OFF-GRID HAM RADIO: Simple Emergency Communication When the Grid Goes Down

Off Grid Emergency Ham Radio

One of the topics that I receive the most email questions about is Off-Grid Communication, specifically Ham Radio. A lot of readers are either confused or want to know why Ham Radio is even relevant in today’s digital age. While advances in technology have definitely caused some to lose interest in the hobby, I believe Ham Radio is even more important today – mainly because of people’s dependence on technologies that are anything but reliable during an emergency.

During a grid down scenario, or even during a short-term disaster where cell towers become clogged by a flood of emergency traffic, Ham Radio is still one of the most reliable forms of communication out there. It’s also something that I turn to on a daily basis for unfiltered news from around the world.

Low Power Communication: How Ham Radio will save you when the Grid Goes Down

One of the main benefits of Ham Radio is its reliability. During a disaster, when other forms of communication have been knocked out, chances are the Ham bands are going to be alive and well.

The video below shows an emergency Ham Radio setup that can help keep communication going even after the grid goes down. The setup can be thrown into a small bag (or milk crate, as seen in the video), and deployed anywhere in the world.

The Radio itself has a number of low-power settings, and can be operated at 10, 5, 2.5, 1 or 0.5 watts of power. It only requires a simple wire antenna to operate (we use a slinky in the video), and can be used to communicate with people from around the globe.

My Off-Grid, Portable Emergency Ham Radio Station

What you see in the video:

The setup is pretty simple, and for the most part (minus the radio, and the solar charger) it can be made with items from around your house.

  • Solar Charger: iLAND TREK – Solar Charger & Battery – I can’t find these anymore so I swapped it out for a Jackery Portable Power Station and a Jackery SolarSaga 100W Portable Solar Panel.
  • Radio: Icom IC-703 – Radio has been discontinued we now recommend the Icom IC-718 HF. We like the new radio better because we can still run it in a low power mode, and then when we have a consistent source of power we can bump things up.
  • Antenna: Simple Slinky Dipole
  • Coax: Regular household TV Coax
  • Light: Blackfire Clamplight
  • Clamps: Nasty Clamps – This is what’s holding the iPhone and the mic in the picture. These clamps are awesome; I use them all the time when filming and I’ve found a ton of uses for them.

For more information on Ham Radio and Emergency Communication, check out these articles:

Shirts of Liberty

OFFGRID Survival book



  1. This very misleading & oversimplified article does not mention that QRP (low power) operation on HF requires a great deal of skill and patience, nor is it particularly reliable.

    Also, “ordinary” TV coax has 75 ohm impedance and is not suitable for use on a 50 ohm radio/antenna, especially at low power where you cannot afford inefficiency.

    This is a horribly written article.

    • Also, don’t forget that back in the 1950’s most finals were tube and could handle a greater range of antenna impedance.

      If you do a little math, at 75 ohms impedance, that is simply an swr of 1.5 well within the range of modern transceivers.

    • Right, and since the reason most dipoles are listed as 50-75 ohms is that it depends on how high they are off of electrical ground. So a dipole at 1/4 wave length off a “perfect” ground is 75 ohms (If I recall correctly) but it can and will vary quite a bit in real life. People get so wound are the axle about little stuff I think they forget that a lot of it just doesn’t matter that much. Like you said. The difference is only the difference between 1.5 and 1 to 1. In the real world that is a win.

    • I didn’t see any misleading text in the article. Can you please point out said “misleading” part of the article. This was thrown together in an emergency. He says such.
      As for the cable it may not be suitable but it works in a pinch. Did you watch the video? He was able to pick up two different states on the unsuitable antenna. LOL :) we call people like you trolls back in the day of bulletin boards. Keep trolling on.

    • WP4QIN
      Hurricane maria in Puerto Rico Demonstrated Government was ineffective to maintain any communication at all , i doubt California can maintain effective coms, in a Worst case scenario they are just kill boxes in the making …

      I tell that also as a communications engineer …

    • RG6 TV cable can be tuned by the stub method , by impedance matching baluns
      by capacitive coupling matching , by reactive tuning & other methods

    • So there’s no way to match impedance such that 75 ohm line can be used with 50 ohm components. Good to know, thanks.

