What's a ham licence and why do I need one?

You don't get a licence. This is the certificate you actually get.


There are some pretty strict and comprehensive rules that an amateur operator must be aware of and abide by. A ham isn't actually granted a licence, but rather earns a special Certificate of Competency by successfully studying for, and passing, a formal exam. The exam covers rules, regulations, radio theory, and a host of other radio related topics.

The amateur spectrum is licensed on behalf all New Zealanders by the government. There are regulations that specifically set aside bands of frequency for amateur use. The government grants certificate holders the right to use these frequencies as long as they abide by the rules.

A fundamental difference between an ordinary radio user and an amateur operator is that the amateur operator is qualified and allowed to experiment with radio. This distinguishes us from, say, ordinary CB users, and explains why the examination is so comprehensive and formal. The content of the exam is largely spelled out in the same regulations.

Legal framework

Radio spectrum and its use are governed in New Zealand by the Radiocommunications Act 1989 and regulated by the Radiocommunications Regulations 2001.

The government department that administers these rules is the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment(MBIE). Radio Spectrum Management (RSM) is the division of MBIE responsible for managing the radio spectrum, including policy and planning processes, administration of the national Register of Radio Frequencies, licensing, compliance and enforcement, and radio frequency interference (RFI) investigation.

RSM grants the General User Radio Licence for Amateur Radio Operators (GURL), to all New Zealanders under Regulation 9 of the Radiocommunications Regulations and Section 116(1)(b) of the Radiocommunications Act. The GURL defines the amateur frequencies and conditions of use. Regulation 6(3)(b) of the Radiocommunications Regulations prohibits transmission on those frequencies unless those conditions are met.

The GURL restricts use to operators holding a Certificate of Competency. For amateur radio, that certificate is called a New Zealand General Amateur Operator’s Certificate (GAOC).

After passing an approved exam, the scope of which is defined in Schedule 4, Clause 4(2) of the Radiocommunications Regulations, your examiner will arrange the issue of your GAOC and New Zealand callsign.

The certificate and callsign are recorded in The Register of Radio Frequencies. RSM maintains this register as required by Part 1, Section 5 of the Radiocommunications Act. The register is publicly accessible, online, and Part3, Section 28(1) of the Radiocommunications Act requires that anybody can search it.

New Zealand has reciprocal agreement with European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations(CEPT), who recognise the GAOC as equivalent to a their Harmonised Amateur Radio Examination Certificate (HAREC). Similar agreements are in place with Australia and Japan. Your GAOC is a formal qualification recognised by many countries.

Further reading

The RSM Radio Operator Certificate and Callsign Rules - Public Information Brochure 46 (PIB 46).

RSM has a chart of NZ radio spectrum allocations

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) ITU-R recommendations.

You can get your certificate

Don't be put off by the crazy legal carry-on though. 

Our amateur radio classes are a popular way to fast track your qualification.

You're welcome to get in touch or come to one of our club meetings. We've got a good bunch of experienced operators who'll be able to answer your questions and someone will be happy to help you get involved.