UPDATE: I recently did a 3 video series and wrote a very detailed post titled “Ham Radio for Preppers: The Complete Guide” This article goes through everything you will need to know about Ham, GMRS, FRS, & MURS radio.
Getting your technician license for ham radio has quite a few application what it comes to any SHTF scenario, and that includes if the power grid goes down.
Getting your technicians license is only the first step, next you actually need to use the ham radio to understand how it works, otherwise you will have no idea how to use it when it really matters.
In an article I wrote when I first got my ham technician license a while back goes through what equipment I started out with, and how I studied for the technician test. In that article I said…
It really is true, you can get started for about $70 with the equipment I mentioned in that article, and you can get your technicians license in a little as a week if you want to.
In this interview with Jeremiah we didn’t talk about getting your technicians license, we talked about what to do after you get it. It can be intimidating and confusing getting on the air for the first time, and if we want to be able to use our ham radios in a disaster situation we need to jump in the water and get started.
SPP114 Ham Radio for Preppers: First Contact & SHTF Applications
I also included a pdf guide at the end of this article with links and resources to help new ham operators out.
First Contact: After you get Your HAM License
In order to explain this better I am going to explain my story because I think it’s pretty common among new ham operators. Getting your technician’s license is just the first step, then you have to apply everything you learned, get on the air and figure out how and why everything works.
Getting your signal in and out: One of my major problems when I first started out was connecting with other hams and repeaters, I could hear other people talking, but they couldn’t hear me.
Come to find out I needed to upgrade my antenna because of my rural location. I also installed the antenna wrong (next to a metal pole) causing my signal to get disrupted before it even went anywhere.
Help from other hams: Jeremiah recently sent me a message using the national traffic system. Even though I was not actively using my ham radio, this helped me to get back into it. He sent a message through different ham operators which ended up with someone who lives a few blocks away from me.
This person was actually able to come and look at my setup and show me what was wrong. As helpful as these online groups are, sometimes it takes someone who can see your setup and be hands on with helping.
First Contact: We also talked about how intimidating it might be when you first get your signal out. I didn’t want to sound like the new kid on the block (even though I was) and come to find out I was making it a bigger deal than it was.
The best way to learn how to swim is just to dive in, that’s what I did with ham radio. For my first contact I just said “This is KE0AKD monitoring, doing a signal check, can I get a confirmation?” The person who came back was great and said “fantastic! and welcome to ham radio.”
It’s also good to just listen and see what the seasoned hams (pun intended) are doing. Learn the lingo before you go on and say something dumb like “breaker breaker one nine.”
Ham clubs: Online groups like our Ham Basics Facebook, and the popular ham radio forums like HamRadioForums.net or ThePreparedHam are a great way to get some of your basic questions answered, but there is only so much help you can get online.
Joining a local ham radio club can help get advice from people that are closer to you. As preppers we are always worried about OPSEC, but ham radio clubs give you the option of meeting people without them knowing where you live.
SHTF Applications, What can I do?
Local Communications: Ham radio will be useful whether you are bugging out, getting family members back together or any other unforeseen situation that might arise. With the very real likelihood that cell phone communications being down using your ham radio for short range communications might be your best option.
The range might not be that great depending on the terrain, but with the right ham radio equipment you might be able to communicate between cars, within a group or even if someone needed to do a little recon, hunt or forage.
Emergency Communications: You can I monitor NOAA channels and local Police, but it is probably best to just get a low cost NOAA radio and/or a police scanner. While a ham radio can do this, it is much slower than the equipment that was made for something like this.
If you get the Beofeng I recommend you can also download the CHIRP program to program it that comes with some of the NOAA frequencies pre-installed.
Long Range Communications: The more you get into ham radio you will see that there is almost a competition for how far you can get your signal out. While you can’t do this with the low cost beginner’s setup, you can use Echolink.
Echolink is an internet based communications system so it probably won’t be available in some sort of SHTF event, but you can use it now to talk with other preppers around the country which might help you learn more about ham radio by talking to people with the same mindset as you.
I haven’t gotten into Echolink all that much yet, but now that I am “online” so to speak, I am going to dig deeper into the program. I’ll be writing an article or doing a podcast on this soon so watch for that. For now here is a PDF that I found called Echolink for Dummies that explains how it works if you want to give it a shot.
Grid Down Communications: This kind of goes along with short term communications, but in a grid down scenario there would be a way to get messages across the country, although it would be very slow. Right now people use what is called the traffic net which is how Jeremiah got a message to me from his state.
The same principal could be used and would have to be passed from one amateur radio operator to the next, a little like an old school telegraph or the pony express. The down side of this is that if one of the links in this chain is missing, the message won’t get through.
Contacting other Prepared Hams: As I talked about with Jeremiah there is not much in the way of finding a local prepper ham group, although if you start (or have) a prepper group and have members who are amateur radio operators or who want to be.
I did find a list of SHTF Frequencies for preppers, but I’m not sure how this would (or could) work in a SHTF situation, especially without expensive equipment.
The Ham Radio Resources PDF
I went ahead and made a PDF of all the links that Jeremiah shared with me during the show, and also the ones he emailed to me. You can download that PDF here.