Ham Radio for Preppers: A Survival Guide for Beginners

Ham Radio for Preppers: A Survival Guide for Beginners

Recent disasters have proven that we can’t rely on the internet and phones to communicate during emergencies. These technologies rely on data and the electrical grid, which can falter in survival situations. Organisations like the Red Cross and REMA help save lives. But you shouldn’t depend on emergency relief to come to rescue you.

As a survival prepper, you know the importance of staying prepared in any natural disaster, and one of the most critical tools at your disposal is the ham radio.

This beginner’s guide to survival for preppers explains everything about this technology. We’ll explain why you should use a ham radio, how to become a ham operator, and tips for choosing the best amateur radio. 

Why Should You Use a Ham Radio for Prepping?

Technology has been commonplace over the last few decades, but many young adults don’t even know how to operate a handheld radio. Here’s why you need a ham radio as a prepper. 

Communication Channels Down

You never know when the next catastrophic disaster will come. There’s a good chance that another natural disaster will occur again during your lifetime. Stockpiling food, essential supplies, and ammunition isn’t enough. 

During emergencies, cell phones and landlines won’t be operable. For example, consider the devastating hurricane that hit Puerto Rico in 2017. The natural disaster knocked out the country’s communications, affecting thousands reliant on modern technology. 

Ham radios would have provided much-needed communication in this situation. They will still be effective since they don’t depend on wires. Instead, the radio has antennas that broadcast into the airwaves to communicate, allowing you to contact the local emergency services or another ham operator. 

It’s not just natural disasters that affect communication channels either. In 2020, the UK police shut down 10% of the phone lines to stop drug dealing. Whether it’s the government or natural disasters, having access to communication when landlines go down is critical. 

More Versatility Than Other Alternative Communication Methods 

In the US many preppers use CB family radio service (FRS) devices or GMRS radios.  In the UK, Europe and the rest of the world most preppers use standard CB radios or other communication services.  However, these devices are low powered and the range of communication is limited.  Ham radios are much more versatile in their communication

Ham radio’s can access numereous frequencies and radio bands, making them flexible and responsive. For example, utilising HF frequencies lets people send messages across the country or even to other countries 

Joining a Community

There is a worldwide community of ham radio operators, there may not be another in your local community, but when power is out, the ham radio allows you to receive emergency alerts and communicate with the world.  

In the UK, as a prepper you will be receiving information from the Met Office, UK’s national weather service, on your normal FM radio.  Their channel means you can still disseminate information throughout the ham community. 

You also can be an active participant in the ham radio community and maybe educate them on prepping.  Or teach other preppers how to use ham radio.  It’s good to teach others and it's good fun to use ham radio.  It's just another tool you can use to organise and keep your neighbours close, especially when everyone has separated.

Pros and Cons of Ham Radio 

You never know when local emergencies or disasters will strike. Uncertain times make ham radios incredibly important, especially in extenuating circumstances. Here are the pros and cons of ham radio. 

Pros

Ham radios offer plenty of benefits that are pretty useful to have.

Communication Without Internet and Landlines 

All that’s needed to use a ham radio is a radio (also called a transceiver), battery, and appropriate antenna. The simple setup is handy during natural disasters, power outages, camping trips, or emergencies. 

Power Efficiency

Many popular handheld ham radios use rechargeable batteries and only need 5 to 8 watts to operate.

Portability

A mobile or handheld ham radio can be carried around wherever you go, not limiting you to stay within any single location. 

Ease of Use

While using a ham radio is a technical endeavour, it’s not too difficult to learn, especially with some training and studying. 

Affordability

Ham radios are budget-friendly devices. You can find many functional ham radios for less than £500.  An entry level handheld will cost you less than £100.

Cons

Despite the pros, there are some disadvantages to using handheld ham radios. 

Limited to Ham Radio Community

Users only can communicate with other users who have a ham radio. There’s no way to communicate with people who don’t have one. 

Possible Disruptions

Unfortunately, terrain and weather conditions can affect the ham radio signal since it operates on radio frequency raves. 

Do You Need a Licence To Use Ham Radio? 

You don’t need a licence to buy a ham radio. However, Ofcom, the communications regulatory body in the UK, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the US and other regulators around the world have various regulations on ham radio. If you’re just using the radio to listen, you can monitor at any frequency. But, it’s illegal to transmit messages without a licence, and you could get into trouble if you use a ham radio to transmit without a licence.  

So, the answer to the question is yes you do need a licence and you will in most cases need to pass an exam in order to earn a licence to operate a ham radio. Preppers like yourself should get a licence not only because it’s the law but also because it hones your communication skills.

In a life or death scenario, you need confidence in your abilities to use the ham radio. The only way to master using the ham radio is to pass the test required for the licence and begin practising. If your cellular network goes down, you won’t have time to Google or watch a YouTube video explaining how to operate a ham radio. With the licence, you can practice transmitting messages with other operators, ensuring you’re ready for the worst. 

Another reason the licence is beneficial is that you learn the different frequency ranges. A trained operator knows how to tune to the right frequency to send messages. VHF is more conducive to an area with a lot of open space. However, your range increases in an urban area with tall buildings if you use UHF. 

Which Ham Radio Licence Should You Get For Prepping?

In the Uk there are three licence classes, where the higher the licence you hold, the more privileges you receive. These licences are: 

  • Foundational: Grants you access to amateur radio frequency above 30 MHz, allowing you to communicate locally. 

