FCC Commercial Radio Operator License Examinations

Next Scheduled Exam Date: Nov. 10, 2018

Roy Henrichs, WB6OVV

(Updated Sept. 20, 2018)

During winter 2014, per agreement with the W5YI Group (National Radio Examiners), I established a commercial radio license exam Test Center in the San Francisco Bay Area: exam locations initially in western Marin county, with possible future expansion to the East Bay. This was done to support the operational needs of the Maritime Radio Historical Society (MRHS), located at Point Reyes National Seashore, as well as the needs of historic ships located in the San Francisco Bay Area that require the services of Commercial Radiotelegraph operators.

If you reached this webpage from the MRHS website, then you probably are familiar with MRHS's operations and mission. For those who are unfamiliar, I am provide the following capsule summary (though a visit to that website is highly recommended).

MRHS members are National Park Service (NPS) volunteers at Point Reyes National Seashore, and are responsible to NPS for the non-profit operation and ongoing maintenance of marine radiotelegraph shore station KPH (also operated as KFS and KSM). As the last fully operational commercial radiotelegraph station in the U.S., this station has origins traceable to the global communications empire of Guglielmo Marconi, dating to the early twentieth century. As a result, it is deeply embedded in the history of not only radiocommunications, but also of western Marin county, California. Obviously, MRHS needs Commercial Radiotelegraph operators to ensure continuation of operations - and commercial Test Centers capable of administering the required examination are very scarce in the San Francisco Bay Area. That is the reason that I furnish my services as Test Center Manager, and that several of our MRHS members furnish their services as Commercial Examiners.

As volunteers to NPS and MRHS, there are no formal employment relationships involved. We have no direct reporting relationships either to NPS or to MRHS. Put another way, I (and not MRHS) am solely responsible for the operation of this commercial Test Center, with ongoing support from our Commercial Examiners.

As MRHS True Believers know, by successfully completing the Commercial Radiotelegraph Operator's License examination - clearly obtaining the penultimate license - you get bragging rights for that accomplishment, but more importantly gain the qualifications needed to sit the commercial circuit at KPH! Upon successful completion of the examination, you will receive a Proof-of-Passing Certificate (PPC) which grants immediate authority to operate KPH on commercial frequencies.

Excellent! Take your exam on a Saturday morning at our Bolinas or Point Reyes Station examination sites, pass your exam, and get a PPC. Then, come out to the station, tour the facilities, and begin operating that afternoon. We file your PPC with the FCC on the duly designated form, and you get your permanent license directly from the FCC.

Obviously, our goal is to develop a pool of qualified licensed radiotelegraph operators who can operate and perhaps help maintain equipment at MRHS facilities, and to provide similar licensing support for others who need licensed Commercial Radiotelegraph Operators. That includes historic ships in the San Francisco Bay Area and elsewhere throughout the nation. We are firmly committed to the maritime industry and to helping our colleagues ensure continuity of their operations.

Our License Examination Services:

While our primary focus is the Commercial Radiotelegraph Operator license, our license examination services are not limited to that license alone. We offer license examination services for all current classes of Commercial Radio Operators licenses:

Radiotelegraph Operator License
General Radiotelephone Operator License (GROL)
GMDSS Operator (full and restricted) Licenses
GMDSS Maintainer License
GMDSS Operator/Maintainer License
Ship Radar Endorsement
Marine Radio Operator Permit

The W5YI website provides details of the application process, costs, and available Test Centers. W5YI COLEM exams provides additional information for the commercial licensing process. You will find me (Roy Henrichs, WB6OVV) listed on their website as a point of contact for scheduling examinations with MRHS. You can reach me via email: WB6OVV@arrl.net. Also, the W5YI website defines cost for these examinations, which is based on the number of examination elements that you need to take.

Current License Examination Schedule

Per commitment with the W5YI Group, we offer commercial license examinations at least on a quarterly basis. As you've already seen, this web page provides the date of our next quarterly examination session. If our posted quarterly date does not work for you, contact us and ask! Please remember that our sessions do require presence of two volunteer Examiners and the Test Center Manager, so some coordination is involved. But, we will do our best to accommodate you. Our Examiners routinely meet at KPH sites each Saturday for operation and maintenance work, making Saturday the most likely day for examinations.

