Why Do Ham Radio Operators Have Special License Plates

You may have come across cars with weird antennas dangling behind, sporting unusual license plates. Looking at these cars, you might have wondered: Who are these people with peculiar-looking license plates?

Do they belong to a cult you should stay away from? Or are they government representatives speeding towards a classified mission? To put your doubts to rest, these people are most likely Ham radio operators, popularly known as Hams.

Most Hams who carry their radio communication equipment in their cars opt for special Ham radio license plates.


In this article, I will answer just that. Read till the end to find out why Hams have special license plates and how they get them made.

What is a Ham Radio License Plate

A Ham radio license plate is a special plate that has the owner’s Ham radio call sign imprinted on it.

All states in the US issue these license plates in place of the regular plates. But each state has its own regulations regarding this.

For example, in Texas, a Ham can have the same call sign imprinted on license plates for different vehicles registered under their name.

Alaska and California, on the other hand, allow you to have only one license plate per Ham radio license.

Why Do Hams Have Special License Plates

You see, Hams are a friendly bunch of men and women. They love helping people and thrive on connecting with others in their community. And these aspects of the Ham radio community stand behind the reason why most hams go for specialized Ham radio license plates.

Besides being a hobby, the purpose of a Ham radio is to help with emergency communications.

Therefore, most Hams sport their specialized license plates so they can be recognized for their service. They want people, especially the first responders like the police and EMS, to know that their car carries a Ham radio, and they can assist them if needed.

These special license plates give them visibility in emergencies so they can help the public or public services teams in distress.

Apart from assisting in communications, most Hams go for specialized Ham radio license plates simply because they like it.

Hams have a very unique hobby. And they love to talk about it.

Having specialized plates on their cars transforms them into a “Ham” magnet. They attract Hams who see them on the roads and connect with them, share their knowledge, and expand their community.

These are the major reasons why Hams have dedicated Ham radio license plates.

If you came here looking for parking perks and special entry allowances, tough luck!

How To Get A Ham Radio License Plate

Ham radio license plate registrations are individual to each state and are managed by each state’s DMV. Therefore, the requirements may differ depending on where you live.

If you are in Texas, you have to submit an application form along with a copy of your FCC-authorized Ham radio license. You will have to pay a registration fee, after which, you will get your license plate delivered within a few weeks.

Similarly, if you live up north in Alaska, you may have to fill two forms. Along with these forms, you will also have to send in a copy of your FCC Ham radio license.

As you may have noticed, there is one requirement that is constant regardless of which state you are in. And that is to have a valid FCC-authorized Ham radio license. Apart from that, the rest of the requirements are pretty simple, and the entire application process is quite straightforward.

You can find out what you need to apply for and get a Ham radio license plate on your state’s DMV website.

The Amateur Radio Relay League, ARRL has compiled a list containing links for each state’s DMV’s Ham radio license plate requirements page. You can visit their website, locate your state, and check out the requirements yourself.

What Type of Vehicles Can Have A Ham Radio License Plate

Similar to how license plate requirements vary from state to state, the restriction on what vehicles can actually sport the special plate also differ.

For example, in Maryland, you can get a license for passenger cars and trucks only. But in Connecticut, you can apply for and obtain a Ham radio license plate for passenger, commercial, combination, and camper vehicles, and even motorcycles.

This information is also available on each state’s DMV’s website. From there, you can easily find out whether you can get a ham radio license plate for your vehicle or not.

Should You Get A Ham Radio License Plate

If you are a Ham confused about getting a Ham radio license plate, you are not alone.

Many Ham radio enthusiasts often find themselves struggling to decide whether a special plate is worth it or not.

You already know what the upsides of Ham radio license plates are which compel most Hams to have them but there are some reasons why people avoid having these plates.

The biggest reason why some Hams avoid having Ham radio license plates is that they are afraid it would compromise their privacy.

Ham radio license plate carries your call sign. And if someone understands what it is, they can look it up on databases like radioreference.com and find out where you live.

And, if you are afraid of someone looking you up after a road rage, or are just paranoid of exposing yourself like this, then a ham radio license plate may not be a good idea.

Final Word

Now you know that a car with an unusual license plate and an antenna could be a Ham driving by.

Hams go for special Ham radio license plates because they give them visibility in distress and make them more recognizable in the Ham community.

However, if you choose to get a ham radio license plate, know that they come with a responsibility.

When you have a Ham radio license plate, you represent the entire Ham radio community. Therefore, go for the dedicated license plate only if you can carry the tag sensibly. Because if you don’t, you may bring shame to the entire community that is normally known for being helpful and kind.