    • That’s correct, a dipole’s impedance is around Ohms. If it’s resonating nicely you can find a 50 ohm point. I’d still prefer to transform the 75 Ohm coax to 50 even though the matching circuit will also soak up some power. That’s just me, I tend to lean on the side of protecting the radio.

      I like your site and the article. It’s hard as hell to communicate these topics to a general audience.

      I love QRP ops and I think it can be super useful especially using NVIS for emergency, unjammable via ground wave and untraceable comms.

  2. Emergency communications by ham radio operators has saved the day during many disasters.
    Your choice of he Icom 703 is an excellent one, but may prove difficult in practice. The ‘703 is discontinued and may not be that easy to find because many of the hams Who have them are not interested in selling them. A good alternative is the Yaesu FT817. Though it only delivers 5 watts, it has an internal battery and modest charging requirements. Many hams charge them from solar arrays and a suitable regulator. These are still available new from some dealers

    • Try using the Yaesu FT-897D. It is set up to run natively on 12 VDC, is basically a hand held base station with all modes, and will NOT allow you to burn out the finals. It is almost fool proof!

    • Another great radio is the FT-857. As small as an 817…but not QRP power. I use it for my “off the grid” communications. Nice article. There are good “go box” sites as well. Thanks

  3. Yes, 75 ohms can be used for coax, but anyone putting together a bug-out bag would be well advised to toss in some 50 ohm coax (RG-8X is fine, especially for HF, and doesn’t take much space or weight).

    You might also consider adding the newer IC-706 MKIIG to your list (much easier to find in the used market than IC-703 units). It has the advantage of both 2m and 70cm (FM and SSB) plus HF, and the power levels can be adjusted down from 100 watts (on HF), 50 watts (on VHF), and 20 watts (on UHF).

    I also own a Yaesu FT-817 (but the screen is tiny and hard to see). It does have the advantage of being able to be powered by “AA” batteries, but if you have the capability the added power of the IC-706MKIIG units and the much larger screen make them the choice in my book.

  4. The hostile tone of the discourse here makes me glad that their are Amateur Radio Nets populated with Hams who are already prepared and regularly practice for disasters and emergencies. Being prepared in advance does not require tons of money and it beats being stuck in MacGyver mode after disaster has already struck. The 10 meter question by “scoutsout23” kind of puts the whole thing in perspective. I hope when the stuff does hit the fan blades that the practiced and prepared Hams are not interfered with by a bunch of unlicensed MacGyver wanna-bes.

  5. Howdy OGS,

    Came across your article on the QRZNow website. A very nice looking setup. It looks like you have a nice size battery bank. Have tried running off of it continuously to see how long it will last?
    I have hopes of picking up an FT-817 come tax time. I’m going to have some challenges due to me living in an apartment at present. You have a very interesting site and I’m looking forward to learning what I can here.

    Mark AD0KV

  6. Mike,

    A friend of mine has the Yaesu FT-897D and loves it (sad that Yaesu just discontinued it), but everyone that I know that owns one likes it. If I didn’t already own 4 Icoms I’d probably add it to my list (still might, as Christmas is just around the corner).


    With all of the available band space, it’s doubtful that the “MacGyver wanna-be’s” would even be able to locate most of us (especially on HF). Most of them can’t even program their VHF/UHF radios (Chinese or Japanese), and don’t understand PL tones or splits, etc., etc. I doubt you’ll have very much to worry about so long as you don’t count on FRS channels as your primary communication link.

  7. After seeing some of the negative comments, I wanted to throw my 2 cents in. Many Ham Operators are on a budget, shoot, I’m a General Class and still only have a 2 Meter/ 70cm rig. The author says this is an introduction. Frankly, while not being the “right” coax, etc. we need to remember that the biggest positive of Ham Radio is that we are innovaters. To me, this is an awesome homebrew setup, and I’m very impressed with the article and the innovations. Thank you for sharing this information, and keep it up.


