Ham Radio – Emergency Communications

Mobile Emergency Ham Radio Gear

I received my first Ham radio license when I was about 10 years old; the old-timers in the room thought it was pretty amusing to see a kid coming in to take the tests.

I guess I wasn’t your ordinary ten-year-old kid, even back then I was into survival. I would order Cabelas’ catalogs and fishing magazines, making sure to circle all the gear that I needed to make my great get away into the wild!

While I never trekked off into the wilderness, well, not at that age, HAM radio allowed me to take all sorts of wild adventures around the world. I stayed up until the wee hours of the night, using my Grandfather’s radios to talk to, and listen to people from around the globe. It was amazing to be able to pick up the mic and talk to someone on the other side of the world.

When it comes to Survival Communications, HAM Radio is the way to go. It has a number of advantages over CB, GMRS, FRS, and other radios.

Why Become a HAM?

To begin with, the knowledge that you will gain as a licensed ham radio operator will allow you to listen to, and communicate with people throughout the world. With little power, and a minimal amount of equipment, you will be able to communicate with other Hams – even when cell towers and other forms of communication have failed.

In an emergency situation, you will be able to stay informed on what’s going on locally, nationally, and worldwide. Even in today’s modern age of high-tech gadgets, cell phones, and email, when the grid goes down it’s often HAM Radio operators who provide emergency communications until things return to normal.

During almost every major disaster, local officials rely heavily on Hams to coordinate rescues and organize search and rescue missions throughout the affected areas. Their ability to communicate when the grid goes down is one of the major reasons I advise our readers to look into Ham Radio.

Requirements to become a Ham Radio Operator:

Unlike when I got my license, The FCC’s new licensing requirements have been simplified and now only require you to pass a single 35-question written exam; no Morse code required (although I do advise you learn it, as it has a number of advantages in an emergency situation).



  1. Jim
    February 3, 2011 at 7:32 am

    I don’t know much about the system. How much money will I need to invest to get started?

  2. Adrien
    February 5, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    You can get some pretty decent used mobile gear for around $300.

  3. JW Mills
    February 27, 2011 at 10:21 pm

    What would be a good HF rig (I’ve got a Siltronix 1011D I’m refurbishing). I’ve got a 2 meter rig on the way, but I think that HF would be better for survival.

  4. jim
    March 5, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    I’m not encouraging cheating, but there are practice tests online that are almost word for word of that on the actual test. There are about 100 regular questions that they pick the 35 for the test. If you find several practice tests you could have all the possible questions covered.

  5. Grant
    March 10, 2011 at 9:58 am

    @Jim, it’s not considered cheating. They post the pool of questions used on each test on various websites and in books. For example there is a pool of 394 questions. Only 35 of these questions will be on a test. It makes it very, very easy to get your license these days!

    • jack
      December 17, 2013 at 9:46 am

      Im not going to worry about a license. I bought a hamm transceiver and listen all the time but when the SHTF, I will be using it to find other survivors and set up plans, etc.

  6. Jack
    April 14, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    Yaesu FT-817ND is perfect for backpacking HF/VHF work. While it only puts out 5 watts, it can by just about any 12 volt power source you can come up with. Add on a PackerAmp for it and you can be putting out enough power to work the world. Imagine a small 12v gelcell charged with a small solar panel in your backpack.

    Want digital modes? Pick up a used IPaq on Ebay and load up PocketDigi on it. You’ll be on PSK31 in no time at all.

  7. tkellymd
    April 22, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    What do you think about finding an old HAM radio that runs on vacuum tubes in the event of an EMP strike? I know it is far-fetched and unlikely, but hey, this is a survival site rite? Do they even still make them?

  8. lone wolf
    April 25, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    for how much they cost and how easy to operate, there is no excuse to at least have a ham radio stored away somewhere

  9. Ryan
    April 29, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    Regarding an old ham radio that runs on vacuum tubes. Good idea, but good luck finding new tubes. They don’t make new tubes anymore so you have to make sure you find some that someone just stored in a garage or closet.

    I would just recommend you find a good inexpensive modern radio, and just don’t turn it on. Just keep it stored in a closet or basement. Well honestly I wouldn’t worry about storing it….use the darn thing.

    • Isaac
      July 23, 2012 at 9:27 am

      Not true…

      Actually, vacuum tubes are easy to come by. They are still manufactured in russia and other places and you can easily find surplus tubes on ebay. Just have a few spares but remember that unlike most modern junk, tubes can last 50-60 years before replacement. And, unlike modern radio sets, vintage gear can actually be repaired by almost anyone. Try finding someone to repair a modern radio or even find parts for it after a major societal breakdown. Good luck.

      Also, tube gear is almost impervious to EMP.

      As for cost, you can find decent vintage hf gear for under 300.

      Find a nice Heathkit and you will have access to abundent manuals and repair documents that are understandable by anyone.

      You can find a 6 meter transceiver for under a hundred sometimes but the band can be flaky. Not a horible way to start out though, and you’ll learn a lot.