  • Intermediate: Provide you access to worldwide communications. 

  • Full: Gives you access to all frequencies, where you can contact rare foreign stations! 

As a prepper, you need to know the frequencies you’ll need in an emergency. The foundational class licence is the most widely used by preppers simply because it’s the easiest to get. It allows you to access UHF (ultra high frequencies) and VHF (very high frequencies), meaning that you can access local communications, usually up to 100 miles away, depending on your radio. 

While this is a great start for many beginners, we recommend getting the intermediate licence. That’s because it provides access to HF bands so you can talk worldwide. Make sure to consider where you live. 

Let’s look again at the 2017 hurricane that wiped out Puerto Rico’s public communication system. The foundational licence wouldn’t have been helpful in this situation since it limits usage to local communication networks. 

Coverage is why we recommend getting the intermediate licence since it has a further reach. For example, if you live in London but need to communicate with family members in Liverpool, you’ll need an intermediate licence. 

Another incentive for upgrading from foundational to intermediate licence is the HF benefits and additional transmission power. Sometimes weather disruptions can make it difficult to transmit specific frequencies. Having worldwide communications in various modes is ideal for emergency communications.  

As for the Full licence, they offer exclusive benefits. But they are primarily designed for people who want to train others on how to become ham operators or people who compete in various competitions outside the scope of prepping. 

How to Choose a Suitable Ham Radio for Survival

Now you’re ready to purchase a ham radio for survival. We’ve compiled a few vital factors to consider when choosing a suitable ham radio for emergencies. 

Coverage 

During survival scenarios, range and coverage are key factors to consider. First, ensure that your radio has both UHF and VHF frequencies. 

You'll have to spend a little more if you’re serious and want HF frequencies. However, there’s more to it than just frequencies. You’ll want the maximum power output and antenna to extend your range. Keep in mind that you can buy an antenna separately to boost the range of your radio. 

Battery Life

Battery life is an essential consideration in choosing the right emergency radio. Many ham radios have at least 20 hours of battery life on a single charge, while some can have 32. It’s worth looking for other ways to charge your radio. 

Multiple Power Sources 

Having battery-powered radios is imperative. As long as you have a storage of batteries, your radio won’t die on you during crucial moments. However, consider ham radios that accept power from external sources like an AC adapter or a manual charger. 

Getting a high-tech radio with advanced features means it’ll draw more power. If you’ve got these nifty radios, you still need to ensure you’re aware of alerts. 

Extra Features 

Some of the best ham radios offer handy features to make your life easier. Some come with onboard battery packs to charge other gadgets like your phone and tablet. It may seem overkill, but it can be helpful, especially if you want to calm your children as you weather the emergency. 

Other features include solar panels for extra charging, flashlights, rugged exteriors for protection, programmable stations, and even built-in speakers. 

Memory Slots 

Sometimes local communication can disrupt the messages that you’re sending. Having a lot of memory slots allows you to store frequencies and channels. It is instrumental if you are looking for international communication. 

Having 12 memory slots is sufficient for local messaging, but international communication should have over 100 memory slots. 

Backlit Display

In most emergency cases, the power will be out. That can make it difficult to operate your radio in the dark. A backlit display allows you to use your ham radio even in poorly lit conditions. Also, the backlight should be able to turn off when not in use to conserve battery power. 

Meets Safety Standards 

Many ham radios should meet technical standards, such as the capability to receive area-specific alerts. Some even allow vibration signals for visually impaired individuals or light flashing for hard-of-hearing people. 

Additional Equipment for Ham Radio 

Ham radios are powerful devices that let you communicate effectively during times of crisis. However, you can supercharge your radio by hooking it up with the right equipment that improves its transmission and reception capabilities and extends its range.

Microphones 

While most ham radios come with microphones, sometimes you’ll want to upgrade for better quality microphones. There’s nothing worse than the receiver who can’t understand your message from a poor-quality mic. 

Some operators prefer a headset that combines the headphones with a microphone positioned in front of the user’s mouth. High-quality mics and built-in frequency adjusters can work effectively even with loud noises. 

Morse Code Keys 

If you ever need to send morse codes through the airwaves, you’ll need a morse key for sending the code. Sending morse code is highly useful when sending secretive messages, especially when there is imminent danger. Some keys allow you to store commonly sent messages, such as a call sign.

Antenna and Antenna Support 

The type of antenna will determine your range. The home-based antennas with HF capability can be very large and run 33 feet high or more.

Make sure you have a stable feedline connecting the antenna to the transceiver. The setup ensures you don’t have a loss of transmitter output or received signals. 

There are many options for antenna support. You could use tripods, or fixed mounts onto a roof, or you could use metal masts. These masts can stand up well, especially in windy conditions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I Choose a CB or Ham Radio for Survival?

Ham radios are the preferred choice for survival over CB radios. While CB radios have limited range and power, ham radios offer versatility with access to various frequencies, including FM broadcast, NOAA weather radio, VHF maritime, aviation, and more.

Need a Ham Radio? Shop Moonraker Today! 

Ham radios are essential equipment for every modern prepper’s toolbox. Whether handling emergencies or just meeting other preppers, it’s an excellent way to stay prepared. 

Now you can embark on your studies for the licence exam. And if you’re looking for the best ham radios on the market, look no further than Moonraker. We’ve got the best selection of ham radios, antennas, microphones and headsets, morse keys and other accessories for your radio.

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