Survival Radio: This Is Why You Want One

Survival Radio: This Is Why You Want One
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Survival Radio (c)In our modern society, what’s the first thing most people reach for in an emergency?

Their bug out bag? Doubtful (Remember, I said most people, not preppers).

A survival knife? Unfortunately No.

There Survival Radio? Yeah, right.

My guess is people pull out their cell phone. It’s our societies fastest way to call for help. Makes sense since nearly 90% of all US adults currently own a cell phone.

And to be honest, there’s no shame in utilizing this modern technology. If the cell phone network is operating as normal, then, by all means, dial away.

However, what people don’t realize is their cell phone is an unreliable mass emergency communication device.

Why You Can’t Rely On The Cell Networks

For local, individual emergencies (such as fender-benders or even a house fire), they are great, but for large mass disasters, they cannot be trusted.

For example, 70% of the cell towers were out of operation for multiple days during Hurricane Katrina.

Just minutes after the Boston Marathon bombings cell phone networks become overloaded and all volume was blocked. When thousands of people are dialing for help at the exact same time the cell phone networks jam up quickly. They are not designed for that level of call volume.

Cell network traffic is limited by a design capacity. And mass emergency events soar past these capacities in seconds. Once, a cell network jams, no one can get through.

The Boston Marathon attendees were calling for help or calling out to their family to let them know they were alright.  Plus, everyone outside of Boston who heard about the event trying calling in to make sure there loved ones were safe.

Hence, no one could call in, and no one could call out.

This phenomenon was summed up perfectly by The Fast Company.

Mobile networks have bandwidth that is more than sufficient 99% of the time. However, when disaster strikes, the decentralized nature of the network means that whole geographic regions can be knocked out by increased call volume.

During Hurricane Sandy, the cables between towers were damaged due to high winds and flooding. Again, cell phone communication was severely restricted when people needed to contact each other most.

Now just imagine a large-scale national disaster where the entire nation was involved, such as a nuclear attack or an EMP strike.

The bottom line is the cell phone is a low-reliability survival communication device. 

What About Cell Network Backup Systems?

Plus, in a long term electrical outage, the cell phone networks will eventually cease to functional entirely.

Yes, many of the cell networks have backup battery systems. These systems keep them functional for shorter-term power outages. Cell towers use AC power to function, so if the grid goes black and the backup generators don’t get refueled, they eventually stop working.

Basically, for any long term power outages, cell networks become useless.

If your goal is to communicate within a limited range with close friends and family (a few miles max), outside of the cell networks, then you should check out this new gadget. The goTenna allows for local encrypted cell phone communication while bypassing the need for cell towers. It’s like having a mini cell phone tower in your possession.

Make sure to get two because both people need one in order to communicate.

If you understand the importance of communication during a crisis you also realize that there are only a handful of possible long-term survival communication methods, and I consider a ham survival radio the best.

As I believe that ham radio will become the only long range communication network for a broken world.

ham radios have the longest potential communication range and the lowest dependencies on grid power.

The radio’s themselves need power, but as a survivalist you’ve considered that ahead of time and have backup power system prepared via solar panels and batteries…right?

For long distance communication, you’ll also need repeaters to be functional and they also need power.

However, those in charge of these repeaters understand their crucial role in emergency communications. Many have planned elaborate secondary sources of energy in preparation for worst case scenarios.

So ham radio systems are our best chance at communicating when the grid power goes down permanently.

Another reason to get a ham radio is the fact that you can tap into remote and mobile internet access.

It takes specialized gear and knowledge to set this up, but it’s a nice bonus that comes with getting a ham radio.

To Get A License or Not…

I’m going to argue in favor of getting your license but will share the argument against it.

The argument against getting a license is that in a real survival emergency, permits will not matter. Permits are only valid and necessary in calm, civil times.

When SHTF licenses are silly, unenforceable gimmicks and a waste of the paper they are written on. I buy that argument 100%.

