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What are the advantages of ham radio during a disaster?

what are the advantages of using ham radio in a disaster

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The grim reality of not being able to use cellphones and/or the internet during an emergency lead me to investigate forms of radio communication. One that featured readily on prepper blogs and forums is ham (or amateur) radio.

Being new to prepping ham radio is something I wanted to make a priority to learn about as it presents as an essential alternative to conventional ways of communicating.


This lead me to ask the question: what are the advantages of ham radio during a disaster?

  • Ham radio does not rely on pre-established communication grids and massive info-structure to communicate
  • You only need 3 things to make a ham radio work
    • power – you can source from batteries or from a generator
    • a ham radio device 

    • accessible antennae

  • Ham radio spectrum is huge with millions of channels to tune in to
  • Ham radio can be portable, not limiting you to stay in one location to communicate

What exactly is ham radio?

Amateur Radio, or ham radio is a noncommercial but licensed radio service which uses allocated frequencies which are not being used by things like AM and FM radio.

It allows radio enthusiasts to provide emergency communications, improve their technical skills and even broaden their horizons by having discussions across national country borders. However, it perhaps doesn’t have the coolest reputation when it comes to hobbies.

using ham radio in a emergency

It is known for being super technical, complicated and potentially expensive.

However, the practical advantages of ham radio far outweigh these reasons not to get started. As preppers we need a way to communicate when SHTF and ham radio ticks a lot of boxes.

You might come across people being referred to as ‘hams’ – ham radio operators are called ‘hams’. Here’s links to the relevant associations for ham radio:

National Association of Amatuer Radio (US) – http://www.arrl.org/

Radio Society of Great Britain (UK) – http://rsgb.org/main/get-started-in-amateur-radio/ 

What are the other types of radio?

Here’s a list of some other types of radio so when you come across them on your reading journey learning about radio, you know what they are:

  • CB – Citizen’s Band
  • FRS – Family Radio Service
  • GMRS – General Mobile Radio Service
  • MURS – Multi-Use Radio Service

These generally differ in their legislation that the government sets out including things like the block of radio frequency that they utilise, their power limitations, antennae restrictions, the use of repeaters etc.

Why is HAM radio the top choice for preppers during a disaster situation?

Ham radio is by far the best choice for preppers because it allows great advantages in equipment, the range of devices and it’s flexibility in ways to use ham.

It’s by far the best choice for preppers because:

    • using ham radio you can listen to and communicate with emergency services
    • a much wider range of frequencies is available to you using ham- other types of radio can get overcrowded
    • ham has more power – handheld units are between 5-8 watts and base stations can go up to 1500 watts
    • you can use high frequency bands which have a much longer range

With all of these benefits the cost of both time and money is minimal. You can pick up a Boafeng radio from Amazon for about $30 and the cost of the license exam is $15.

They eliminated having to learn morse code and this makes passage to entry much easier. The advice is that most people could easily pass after just a few days of study.

Why do I need a license to use ham radio?

When looking at some of the discussions online about amateur radio, many seem to laugh at the idea of getting a ham radio license – why would you need a license when SHTF?!

I guess you can understand this logic, but there are lots of reasons why you should take the test as part of your preparedness plan.

ham radio license certificate

It’s the law. The FCC decided long ago to allocate different parts of the radio spectrum for different purposes.

For example, the fire department, police, military, air traffic control all get assigned different frequencies. Likewise, amateur radio is also assigned to certain broadcast frequencies.

This is so that the different uses don’t interfere with one another potentially causing mass confusion in emergency situations. If you transmit on certain assigned frequencies you are breaking the law and it’s understandable why. If you endanger public safety by interrupting deliberately or through sheer ignorance, critical communications it can quickly get very serious.

Ham radios are not the same as walkie talkies and CB radios. The truth is, it’s not like you can pull a ham radio out of the box and start using it.  They can be tricky pieces of equipment, even for someone tech savvy. And, even if you do manage to listen in, there’s a world of refinement to get correct in order to transmit….not to mention etiquette to get right.

There’s so much more to using and operating a radio correctly. From being competent enough that you can tune in to the correct frequency to listen, to knowing how to use the radio so you can actually be heard when transmitting.

And, that’s even before you consider the strict rules of what frequencies are illegal to broadcast on.

By getting your ham license it’s the perfect way to learn the basics and make sure you can adequately operate your radio, both for receiving and transmitting communications. It’s about the learning process and gaining a skill that could prove invaluable.

There are now many examples in disaster situations where cell phones were overloaded by the volume of usage at one time, where Ham radio operators stepped in to help communicate and their efforts proved to be invaluable to those involved.

Is it easy to get a HAM radio license?

In the USA and UK you need to attend a test center in order to take your HAM radio exam to get licensed.  There is no requirement for formal training, self study is perfectly acceptable.

However, in the UK you must complete several practical assessments and be signed off by a RSGB registered assessor before sitting the test.

Also, if you’re not someone who usually picks up electrical devices and knows instinctively how to figure it out, it’s probably a good idea to look for some classes.

what are the advantages of using ham radio in a disaster

There are 3 levels of license (both in the USA and UK) and these generally go up incrementally in power of the radio you can use and expand by level on the frequency range you will have access to.

In the US the levels are: Technician, General and Amateur Extra License. You can find all the details of the different levels of license and what they allow here: http://www.arrl.org/ham-radio-licenses

In the UK the levels are: Foundation, Intermediate and Full License. Details of the UK licenses can be found here: http://rsgb.org/main/clubs-training/for-students/

These sites will show you where an exam centre is located near you:

US – http://www.arrl.org/find-an-amateur-radio-license-exam-session

UK –  http://rsgb.org/main/clubs-training/course-exam-finder/

Can I listen to HAM radio without a license?

Yes! In fact you don’t even need a radio to do this. To get a feel for radio, you can listen online and get some practice tuning into different frequencies.

Try here to have a listen: http://rsgb.org/main/operating/web-sdr-receiver/

In conclusion

Get a license.

Study and take the exam and practice with your radio so that you can feel comfortable in knowing that you have gained a valuable new survival skill. Tick it off the long list of things to do on your preparedness plan.

By having the skills to own and operate a ham radio, you are prepared to help in times of a local emergency when conventional lines of communication fail.

If ever the poo does in fact hit the fan, you’ll be able to educate those around you how to use ham radios for day to day communication. You’ll have an excellent way to communicate with family and friends, listen to emergency broadcasts and communicate over state lines and international borders.

It could be a vital way to connect to the outside world in times when uncertainty rules.

Do you have a ham radio license? What’s your experience of it? Let me know in the comments below.

If you’re new to prepping, I hope this article is helpful in pointing you in the right direction when it comes to getting your communications prepped. Researching it certainly has for me!

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