How To Have A Survival Radio Setup You Can Be Proud Of
In our modern society, what’s the first thing most people reach for in an emergency?
Their bug out bag? No, way. (remember, I said “most people”, not those of us who are prepared).
A survival knife? Unfortunately No.
Their survival radio? Probably not.
Most people pull out their cell phone because it’s our societies fastest way to call for help. And that makes perfect sense since nearly 95% of all US adults currently own a cell phone.
And there’s no shame in utilizing this modern technology. If the cell phone network is operating as normal, by all means, dial away.
However, what most people don’t realize is their cell phone is an extremely unreliable mass emergency communication device.
So in today’s article, we’ll be covering the following survival radio topics:
- Never Trust Cell
- The Best Survival Option – Amateur Radio
- Amateur Radio License
- Ham Radio Clubs
- Amateur Radio Equipment
- Ham Radio Setup
- Best Entry Level Ham Radios
- More Survival Radio Options
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Never Trust Cell
Even with a cell phone signal booster, you still don’t want to rely solely on a cell network as your only means of survival communication.
For small, individual emergencies (such as fender-benders or house fires), cell phones are great, but for widespread or large 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 begin dialing for help at the exact same time cell phone networks jam. They’re not designed for that level of call volume.
All cell phone networks are limited by a design capacity – similar to how highways are limited by a design capacity. Once traffic hits a certain level, you end up with a massive traffic jam.
Large-scale emergency events take the cell networks well 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 their family to let them know they were alright. Plus, everyone outside of Boston who heard about the event was trying to call to see if their loved ones were safe.
Hence, no one could call in, and no one could call out – cell network gridlock.
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.
It’s it’s not just cell tower jam-ups that make cell phone communication unreliable in emergencies.
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.
You pull out your cell phone to get help only to quickly discover you’re holding an expensive paperweight. That’s why cell phones should never be your only means of survival communication.
The bottom line is the cell phone is a low-reliability survival communication device.
You need to invest in a survival radio.
What About Cell Network Backup Systems?
Ok, maybe your still not convinced. We have smart people building these cell phone networks and they’ve put in place back up systems, right?
Yes, but in a long-term electrical outage, the cell phone networks will eventually cease to function entirely.
Most cell towers do have a backup battery system in place. These battery/generator systems keep them functional for short-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 as well.
Basically, for any long-term power outage, cell networks may become entirely useless.
The Best Survival Option – Amateur Radio
Now that you understand what’s not an acceptable survival communication option (cell phone) – the obvious next question should be “what is?”
I’ll cover what I consider the best option for a prepper radio. Then follow that up with some runner-up options as well.
Amateur (ham) Radio
Once 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.
Ham radios will become the only long-range communication network in a broken world.
Why? Because they have the longest communication range and the lowest dependency on grid power.
Yes, the radio’s themselves need power, but as an emergency communication device, many ham operators plan for that ahead of time.
Many have invested in personal backup power system like solar power generators.
So when the cell networks are down, and grid power is down, I guarantee you a dedicated group of ham radio operators will still be chatting away.
During the hurricane Katrina aftermath, when cell networks were down and power was out, amateur radio operators stepped in to relay emergency communications.
So locally, and even regionally, ham radio operators will be in touch and talking even in a worst-case disaster.
However, for long-distance communication, you’ll need repeaters to boost the signal. And repeaters need power as well.
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.
If you want a basic understanding of how ham radio works, watch this excellent video by TinHatRanch:
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 Your Amateur Radio License or Not…
Ultimately I’m going to argue in favor of getting your license but will share the argument against it first.
The argument against getting a license is in a real survival emergency, permits won’t 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%.
The other issue with licensing is privacy. In order to get licensed, you’ll need to provide your name, address, and some other personal information. Some people (especially those who are preparing) don’t want to provide these details. They prefer to keep their personal information private.
However, I believe operating a ham radio with 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 you should get your license asap so you can begin practicing.