However, I believe that operating a ham radio with any proficiency, is a skill you must practice. It’s nothing like using a cell phone. It’s more like learning how to ride a bike. It takes practice to get good at it.

And the only way to confidently communicate at long ranges using a ham radio is through repetition. Which means getting your license today so you can practice tomorrow.

The best ham radio operators with years of experience and reliable gear can communicate around the world.

To join this club, you must properly power your ham survival radio and purchase the large antennas (for longer communication potential). Ham radios operate over radio frequencies and it takes some repeated exposure to get used to.

You shouldn’t wait; it’s time you got your license.

Ham Radio License Passed and SignedHow To Get Your Ham Radio License

All “official” ham radio operators required a license, and this includes everyone inside and outside the United States.

There are three levels of licenses available:

  1. Technician License
  2. General License
  3. Amateur License

Technician License

The Technician License is an entry-level license.

It’s the easiest to obtain and provides the legal right to communicate on local frequencies. This license is relatively easy to achieve, especially since it’s no longer requires proficiency at Morse Code. Today it consists of passing a 35 question exam.

Pick up this study manual, read it thoroughly, take notes, and then schedule an exam. And just like that, you’re now an official ham survival radio technician. Congrats!

As soon as you’re licensed as a ham radio operator you’ll be registered. This alone will help you gain some respect and acceptance among other qualified ham radio operators.

I’ve heard stories about ham radio operators who won’t even speak with fly-by-night operators if they don’t have their license. I’m sure in a real emergency they would make an exception but again, this friction makes practicing more challenging.

General License

One you have your technicians license, the next step is to get your General License. Having this license expands your transmission ranges. Your restriction to local frequencies goes away and you can now transmit as far your equipment allows.

Amateur License

Finally, you need to pass a thorough 50 question exam to achieve an Amateur License. This license grants all U.S. Amateur radio privileges for all frequencies via all modes.

I often get asked if you can bypass the first two levels and just focus on getting your Amateur’s License. The answer is No. You must achieve all previous levels of licenses to obtain the next level. No skipping allowed.

You must obtain your Technicians License before you can get your General License and you must pass both the Technicians exam and General Exam to get your Amateur License. So get this ham radio study guide as a first step.

Ham Radio ClubJoin A Local Ham Radio Club

If you serious about getting your license, then I highly recommend you join a local ham Radio Club.

Joining a local ham radio operator’s club will assist beginner operators in learning the exact methods and procedures for proper communications with other ham operators.

Most clubs are patient with new operators as long as the new guy isn’t a pain in the ass. And operator clubs are the best way to pick up all the details from the experts. This is by far the fastest way for you to become a competent ham radio operator.

There’s no reason to struggle on your own. There are lots of people who are willing to show you the ropes and get you up and running in no time. is a website that can help you locate a local club.

Ham Survival Radio GearLearn the Basic Ham Radio Equipment

You are responsible for the maintenance and repair of your ham radio.

As a new operator, you need to understand all the components of your ham radio and even take a repair course.

Because, in the case of the end of the world as we know it, you can’t count on being able to run to the local Radioshack store for spare parts. In this case, a ham operator immediately becomes a ham radio repairman.

Repair skills can be obtained by attending ham radio conventions, reading electronic repair books, joining a ham radio forum and asking for help from local HAM radio operators.

How to Set Up Your Ham Radio Studio

You want to organize your ham radio studio to get good results.

This includes connecting to a dedicated power source and antenna placement.

You should also plan a backup power supply with a battery bank, generators, and solar energy. Without a reliable backup power plan, you might have a ham radio but it won’t be ready for survival.

Mobile HAM RadioKnow How to Set Up a Portable Ham Radio Operation

Serious survivalists preparing for large-scale emergencies own at least one ham radio (a portable one, a high-powered stationary one, or both).

A portable unit can come in a variety of sizes, but it should be small enough to operate on a battery and fit in one’s bug out bag.

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Having communications on the go or in your bug out vehicle is a tremendous advantage in survival.

