HAM RADIO FAQ

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ham radio frequency displayThe subject of Ham Radio, in relation to preparedness, is one that’s often overlooked. When it is talked about, it’s often an afterthought in an article, or it’s presented by someone who has no real experience with radio communication technology.

In my opinion, Ham Radio still plays a very important role in emergency communications and preparedness. If you’re serious about survival and prepping, you really need to look into HAM Radio.

In general, radio communications is a pretty complicated subject; one that can hardly be covered in a single article. That being said, I  wanted to answer some of the most common questions we receive about HAM Radio, and why I feel it’s so important to survivalists and preppers.

Why is HAM Radio Still Important?

In an age where communication is often taken for granted, it’s easy to overlook the importance of Ham Radio. I often receive questions like, “why would I need Ham Radio when I have a cell phone?” or even better are the people who say “the internet killed Ham Radio”. Let’s see how they feel about that one when they lose power, but I digress.

While, both of the above mentioned tools can be useful in an emergency, HAM Radio differs from these forms of communication in a number of ways. Probably the best reason I can give is that when the grid goes down, the HAM Bands will still be alive and very active. In fact, no matter how bad the disaster, I can almost guarantee HAM Radio will be one of the only forms of modern communication left standing.

What about my Emergency Radio, Can’t I just use that?

Probably Not! Emergency Radios are great, I have a few of them; but during a large-scale disaster they’ll probably become completely useless. Think about it this way, most Emergency Radios have the normal local AM & FM Bands, a few weather channels and possibly some shortwave frequencies. During a large-scale disaster, most of these radio stations will either shut down because of a lack of power, or they’ll go silent when their employees stop showing up for work.

On the other hand, HAM Radio will be alive and well. During any kind of disaster, small or large, the HAM bands light up. Form being able to monitor local communications to monitoring what’s happening nationally or even throughout the world, HAM Radio allows you to hear what’s really going on.

One thing to keep in mind is HAM Radio operators are independent operators that don’t answer to any corporations or government officials. Yes, you do have to be licensed, but the people you’re listening to are independent operators that have no agenda, not filters and no reason to lie about the situation. You will be hearing raw unfiltered news right from the source.

How will I power my Radio when the Grid goes down?

Power Grid LinesWhile some radios require massive amounts of power, there’s a huge number of HAMS who enjoy the challenges of operating on next to nothing. In Ham lingo, it’s knows as QRPing. And yes these weird terms and phrases actually mean something and are extremely useful when operating in low power situations. (check out our ham radio cheat sheet for more terms)

From using solar, wind and other alternative power sources to the batteries in your vehicles, boats or RV’s there are a number of ways to power a HAM Radio after the grid goes down. In fact, some radios can be operated with little more than the batteries in your smoke detector.

Personally, I’ve talked to people from around the globe with less than 10 watts of power.  If you really know what you’re doing, you can transmit with even less. I use an Icom703, with a battery pack that can be recharged with a small solar panel.

Can’t I just buy a Radio without becoming licensed?

I often come across people who buy the equipment without ever learning how to use it.  In my opinion, it’s the same as buying a gun and then never learning how to fire it. While there’s nothing stopping you from buying the equipment, I probably wouldn’t do it without learning how to use it first.

Each type of equipment, power source, antenna, and communication mode has its own set of strengths, weaknesses and intricacies. HAM Radio equipment isn’t something that you can just pull out of the box during an emergency. Just like every other skill in life, it requires practice; and in the case of HAM Radio a lot of it.

I refuse to be part of something where I have to be licensed by the FCC.

I hear this argument a lot, and while I usually do everything I can to keep government out of my life, in the case of HAM Radio I feel the benefits far outweigh the risk. So unless you’ve sworn off driving for the same reasons, I would advise anyone who’s serious about learning the ins and outs of emergency communications to take a good look at becoming a licensed Amateur Radio Operator (HAM).

How hard is it to get a Ham Radio License?

In general, radio communications is a pretty complicated subject, one that’s impossible to cover in a single article. That being said, the licensing process itself is actually pretty easy.

Over the last decade the testing process has been simplified. Some of the past requirements, such as learning Morse Code, are no longer required to obtain a license . In my opinion, it’s a shame they’ve dumbed down the testing by removing the Morse code requirement, but I’ll save that rant for another day. What’s important here is that almost anyone, with a little bit of practice, can get their license.

Do you know of any good resources that can help?

I usually recommend any of the study manuals from Gordon West. His materials have been helping Hams for decades, and they are something that I actually used when I first got into the hobby.

Comments

23 Responses to " HAM RADIO FAQ " Please share your thoughts...

  1. Peter says:

    I used HamTestOnline for my Technician class license and had no problem passing the test. Just signed up again to study for the General class. Worked great!

    • Dale says:

      I got my Technician license in July of this year. I studied for just over a month with the manual and online practice tests. I “Aced” the test. It isn’t all that hard to study and earn your license. It just takes a bit of time and effort.

      • Dale says:

        Just for info sake. I used the ARRL manual which came with a CD for practice tests also. Plus I used a couple of websites like QRZ.com which has practice tests under their “Resources” tab.

    • frank says:

      I have used hamtest on line for my Tech, General and Extra the adaptive learning method works best they have a money back warrenty.