    • Ian McCaslin
      October 15, 2012 at 3:08 pm

      Actually in the event of an EMP attack depending on your distance from the center and fallout area(not correct term but because of Earth’s gravitational field the effect would be not a pure cone from center but extend more eliptical south(or north if living in southern hemisphere) of the center) even things turned off could still react to an EMP without proper shielding. Transformers which as far as I know are a required part for any type of radio equipment could pick up off the electromagnetic radiation. Thats the biggest reason why EMP attacks are so deadly all those gray cylinders hanging on the poles all across town near your houses are transformers imagine all those burning out, some catching on fire even, and the time it would take to replace every effected transformer to restore power after the SHTF. As for proper shielding because we don’t know enough it will mostly be luck, look up faraday cages and go from there though.

      • Ron
        October 2, 2014 at 11:46 am

        Faraday Cage the easy way.
        I bought a new 20 gal metal trash can.
        I wrapped the inside of the can and the lid with cardboard so the contents would not contact the outside of the can. That would be bad.
        I dropped in all my electronic gear and installed the lid.
        The EMP comes in three waves but it is too fast to walk over and stop once created.
        My cost was the can, $25. the cardboard, free, some tape, ? and my time.

  10. meives
    May 21, 2011 at 10:04 am

    where can I can a license for a ham radio?

  11. Scott
    May 27, 2011 at 1:21 am

    Mieves, and everyone else interested, Look up via google “ham radio club” and your closest major city name, also try Amateur radio club, amateur radio repeater, repeater club, and so forth as well as ARRL and you will find local radio clubs that sponsor the testing in your area.


  12. Lloyd Colston
    October 11, 2011 at 3:49 am


    I hope, by now, you have your amateur radio license.

    Finding a local club is easy at http://www.arrl.org and click the clubs tab. http://www.arrl.org/find-a-club lets you search near your zip code.

    Many clubs offer classes and provide the test session you will need afterward.

    I hope this helps.

  13. Tom
    October 27, 2011 at 7:40 pm

    You can get a good used radio on e-bay, but you need to read the info they post with it. lots of radios are for parts only.

  14. Gloria
    February 14, 2012 at 7:52 pm

    So, if all hell breaks loose and the grid breaks down, why do you even need a license?

    • Mark
      February 17, 2012 at 11:17 am

      It’s simple Gloria,
      You don’t need a license to operate ANY radio (ham, police, commercial, ect.) in an emergency. To get a license you must learn the basics of how to operate your radio. After getting your license you can get actual experience communicating with others. You learn which frequency bands are open during different atmospheric conditions. It’s a lot better to acquire these skills in the comfort of your own home than to try to use your radio in an emergency only to find you don’t know how to tone a repeater, or program a DTMF sequence to get a phone patch to 911, or even know what frequencies others will be on. It’s not rocket science, but it isn’t as simple as using a phone.
      The type of radios most people are familiar with such as police, fire, aircraft, marine VHF, CB and FRS/GMRS are very simple to operate. You control the volume, squelch and channel. They are designed for simplicity, not versatility. Most ham radios are just the opposite.
      If you want more than 50mi-75mi RELIABLE range, you need a High Frequency Single SideBand (HF/SSB) radio. These call for more skill than the VHF/UHF FM.
      The FCC amateur radio operators license is the most practical route to learning how to use the single most valuable emergency commo system in the world.

  15. Rex BigMan
    May 13, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    PLEASE don’t forget the antennas! No matter how much you spend on a radio, with a junk antenna you won’t be hearing or talking to anyone! BUT a so so radio and a great antenna and you will be in MUCH better shape. I bought an antenna for a radio from DR-DIPOLE.COM (inexpensive and portable) and took it to our camper to try. Down in between hills! It worked GREAT! They are about 1 lb and really easy to use and put up and take down! Worth a look. But whatever antenna you decide to use, make sure it is a good one! Verticals will get you more local traffic while horizontals gets much more distance. Good luck!

  16. Jerry
    December 4, 2012 at 11:50 pm

    Hello, I am looking for a good Ham Radio that is High frequency that runs on batteries with an alternate power source being car lighter or plug in. I am looking to get one that will operate great in a mountainous environment. I will be purchasing a 10″ copper coiled portable Antenna along with it.

  17. Henry
    February 17, 2014 at 12:29 am

    Is it possible to create a ham radio setup that is private, so that we can communicate just among our family members if we so wish? If “yes”, then could you point me in the direction of how to do it? Thanks!

  18. Tatyana
    March 31, 2014 at 1:31 am

    Is it possible to create a ham radio setup that is private, so that we can communicate just among our family members ( 3 persons) if we so wish? If “yes”, then could you point me in the direction of how to do it? Thanks!

    • Dennis
      June 23, 2014 at 12:18 pm

      The FCC rules and regulations specifically prohibit private, scrambled or ciphered communications on the Amateur radio bands.

  19. M.G.Tedrow-Rymer
    October 29, 2015 at 2:36 pm

    I’ve realized I need info about Hamm radios for emergency preparedness

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