evidence for an element 3 grandfather upgrade.)

    Similarly, I don’t want to have to determine whether a ham has been active before he can renew his license.

    My guess is, the FCC will say that having to renew every 10 years does not constitute an undue burden on the licensee, and leave the regs as they are.

  9. I like the notion of showing proof of operation for license renewal. A ham make not being using some parts of the test they passed to get the license, but at least showing some involvement is warranted.

  10. Bob, KG6AF says:

    The Anchorage VEC made two filings: one a waiver request, the other a petition for rulemaking. The FCC just denied the waiver request:

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