Please note that we schedule quarterly examination dates only one quarter in advance. Updates generally will be done a week or two after the last posted examination session. So, if you find that today's date is after the posted examination date, be sure to check this website again soon for updates! An update will take place as soon as we have agreement from our Examiners on a workable date - nominally one quarter (roughly 90 days) in the future, most likely on a Saturday.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Where can I find study materials for my exam?

This is a very broad question. You can Google for "FCC examination" and likely will find plenty of resources. Some materials are free, others must be purchased. Use your judgment. We do not specifically endorse any specific products or materials, and provide the following partial list for informational purposes and as a starting point for you.

What elements do I need to take?

See FCC Commercial Examinations - a very useful page that defines all required examination elements, and also provides a link to current FCC examination question pool (with answers).

Where do I find your next regularly scheduled examination date?

Check the top of this web page, under the heading "Next Scheduled Exam Date". It's important, so we've made it hard to miss!

What does the examination cost?

Cost depends on the number of elements that you need to take. See W5YI Examination and Application Fees, which provides authoritative details of current examination and application fees. At this writing, cost is $25 per element, with a two element minimum. If you fail one or more elements, retest is charged at $25 per element; if you are taking only one element and initially fail, a single retest is covered by the two element minimum, at no additional charge. Currently, no additional filing fee is required.

Can I get examination credits for elements previously passed for another license?

Yes. If you have a current FCC Commercial Radio Operator's license that required passing an element, you will be given credit for passing that element. You do not need to take that element again - and there is no additional charge for obtaining exam credit. Proof is required! You will need to bring your original operators license (or FCC ULS search results) to the examination session so that we can verify, and a copy of your license or FCC ULS search results to submit with your completed license application. If you are unable to locate your current license, then perform an FCC ULS online search (FCC ULS License Search) - and bring that to your examination session; we can use that in lieu of your license.

What about examination credit for Telegraphy Elements 1 and 2?

For those who have an expired or unexpired Amateur Extra Class license granted before April 15, 2000, or an FCC Third Class Radiotelegraph Operator's Certificate that was renewed as a Marine Operator Permit (unexpired or within the grace period), credit will be given for Telegraphy Elements 1 and 2. Again, proof is required! Bring your original license document or ULS search/archive search (either FCC ULS License Search or FCC ULS Archive License Search, as appropriate) to the examination session so that we can verify, plus a copy of your license or ULS search results to submit with your completed license application. For Extra Class licenses, only a document showing an initial license grant date or renewal grant date before April 15, 2000 is required; we do not need record of the first issue of your license (which could date to the 1960's or earlier).

Where can I find information on how to learn International Morse code or how to increase my code speed?

The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) has a web page that covers this topic. See The ARRL "Learning Morse Code" page.
All links on that webpage are useful. Note that the link to the AA9PW.com website includes information on learning International Morse using the Koch method, with Farnsworth spacing; many consider that to be an excellent method for learning the code. Also of note is the K6RAU Beginner Course , a more conventional approach to learning the code.

Personally, I used the K6RAU Code Course (then the K6DUU Code Course) around 1963/1964 to learn the code; no question about it, that conventional method worked for me - after unsuccessful attempts to learn using code training records and tapes. But, others report many benefits from using the Koch method, including avoiding the infamous "speed blocks" that occur when using conventional learning methods. Which method is best? Hard to say, use whatever works best for you! Is what I had to do myself.

A couple cautions. First - the actual International Morse examination does not use Farnsworth spacing; it uses standard spacing! So, if you prepare using the Koch method with Farnsworth spacing, be prepared to handle standard spacing in your exam. Second - exam nerves usually affect those taking a code test; that means you likely will lose several WPM to exam nerves, and should prepare for the exam at a speed perhaps several WPM higher than that required in the exam.

Finally - examinees have asked questions concerning what characters, punctuation, and prosigns can be expected in the plain language and mixed code group portions of the exam. That information is contained in FCC rules and regulations (Code of Federal Regulations, Title 47, Part 13); see the link provided in FAQ "What are the FCC Rules and Regulations for Commercial Exams?" provided below.

