No one in this world is safe from natural disasters. Earthquakes, tsunamis, flooding, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, you name it, when Mother Nature decides to be ruthless, escaping her wrath is next to impossible. But, natural disasters are not the only calamities that leave destruction and devastation in their wake. We have also seen the devastating effects of man-made disasters.
Unlike most people, preppers understand the importance of preparing ahead for such situations. This includes stocking up on food and water, medicine, tools, and weapons. Communication is also a concern. When a disaster occurs, if the communication systems are affected in any way, it becomes very hard for people to communicate with one another.
As in today’s world, people have become completely dependent on modern technologies, such as the internet and mobile phones. When a disaster occurs, high-tech communications systems are usually the first to go. For a survivalist or prepper, an amateur radio is of great value. Knowing and understanding how radio communication works and operates is extremely critical.
This is why when you are preparing for a natural disaster, include a survival radio in your preparedness list. Radio is the best way to communicate when cellular communications systems fail.
With that said, we come down to what survival radio would be most ideal. There are ham radios and then there are CB (citizens band) radios. Of the two, ham radios are usually the more popular choice.
What is a ham radio?
A ham radio (also called amateur radio) is a service used for recreation, emergency communication, and exchange of messages among other things. These radios use numerous frequency bands throughout the radio spectrum and therefore, people can communicate with one another from anywhere in the world. Yes, you read it correctly. If your Radio transmitter/receiver is powerful enough, you will be able to communicate with others around the world. The long range makes these excellent in emergency situations that affect bigger areas.
Digital and voice communications are the most common modes of communications when using an amateur radio although Morse code communications are also used, rarely.
Do I need a license to use a ham radio?
Training and passing the exam for a ham radio license is a smart thing to do if radio communications interests you. License examinations usually cover regulations, operating procedures and safety, electronics theory and radio technology. Going through the training and acquiring a license provides you with the knowledge and training needed to become a skilled radio operator who understands the practices and everything else involved in radio communication.
Despite that government does not bother much with monitoring ham frequencies, it is not a good idea to operate the device without a license. If you live in a country like the United States, you will find that a license is a requirement, if you want to make transmissions on radio frequencies. However, it may not be a requirement in another country. And of course, in an emergency situation, it does not matter if you have licensed or not. Furthermore, you don’t need a license to buy these products. So, you can have it ready for an emergency even if you don’t want to get a license.
How do I get a license?
Getting a ham radio license is not complicated, and neither does it take months of training before you can sit for the license examination. In the U.S. it takes only a couple of days to get a license, but, there are certain countries where getting the license can take a week or even months.
In the United States, there are three different kinds of licenses, namely, technician license, a general license, and amateur license. Let’s take a closer look on each one.
- Technician license
This is an entry-level license and it is the easiest to get. The examination consists of 35 questions in total and it covers operating practices, regulations and basic electronics. Mainly, the exam focuses on UHF and VHF applications. However, Morse code is not a requirement for the technician license.
Once you get your technician license, you will be able to access all frequencies above 30 megahertz. The technician license privileges include the 2-meter band, which is quite popular. With this license, you can operate many different modes including FM voice, television and digital packets among others.
Presently, technician licenses have privileges on some HF bands (also referred to as short wave bands), which are used for worldwide communication.
- General License
You cannot obtain a general license if you do not hold a technician license. It is an upgrade from the technician license. To earn a general license, you are required to pass an examination consisting of 35 questions.
Once you pass the exam and get the license, you get more HF privileges, and you have some operating rights on all operating modes and bands. You are also able to access many of the radio frequencies below 30 megahertz.
- Amateur license
To earn an amateur license, you need to pass a 50 question examination. This is the most difficult license to earn. However, once you have passed the exam and received your amateur license, you have operating privileges on all operating modes and all amateur radio bands.
What are the advantages of joining an amateur radio club?
Joining an amateur radio club can be the fastest way to earning your amateur radio licenses. But, this is not the only benefit of being a member of a club. Becoming an active member of such a club, means you are able to build and have more social contacts. You are able to form friendships with people from your own community as well as from other communities.
Amateur radio clubs are not just about sharing information and experiences on amateur radio communications, operations, licensing and regulations. These clubs become learning platforms for many people. If you are a skilled gardener, chef or technician, you can share information that is valuable and helpful to the other members.
How do I set up an amateur radio station?
If you already have an amateur radio license, setting up a ham radio station is not going to be a challenge at all. But, this does not mean that setting it up will be an easy and simple task. You have to factor in a number of things before setting up, such as space, lighting and the general layout of your equipment.
How you layout and the amount of space you create for your radio equipment and the quality of lighting can either make it easy or difficult to operate the radio. If the station is poorly lit, you will have difficulty reading the dials and meters. Moreover, dim light can make you inattentive and even drowsy.
One thing of critical importance when setting up your amateur radio station is ensuring that all the electrical units are connected to a ground system to prevent accidental shock and reduce the flow of radio frequency (RF) energy. If the RF energy does not flow to the ground, you will experience tingling sensations when transmitting every time you touch the metal parts of your radio. This can make operating the radio a complete nightmare.
Where you place your equipment is also extremely important. Units that always need to be adjusted like receivers, transmitters and transceivers need to be within reach. You do not want to keep getting up from your chair to make the adjustments.
Another consideration when setting up is having a backup power source. This can be a generator or solar power or wind power system. Bottom line is, you need to have a backup power source, otherwise, your radio will be useless when the power grid goes down.
There is also available compact HAM radios, which are small enough to fit in your bug out bag.
Establish a survival radio network
One of the many smart things that most preppers do is to establish a survival radio network. It is a great way to share information and get new ideas on prepping and survival. Furthermore, it serves as a communication channel in real emergency situations.
One of the best ways to master a skill is through constant practice. It’s great to acquire the knowledge and training necessary to be a skilled survival radio operator, but if you do not put these into practice, then this may be of very little help to you in a real survival situation.
One thing that survivalists do is practice how to survive in the wild by literally going into the wild and putting their knowledge and skills into practice. Therefore, to become a competent survival radio operator, you need to practice using your ham radio.
Keep in mind that you do necessarily need to have the survival radio equipment to learn how to use an amateur radio. You can learn how to use one by going through the training. Once you are ready to buy your own equipment, then you can put your training into proper practice.
In a survival situation, the one thing that you need to be able to save yourself is information. It is crucial to know what is going on to be able to make informed decisions. Having information can help you decide whether to stay put or to evacuate.
There is a story about two Japanese men, now in their 80s, who took refuge on an island in the Philippines during the Second World War. Unfortunately, they had no way of communicating with the outside world and for 60 years, they remained in the island still believing that the war was still going on.
This is one of many incredible stories out there of people who go into hiding to escape war and destruction only to remain there for months or years without having any idea that the calamity already ended. So, they end up spending a good amount of their years in hiding, away from loved ones and the rest of the world, only to emerge when things have really changed, and possibly even some loved ones have passed on.
It is stories like these that motivate so many people to become preppers. If these men had a survival radio, they would have known that the war had come to an end and they would have gone home. If they even had a small way of reaching other people, they would not have spent so many of their years in a wild jungle cut off from the rest of the world.
The ham radio is a simple device that can literally save your life. It is inexpensive, easy to operate and a vital tool for survival.
Read our review of Baofeng UV 5R V2 two-way HAM radio. It is a good choice for emergency and survival situations.
Below are some examples of compact handheld models that are excellent for survival use. These are small enough to fit in your go out bag. Read more about essential survival skills.