To be certified as a radio operator

After the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, safety of life at sea caused administrations to take particular measures.

Following international accords, different rules and regulations were accepted by several countries. It provided for certains ships, bearing in mind its category ( cargo, passengers etc), tonnage and voyages (deep seas, coastal etc.) to be mandatorily equipped with a radio station comprising a complete set of specific apparatus and that a 24 hours radio watch be maintained while at sea.

Certification of radio installations and operators was hence rendered mandatory.The first certificate of competency in radio were for operators in the maritime service.

Operators we to be holder of either a 1st or 2nd Class certificate depending on the ships' tonnage and category,(deep sea or coastal voyages) .Competency in sending and receiving morse code had to be proven at a speed of 20 words per minute for plain text and 15 for 5 letters-groups.

There always was a technical part on radiocommunication, knowledge of the equipment, its installation and it use, its circuit and installation schematics and on the use of the different apparatus.

All the rules and procedures had to be learned from a booklet published by the British 'General Post Office' and called ' Handbook for wireless operators.

In practice, it was called the PMG and that publication, amended from time to time pursuant to the International Conventions, was in use for at least 50 years.

The Officer in Charge of a passenger ship station needed a 1st Class certificate which implied that he had more experience, had a faster code and better knowledge.

All morse code radio operators in the commercial service were to hold a 2nd Class certificate at minimum.

Instructions to radio inspectors were given by the Director of the Radio Branch, C.P.Edwards and such instructions were found, dating back to 1927. It concerned the examination pertaining to Direction finding which was to be given to candidates wanting their 2nd Class certificate to be so-amended.

Old equipment descriptions., photographs of some of them and an example of an examination sheet used to test candidates on equipment interconnections of a typical installation.

Further, candidates were tested on work procedures, rules and regulations, radio telegram format, special cases, word count to establish the fees for message handling, Q code and other work procedures for a wireless telegraphy ship station.

The technician in charge of a broadcasting transmitter was, for a good number of years, also to hold a radio operator certificate.

When radio-telephony came in use, the ned for competent operators followed; international and canadian regulations rapidly made it so that a certificate was mandatory for the maritime, the aeronautical and the land services.

Numerous Guides and Circulars were published by the Department over the years.

To operate a radio amateur station, one needed also to be certified. Morse code and some knowledge of the radio techniques and of the regulations were part of the test.

There was two certificates, the Amateur certificate , code 10 words per minutes and the Advanced, code 15 words per minute with a more involved technical part.

That certificate permitted the holder to use higher power and frequencies.Some candidates have described their experience attending the examination, here is one:

My own first experience was in Canada with the Department of Transport examiner in Montreal. I remember it very well.

The test consisted of several parts, including an oral grilling. The first element was CW receiving.

In those days the examiners were real Radio Inspectors and know their stuff. They were very intimidating. They had all been radio operators before getting office jobs. The RIs in the Montreal office used CW as a form of intercom. Each had a key and oscillator on their desks. I was ushered to the RI's desk and he handed be several sheets of paper and a pencil. "Wait here" he told me and walked away.

I remember seeing what looked like a couple of 51J-(3 or 4 receivers in a rack (obligatory Collins content!). A few minutes later I heard some code coming from his intercom speaker. It was a message for him about some regulation change so I copied it down for him as a last minute practice session. When he returned I handed him the message and he told me I had just passed my Morse Code receiving test.

Then I was given the key and told to send. He made me do it for five minutes at 10 WPM. Then the written, three elements, regs, theory and eight schematic (not block!) diagrams.

Finally the RI collected my sheets and told em to wait. It wasn't over - there was the final element - the oral! It seemed like an hour but in reality was about ten minutes of questions based on my schematic diagrams with a few regulatory questions thrown in for good measure.

I only found out I passed five days later when my Certificate of Proficiency in Radio arrived by Registered Mail. I was then "invited" to go down to the DoT office to apply for a station licence which I did immediately.

(  Michael C's memories )


Today, with better and different equipment, the rules were changed. With satellite communications available on-board ships, the requirement for a 'spark' has been set aside ...

For more efficiency, the Department has also decided to identify and mandate qualified personnel for the the examination of candidates for radio amateur and radio telephone operators certificates.


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