I'd like to take my exam on or around [some date]. Who do I contact?

Contact Roy Henrichs, Test Center Manager:WB6OVV@arrl.net. Note that contact information (including telephone number) is posted on the W5YI website - W5YI Commercial Examiners in California. I will do whatever I can to handle your request, within reasonable limits. Most likely day for examinations is Saturday - midweek does not work, as many of our Examiners are employed during the week - and need to make a buck! And, that doesn't happen at MRHS or NPS/Point Reyes National Seashore on the weekend! Enough said.

Where will the examination be held, and how do I get there?

At present, examination sessions will be held in either Point Reyes Station or Bolinas, CA. Depending on Examiner availability and demand, some future sessions may be held in Richmond, CA. Roy Henrichs will provide further details to you as we approach the examination date, as facility selection is determined by the number of people who will attend the session. This will include driving instructions, telephone contact information, and other necessary details.

What do I need to bring to the exam session?

Can you handle persons with disabilities?

Yes, to the best of our ability. But, if you have special needs, please let us know well in advance so that we can plan accordingly! Note that our station facilities have steps - one or two steps at our Receive site, but a full flight at our Transmit site; work-arounds are possible. Telegraph Elements will be administered using a personal computer; if special equipment is needed for amplification that is compatible with computers, please bring that equipment with you, along with any special adapters needed. We assume you will copy our CW using pen and paper, unless you bring other equipment with you (see "What do I need to bring to the exam session?", above.)

What are the FCC Rules and Regulations for Commercial Exams?

These are covered in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Title 47, Part 13. See FCC Regulations/Title 47, or Electronic Code of Federal Regulations (look under Title 47, Part 13 in each of these).

The official FCC examination question pool has errors in it. How is this handled?

While I cannot claim to have verified all examination element question pools, it appears that the question banks for most examination elements are in good shape. The exception to this rule is the question pool for Element 6 (part of the Radiotelegraph Operator license). Problems exist with both questions and answers: vague questions, questions missing key information, no correct answer, multiple correct answers, typographic errors, and the like.

I have reviewed the Element 6 question pool, and have created an Element 6 Errata PDF listing all issues that I've been able to identify, together with input from others who have reviwed and/or used the document. Credit has been given at the beginning of the latest revision of this document for those contributions. If you work with Element 6 and find additional issues, please let me know - and I will add them to it.

The Element 6 question pool is extremely old, and unlikely to be revised. Costs associated with that for both the FCC and COLEMs is extremely great - and, W5YI Group has indicated that only approximately seven (7) people have taken this exam in the last two years. Think about it: change the question pool, and all examination software at all COLEMs must be revised, not to mention work undertaken by the FCC. Obviously, there are disincentives for revising or changing the exam question pool!

Per discussion with the W5YI Group, you must select the "official" correct answer to receive credit for the question - even if that answer is wrong. No deviation from that policy is allowed. Period. However, that being said, only a small percentage of the questions have issues. So, your best protection is to ensure that you are extremely familiar with this material, so that you will not have a "marginal" pass. A percentage point or two on a marginal pass simply is too close for comfort! The other option is to know the "official" answer to the questions, even when the "official" answer is not correct or the question actually is not answerable.

Yes, I know that's pretty horrible - I don't like it, either - but that is where things stand today. And, hopefully, those of you planning to take Element 6 as part of a Radiotelegraph Operator license examination will find the Element 6 Errata Sheet useful during your studies.

If I've just completed my examination, and have passed. Do I need to file my Form 605 with with FCC? Is there anything else I need to do?

Congratulations! The W5YI Group will file your Form 605 and original PPC with the FCC. All you need to do is wait for the FCC to issue your license. No additional application fees are required at present.

But - please be aware that the FCC has gone paperless! If you want the FCC to send you a paper copy of your new license, you must change the preferences in your account on the FCC ULS website to request a paper copy via U.S. mail. If you have not already made this change, you should do so immediately after your examination.

How do I . . .?

Send me an email asking for help using the following link: WB6OVV@arrl.net. This FAQ tries to answer some common questions, but probably doesn't cover everything! Let me know, I'll try to help . . ..

73 and ZUT (CW forever!),
Roy Henrichs, WB6OVV