For example, a hurricane will require a mass evacuation of a region’s population, and you won’t be able to rely on your usual studio set up. Instead, you’ll want a radio you can take with you on the go.

An easy upgrade to your portable unit is a better antenna. Swap the default antenna out with this one to transmit and receive at further distances.

Also, consider getting a radio chest harness to wear your communications while on the move by foot.

Establishing Your Survival Radio Network

As you become more proficient with your ham radio, invest in developing a global network of fellow survivalists.

Ham radio operators are the first old school “social network.” In this instance, your radio “social network” may be the one that saves your life.

Practice Going Off Grid

Learning how to operate a survival radio is of little use during an emergency if you don’t practice. And not just any practice, you need to replicate real world situations.

Come up with a few hypothetical situations and try to recreate these scenarios in practice sessions.

Maybe you lose power; do your backup off grid systems work?

You only have two minutes to pack up and go; are you ready to move that fast and take your radio equipment with you?

These are conditions you should practice regularly.

Learn Even If You Don’t Have the Equipment

Since you’re serious about survival you need to own a survival radio. However, if funds are tight and you can’t buy one today, you should still learn how to operate one.

If the global communication network is down people will still need to be able to communicate with each other. To share intelligence information such as evacuation locations, medical aid stations, threats or meet up locations.

Getting news updates and critical survival intelligence is highly valuable. And your ability to get this intelligence depends on your ability to communicate with others.

So at the very least get a hand crank solar radio, so you can listen in to local intel.

While the mainstream public may not see the need for survival radios, this view will change after SHTF. Those that survive are those who prepare.

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Photo Credits: Top & License / Club / Gear / Mobile


  1. Ron Harding says

    As a licensed amateur radio operator, I find it interesting that you don’t say anything about field day! an annual event that clubs and individuals participate in to run their ham gear off of emergency power / generators from state parks / remote locations over the course of a weekend as a friendly competition to see how many contacts can be logged on given frequency bands and modes of operation. Although repeater networks are desirable(regional networks are can be accessed world wide as repeaters are linked together for talk nets, and vital, this is not the only avenue available to us. Consider HF(shortwave) and all with respect to many different modes of operation, CW, Voice, RTTY, and other digital modes as well.
    Let’s not leave out the new one DSTAR, world wide access possible with an FM-N HT. There are around 800 DSTAR capable repeaters world wide. the new HTs have GPS receivers built in so you can see from you current location which DSTAR repeaters you could have access to if needed.

    there are talknets on 80 meter / 160 meter bands as well which you could also access using a 100W radio, and a simple dipole antenna. so at field day, antennas are shot into the trees with bow and arrow in order to gain advantage of level above ground.
    field day just ended, June 27-28 this year;

    My two cents

    Ron Harding
    formerly KA7SNX
    formerly DA1OU
    Bay Point, CA

    • Just In Case Jack says

      I’m admittedly very green when it comes to ham radio, but I also have recently realized the amazing survival communications aspect and I’m now all in. I hope to be a seasoned pro in a few years…in the meantime, thank you for taking the time to share you knowledge with me and the entire Skilled Survival community. I’ve marked my calendar as well and plan to attend field day next year.


  2. says

    I ordered 2 ham radios, , Thinking that I could use it as a cb with my family. The radios are portable, with extra long antenna;s , Also with replaceable battery packs. Now I need to start on How to start.. I want to use the radios in case of an emergency., The sooner I become knowledgeable , the better. I live in Castle rock , Co 80104. Baofeng UV 5R + plus.

    • Just In Case Jack says

      Here’s an article where I discuss EMP preparedness:
      And here’s one where I discuss EMP Survival:


  3. Stacy says

    Just a quick FYI. There is a way to forgo the first two licenses. It’s not open to all person’s though. Military members who have/had an MOS specifically for radio communications can test for amateur. It is specified radio communications. MOSs that are considered communications such as comm maintenance, wire comm, or comm center are excluded.

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