Communication in SHTF can be a great force multiplier. There are a lot of uses for ham radio in the preparedness community. From news and information about the general state of affairs to radio equipped patrols, communications can be key. Regardless of your reasons for wanting radio communications, buying a few handy talkies and packing them away in a faraday cage just doesn’t cut it. Here are some reasons why you should, and how you can get your license.
First, let’s start off by addressing a few misguided statements we’ve all heard.
An EMP will fry your radios and make them useless. This is not necessarily the case. Recently, there have been some tests done that show ham radios being subjected to an emp pulse. Out of the four that were tested, only one was affected beyond needing a power cycle. If an emp is a concern, faraday bags are available to protect your equipment.
You can’t power a radio when the grid is down. Again, this is absolutely not the case. There are a number of ways to generate power. Many hams already have alternative power sources for their gear as part of their shack. Even when power is out for extended periods, hams will be on the air!
You should be able to survive with a knife and some snare wire. Gadgets are useless.
While it is a great idea to learn how to survive on minimal gear, not every emergency situation calls for such drastic measures. An ice storm that causes a power failure for a few weeks would hardly be my cue to retreat to the wilderness with only my edc kit or bob.
Should I Get My License?
Before you go out and start buying radios, you should note that it is illegal in Canada to own an amateur radio without a license to operate it. This also means that what you buy will depend on your license level. A basic license would not allow you to own an HF radio as it does not allow for operation on the HF bands (unless you get a basic with honors, but more on licenses later).
Another big reason to get a license is that you will know what you are doing. Simply turning a radio on and talking into it will never get you anywhere, unless you are extremely lucky. Using higher powered HF radios without proper training can actually cause severe burns if you were to be touching an antenna while transmitting. Safety is a topic to itself in an amateur radio course. In addition, you will learn what bands should work well at different times.
Getting Your License
Licensing is as simple as passing a multiple choice exam. The only problem is it isn’t that simple. Make no mistake, passing an exam is not trivial. You will need to dedicate several hours to learning, studying, and taking practice exams. There are several ways to do this.
Club Courses – many amateur radio clubs offer a course. Usually, the study materials, exam, and a one year membership to the club are included and cost vary between a donation to $200. Expect to spend about 2 hours twice per week at the course location plus studying time at home. You can look for courses in your area here.
Online Course – There is a course available online here. This course is designed by and almost identical to the course I took. The cost is $100, but you will have to find an examiner to take the test. Exams are often given at hamfests, and will sometimes cost extra. For those that prefer, this course is also available in French.
Self Study – Hamstudy.com offers an inexpensive way to study for your exam. Cost is $20 – $35, depending on how long you want access to the course. I would suggest the 90 day package for $35.00. You will also need to find a way to take the exam on your own. This site also offers the Advanced course.
There are 3 license levels for Canadian Hams.
Basic – This is the first license you must get. A pass mark of 70% will get you on the air for any frequency above 30Mhz. Esentially, you get to operate VHF and UHF, or the 2 meter, 70 centimeter, and a few other relatively newer bands. These bands are used for local communications and require line of site to be useful.
Basic with Honours – scoring a mark of 80% or better on the basic exam also allows you access to frequencies below 30 Mhz, or the HF bands, but with an output power restriction. Even with these power restrictions, a well set up station with a good antenna and good propagation conditions, worldwide communications are possible.
Advanced – Passing the Advanced exam with 70% or better gives you full access to all frequencies in the ham spectrum with the maximum power allowed by law. It also gives amateurs the ability to install repeaters, design and build their own transmitting equipment, and sponsor a club station.
Morse Code – Morse code is no longer required to get a license. Most amateurs that study this license do so to become examiners, although knowing morse code isn’t a bad idea.
The Bands And What They Do
UHF – ultra high frequency. The most popular band in UHF is the 70cm band. Used for local communications and especially helpful in high density areas such as in an urban environment. UHF is often used by law enforcement and other emergency services.
VHF – very high frequency. The most popular of all ham bands for preppers is the 2 meter band. Useful for local communications but can be problematic in high density environments. Useful for hunting groups, homestead comms and prepper groups eve in moderately forested areas.
HF – high frequency. This grouping comprises of may bands from 10 meter to 160 meter. Mostly used for regional and worldwide communications, although some local uses are possible. These bands get tricky when deciding which to use as propagation is dependant on atmospheric conditions.
License Free Options
Although there are no ham bands that allow for license free operation, there are a few options that are worth mentioning.
FRS/GMRS – family radio service / general mobile radio service. These 2 bands operate in UHF. With very low power restrictions, these radios are quite limited for range. Often used for camping or convoy comms.
CB – citizen band. Yup, they are still around. CB was popular in the 60s and 70s with truckers who wanted to talk with each other on the road. Limited power restrictions also limit CB to local comms. However, being in the HF range of frequencies, CB can often travel very long distances, especially at night, however this is more luck than science and should not be relied on.
MURS – multi use radio service. There is currently no MURS service in Canada and this seems to be the case for the foreseeable future. Using MURS in Canada can lead to interference with commercial radio services used by delivery companies, taxis, etc. DO NOT USE MURS IN CANADA UNLESS YOU EXPECT TO BE TRACKED AND FINED!
Source: CPN Blog