The best ham radio operators have years of experience and reliable gear. Some are able to 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 practice to perfect this skill.
You shouldn’t wait; it’s time you got your license.
How 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 basic levels of licenses available:
- Technician License
- General License
- Extra 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.
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 official.
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 exception would be made, but again, this friction makes practicing more challenging.
Once 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.
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.
Here’s a video from TinHatRanch about getting your HAM Amateur Radio License:
Join A Local Ham Radio Club
If you serious about getting your license, 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.
ARRL.org is a website that can help you locate a local club.
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Learn The Basic Ham Radio Equipment
You’re solely 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 an emergency, a ham operator immediately becomes a ham radio repairman.
Also, you can use YouTube to watch others fix and repair their old ham radios.
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.
You need a backup energy supply for all your families survival need anyways- not just for communications.
That’s why you should check out this new backup power solution called The Patriot Power Generator.
Here are a few more things to think about as you begin setting up your ham radio operations:
Favorite Entry-Level Ham Radios
BaoFeng BF-F8HP (UV-5R 3rd Gen) 8-Watt Dual Band Two-Way Radio
Having communications on the go or in your bug out vehicle is a tremendous advantage in survival.
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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.
This will allow you to move tactically while still being able to communicate.
Make sure to check out this detailed review video of the BaoFeng BF-F8HP as well:
Yaesu Original FT-450D HF/50MHz Compact Amateur Base Transceiver
If you want a unit with a bit more power (but not as portable) check out the Yaesu Orginal FT-450D amateur radio.
Its a solid setup for those who are new to amateur radio.
Here’s an overview of the Yaesu Orginal FT-450D radio:
Practice Going Off Grid
Learning how to operate an amateur 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.
You lose power; do your backup off-grid systems work?
If you have something like a Patriot Power Generator, do you know how to use it to power your radio systems?
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 the type of conditions you should practice regularly.
More Survival Radio Options
Ok, maybe at this point your a bit overwhelmed and intimidated by amateur radio. I get it, it can be a complex and the equipment can be costly.
So you might be wondering, “is there an option for those who don’t want to go down the ham radio rabbit hole?”
Yes, of course, there are few more survival radio alternatives as well.
Everyone knows about walkie-talkies. Many of us used them as kids to communicate with friends or family at short distances.
They’re also used throughout the US in manufacturing and construction crews. They’re perfect for communication between departments and operators.
So if you’re interested in local survival communications, invest in a high-quality set of walkie-talkies.
If your interested in loca2-way communication but would prefer to still use your cellphone then you should check out this new gadget – The goTenna.
The goTenna allows for local encrypted cell phone communication while bypassing the need for cell towers.
It’s like carrying around your own mini personalized cell phone tower.
Make sure to get two because both people need one in order to communicate via cell.
Hand Crank Solar Radio
Another option is to get a hand crank solar radio, so you can listen in to local radio stations. The biggest downside here is it’s a “listen only” device.
There’s no 2-way communication, you’re just tuning in to what’s going out from emergency broadcasts.
However, I really like that this radio has 2 ways to charge it without using electrical power.
Crank the small generator to generate enough power to listen for a few hours. Or leave use the sun to recharge the battery via solar.
Either way, this little survival radio ensures you can listen to the major radio broadcasts and the weather stations no matter what.
Katio Pocket Radio
If you want to pack and carry a “listen only” survival radio, then you have to get the Kaito Pocket Radio.
It’s the smallest, lightest survival radio option I’ve ever come across!
Prepper Radio Wrap Up
So while the mainstream public may not see the need for survival radios, this view will change after SHTF.
When it comes to self-reliance and making good decisions in a crisis, intelligence is key. You need to get your hands on as much information as possible to increase your odds of survival.
You should definitely invest in an amateur radio setup for long range 2-way communication but don’t forget about some listen only radios as well. The more intelligence and communication the better.
Those who survive are those who prepare.
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Remember: Prepare, Adapt and Overcome,
“Just In Case” Jack
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