  8. I just love it when the black box operators start getting clever. I forgot to pack my coax one trailer camping holiday and operated for two weeks using loudspeaker wire as balanced twin feeder, connected to the balanced output of my ATU and terminating in a 1/2 wave for 80M. It loaded up on all bands from 80 through to 10 with a bit of ingenuity. It was configured as a flat dipole, sloper or inverted vee depending on where we were staying and what natural supports were available. Worked most of Europe, West Coast USA and New Zealand with that ‘lash-up!’ Why loudspeaker wire you might ask? I found a 100m drum at a flea market and paid very little money for it.

  9. I have used my FT817 for more than 10 years in Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services (RACES) drills as well as demonstrations for schools, Boy Scouts, 4-H,and other groups/agencies and found it be a good performer.
    I have added an MFJ Tiny Tuner to my go-bag and a piece of copper pipe with 14 gauge copper wire for a ground rod. This has allowed me to use many different antenna options. I like to think “out side the box” for antennas using the tuner to correct for impedance mismatches. I use the internal SWR meter on the FT817 and have found it to be quite adequate. Here are a few of the things tat worked well:
    The tree stand climbing stick antenna array. As I am an avid deer hunter, it hit me that I could combine things from both activities. I mounted 2 3/4X24 dipole mounts and 1 3/4/24 mirror mount to the top section of the climbing stick. Using mobile Ham Stick® antennas, it gives me options to work 2 HF bands and + VHF and UHF. The climbing stick comes in 4 foot sections and just ratchet straps to tree, fence post, or light pole making it a rapid deployment system. It takes only 5 minutes to set up.
    The extension cord antenna. I took a small piece of line cord and soldered a PL259 plug on one end and an in-line 3 prong socket on the other. The PL259 plugs in to the tuner,and then you can plug in any length of extension cord, and throw it up in a tree. Our county was running an emergency drills few years back and gave our RACES group the task of getting messages through to our state emergency management (EMO) office in Albany, the federal EMO in Buffalo, and the FCC in Gettysburg.
    I used this setup and the FT817 running 5 watts, and was able to pass messages to all 3 entities via a regional traffic net on the 75 meter band. The county officials were so impressed by that capability that they gave our group an office at the EMO and a yearly budget!
    These are only a few ideas. I am sure that other hams have also come up with unique antenna solutions. Let’s see them. 73.

  10. Hey Rob I just had an “a-ha” moment when I saw you used a slinky for your antenna “D’oh” why hadn’t I thought of that before

    • Back in the 1970’s, there was a Slinky Dipole sold commercially. It came with center coaxial value as a creeping and clips that held the coils at each end together for proper tuning for each band. I bought one to use in my attic and it worked reasonably well.

      • That was a coaxial balun not value. Also it was a feedpoint – not creeping. My Kindle sometimes has a mind of its own. Sorry.

  11. Those interested in ham radio emergency communications I highly recommend checking out USNERDOC at YouTube. His invaluable ham radio videos are what sparked my interest in emergency communication. He has excellent information in emergency and prepper communication. He favors the Yeasu FT-817, Yeasu FT-857D and the Yeasu VX-8 handheld. Check out his channel.

  12. I seem to remember the ARRL antenna handbook describing an antenna made from old style tv dual core “zip” antenna cable. I tried it on 27 meg, didn’t get out well, reception was iffy too. My Ham brother in law said my math was out. Bugger, my fault, figures. In an emergency, any signal beats no comms.
    Back in the 80’s and earlier in Australia we had CREST Citizens Radio Emergency Service Team (I think it was service team. This was 30 odd years back!) CREST supplied emergency comms when official comms wouldn’t work, and they did it with 27 meg am and ssb cb with a max of 5 watts output in ssb PEP. This cat has interstate comms with a jerry rigged unit! What’s the problem? Good display of ingenuity using household items and a transceiver to get comms. Anybody really think the mobile phone (cell phones) net will be operational if the power grid goes tits up?

  13. A quick-deployment alternative to coax is to simply attach a wire directly to the radio and toss it into a tree. Lay another wire on the ground as a counterpoise.

    I’ve been using this method for years with the 10-watt-class HF radios my company designs (Elecraft KX3, and more recently the KX2, which is about half the size/weight). Both rigs have an internal, wide-range antenna tuner (ATU) option. At this power level, you can get away without any coax at all; just use a BNC-to-binding post adapter to get from the antenna jack to the wires.


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