I have an admin on my Facebook page called Grizz. Not his real name mind you. He does a great job of posting neat stuff to the page. He is very knowledgeable on amateur radio. I know next to nothing on Ham radio.I tried to read a book on it once and about fell asleep. After reading Grizz’s article I think I’m ready to try again. I’ll kick it over to him now. -James
Amateur radio and prepping.
I want to get this across first and foremost. If you’ve done any research on this at all for yourself you’ve certainly come across the “when all else fails” ad campaign. Combine that with the zeal of most of us that are preppers and hams, and I think people get the wrong idea that amateur radio is some kind of survivalist mecca. This just isn’t true. 99 times out of 100 the conversation is about weather, equipment or a lot of times amateur radio itself. I know of a few groups that have tried to get a weekly “prepper net” going. Although I only know of one that has kept it sustained for more than a couple months.
2. Prerequisite Info
Amateur radio is broken up into 3 license classes. All three classes require the passing of a simple multiple choice test.
- Tech. the test is mostly just about keeping safe, legal and how to set up your store bought gear. Privileges are pretty much limited to VHF/UHF.
- General. You will have to pass the tech test, and the general test is a little more technical. Know how to construct/tune a simple wire antenna. Best bang for your buck, now you can legally transmit on every amateur band.
- Extra. You will have to pass the tech, and general tests. The extra test is much more technical, bring a calculator. Some bands have a small sliver reserved for these guys. I’ve listened to them you aren’t missing much. None the less if you are someone that has to go all in good on ya.
Understand that in an emergency you are allowed to use ANY MEANS AT YOUR DISPOSAL to prevent further destruction of property or loss of life. This means if you are a tech, have HF gear, and feel that your contributions would benefit somebody else… Do it. DO NOT hold back. There is however a catch. If you’re inexperienced and “don’t know what you don’t know”, you may be more of a hinderance. So what you say needs to be important. I logged into a skywatch net a few years ago without knowing the proper reporting procedure. I didn’t even know that I did it entirely wrong until I took the class a few months later. My report was not only useless, but I tied up the net for a minute or two while someone else may have had real traffic to pass.
3. How to
This isn’t meant to be a road map to getting your license just a list of tools/resources.
- Buy the study guide.
Personally I think this is the best place to start. Read it learn it love it. It’ll take you longer but at the end of the day I think the material sinks in a little better. The ARRL puts out a pretty good one (this is the one I used)ARRL.org.
There are a couple ways to look at this.
Some folks just take the practice tests a bunch of times till they memorize the question pool. As a tech licensee I suppose this is fine, but by the time you get to general you really should be able to explain the difference between an FM transmission and a SSB. Not to mention if things go wrong. (cause things NEVER go wrong right, remember we’re preppers) You should know enough to improvise.
The way I prefer, take the practice test. Take some notes on the stuff you don’t know. Then go out and study the stuff you don’t know. At the end of the day you’ll know the material at a far more meaningful level.
Buy a radio!
But Grizz if I don’t have a license I can’t use it. Absolutely wrong. You are not required to have a license to listen in to the hams. You will learn a lot about procedure and etiquette just by listening in. And simple things like repeater frequency offsets will make far more sense once you’ve actually had to deal with them. More on what and why in equipment.
Ok so you’ll have to be a Ham to join but if you’re a tech and want to upgrade. Ham clubs are probably the best resource for learning skills. I’ve found in my travels a lot of times communities have multiple clubs, a lot of times the clubs will have a particular focus. Some on repeaters, some on emergency skills (foxhunts, etc), others will focus on contests and such. Also this is where you’ll find an elmer.
Find An Elmer
Way easier said than done. But they are out there. An elmer is an old timer that is willing to take you under his wing. Teach you things like soldering PL259 connectors, or tieing up guy lines. The kind of stuff that can’t be taught in any other way other than hands on. Like I said in expectations, 90%+ ham conversations are just about complete garbage. If you have “the talk” with someone that you’re hoping will become your elmer, better odds say he’ll cut you loose.
Ahh the fun stuff… I’ll start with the most important part.
There is an old saying among CB’rs, “A $100 radio attached to a $1 antenna sounds like garbage, a $1 radio attached to a $100 antenna can sound like a million bucks” Certainly expense doesn’t even come close to assigning real value to an antenna. The point though still stands true today. And as far as store bought antennas are concerned the age old standard is still the standard. With all the yagi’s, quads, and verticles on the market. The most widely used is still a simple half wave dipole. Of course VHF/UHF because of the higher frequencies get more complicated. But a homemade 1/4 wave ground plane will work extremely well. A google search for homebuilt antennas will give you days of reading. Entire books have been written on the subject.
I always like to recommend that people start with a decent HT. A great one that gets overlooked in the prepper community but I assure you, if you go to a ham club meeting you’ll see at least a couple Kenwood TH-F6A on a belt or two. Even without the TX capabilities. The RX SSB is very cool. Start with making a simple long wire across a fence or dangling out your window and you can be listening to HF with the same radio that you use to talk to satellites, repeaters, across echolink/irlp. Personally I have a Yaesu VX7R and have used the HUGE receive spectrum more times than I can count. Listening to truckers on road trips comes to mind. All that said if you want to buy a Baofeng I can’t fault you for the price. Just wouldn’t be my first choice.
Next I’d recommend a mobile. Cross band repeat is a feature I think should at least be considered. My rig doesn’t have it and I find when I’m in the bush it’s a feature I miss the most. With the Chinese bringing the price down on radios with the feature I see no reason why all of us shouldn’t have one. Truth be told I know lots of guys that have plenty active ham shacks and have NEVER owned anything but mobiles. Furthermore if you have a power-supply and a base antenna, you could easily pull it from the car and install it in the house serving to work as both, your mobile and your base.
Last of all, a base. Bases are nice, but for the cost you could build a far more redundant setup with racks and multiple mobile rigs. Yes the sound quality and the filtration is better but not so much to justify the expense. IMHO
As you can imagine amateur radio operators are dying off faster than people are getting licensed. As such the community is getting smaller and smaller. There being no real requirement for someone to respond when you call, it behooves you to get to know the people at least in your direct vicinity. You may have a giant shadow from the area where you would be operating in an emergency. You would have no idea unless you’ve run your equipment with actual people. If you’re concerned about opsec, you don’t have to talk about prepping. But you must run your equipment semi-regularly it’s a skill you will lose.
I hope this helps somebody. As a rule hams “may not use any means (codes, cyphers, etc) to hide the meaning of a transmission”. The exception is “Q” codes and other Morse Code shorthand. 73 is one such shorthand, meaning “best regards”
So 73 and hope to see you on the air.
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