    • Pete Sr. says:

      I live in NE Pa. The Poconos, My Ham radio club holds a Ham Jam every few Months. It is held on a Saturday starting at 8AM and goes till 5PM.It is a long day but the instructor goes over the test ?s with the correct answers all day with students also reading the manual, Now the right answers are you only thing given out after each question But at the end of the day you will be given a test with multible anwers but by reading the questions with the right answers all day YOU are able to pick out the right answer from memory ,Easy We have a 99.9 % pass rate Find a Ham club in your area and see if they do the same !Good Luck

  2. Spots says:

    Please do not capitalize “ham”. It’s not an acronym. It is slang, therefore it doesn’t get capitalized.

    • Dale says:

      Picky. Picky. Picky.

    • ZS6DMX says:

      Oh but dear sir, HAM is a acronym. Question is, do you know what HAM stands for?
      Help All Mankind! Learnt something new?

      73′s

      • James says:

        Apparently, someone is a “ham” when it comes to knowledge.

      • Another Ham says:

        Well, no, not really.
        Ham is not an acronym. Capitalizing it (“HAM”) just makes this web site look cluless. “Spots” was doing you a favor by pointing this out.

  3. Samuel says:

    The no code, multiple choice test (with the answers available everywhere) is proof of nothing except that you know how to write a check to the FCC. It also gives the FCC, a division of DHS, permission to inspect your station whenever they want without a warrant. If the gov’t wanted to restrict or control the flow of information in a particular area or region, then HAMs would be a threat to that. They might be able to remotely shutdown the internet, radio stations, or cell towers – but it’ll require a visit to your house to shut you down. And if you haven’t already, read the Emergency Preparedness Communications Executive Order Obama just recently signed.

    • Off Grid Survival says:

      Operating without one is the quickest way to ensure a visit from them. It’s also the quickest way to ensure that they confiscate your equipment.

      In my opinion, while the test might turn some off, it’s the only way to legally operate and learn what you need to learn for a real emergency situation.

      The test doesn’t teach you much, but the skills you’ll gain from being able to operate your radio is well worth the small test fee. It’s not like they don’t already have you information from your drivers license, SS#, your Internet ISP, Taxes, etc….

      • Samuel says:

        FCC violation/citation reports: http://transition.fcc.gov/eb/FieldNotices/

        Looks to me like you’d have to be keyed up for hours, on a call freq, to draw much attention let alone a citation.

        I understand your points on the advantages, and it’s the easiest way to go for sure. Just saying it isn’t the only, or necessarily the best, route for a survivalist.

        Advertising the ability to broadcast over long distances might bring unwanted attention to you or your family in some SHTF scenarios. Transmitter sites are targets in a war for example. It’s a lifelong decision volunteering your name for the FCC ULS database, so it should be considered carefully. If I was looking for likely preppers, that database is where I’d start.

        • Ken says:

          FYI-You don,t need a lic. to recieve transmissions,just saying.

        • Jon says:

          Samuel,

          I understand the concern of being registered… I feel the same way about firearms registration.

          However, remember that there are nearly 3/4 of a million hams in the US, most of which are not heavily into the prep or survival world… most are moderately prepared people like me (I live in earthquake country) but are radio “nerds” (again… like me).

          If I wanted to know where to find the preppers, I’d start by looking at IP logs on prep websites… sure, you can get around this issue via proxy… but not everybody does.

          I think the bigger concern would be on the commercial broadcast communications and military radio station facilities. A ham with a (somewhat) hidden 1/2 wave dipole running under the eaves of his house is not likely to become a target… even in war, there are better ways of taking out comms than searching out every ham radio operator in the country.

  4. Stepabove says:

    Spots – At a meesage board for emergency preparedness and your whining about capitalization Lighten Up

  5. w5awg says:

    The Owner of this web page is a Ham, & I guarentee MOST Sellers (In Las Vegas it is AES) WILL NOT SELL YOU TRANSCIEVIERS or other Equip UNLESS YOU ARE LICENSED!

    As for the Person that claims Passing the Test just means you know how to send a check to the FCC. STFU. 73, de W5AWG

  6. StevenKY says:

    One of the benefits of having an Amateur Radio License is it allows you to have “Police Scanners” in your vehicle. I keep my ham radio in a GO BOX which includes a scanner with all the state police frequencies for my area. The GO BOX allows me to move it from car to truck to home base.

    • Chad says:

      good luck with police scanners when they go digital…

  7. sbrad says:

    If your local LEO is on 2m comms, most single band HTs will allow you to hear but not transmit. Friend has a Kenwood that skips the local LEO but will take it if you manually punch the freq. In a post fan scenario, those public servants that don’t decide to stay with their families instead of report to work will be transmitting valuable info on situations developing within their AOR as they will prob need backup. May just give you the precious minutes needed to re direct your efforts knowing what direction a current threat may be.

  8. madsion says:

    How will a ham help keep in touch with relatives across the states?

    • Jon says:

      Madsion,

      Most of the radio bands (a “band” of the radio spectrum) are within the HF or High Frequency range. There are 9 HF bands available (With a large amount of operating room) that can and regularly do allow for communications across the country and around the world.

      Barring a massive solar radiation event, these bands offer long range communications 24/7 365 days per year, except for those days where natural atmospheric events can cause a disruption.

      On a more local scale, there are many VHF and UHF bands that are used within the city or more localized region (under 250 miles).

      Communications distance is a factor of atmospheric condition, antenna condition, power output and frequency.

      As an example, I’m in Southern California, and am currently listening to two hams talk to each other… One is in Texas, the other is in Ohio. I’m hearing both of them, and it is likely they would hear me if I tried to talk to them.

  9. big joe says:

    ham? i love it eat it every week on swiss and seeded rye

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