Choosing the right communication method is an extremely important decision. Get the wrong style and you risk wasting potentially hundreds of dollars or worse, have it fail during an emergency when you need it most.
While HAM radio use has fallen out of popularity within the mainstream, it still remains one of the most powerful options you can choose for off-grid, emergency, or routine communications. HAM radios are one of the most functional and versatile options you can reach for when traditional methods of communication go down, and with a small but dedicated user base, the level or support and information available with them cannot be beaten.
Why Use HAM Radio?
As we saw in a recent article, HAM radios can be used very effectively for a range of applications, from listening to music to broadcasting your own emergency transmissions during a crisis.
It’s important to note that although HAM can accomplish these tasks, many other devices are equally capable and will often do a better job, so why choose HAM?
While there are many reasons you may choose HAM over another device, one of the most important is HAMs reliability.
As HAM radios are mostly self-contained devices, they are able to remain operational even with the loss of modern infrastructure. This makes HAM radios more reliable than even satellite phones, which may potentially be crippled during an international conflict.
There are exceptions where HAM radios may fail, such as during an EMP strike or if relay stations are knocked out, but in most cases, as HAM systems are autonomous, even a disabled relay station will still allow you to set up your own equipment and broadcast a signal.
HAM radios are also relatively simple in their construction, meaning even if one were to break, they can be repaired relatively easily, even after serious damage from electrical surges or physical damage.
This reason alone makes HAM radio worth it to many users as a survival tool when normal infrastructure fails, but there are many other reasons you may choose to invest in HAM radios.
What Other Factors Make HAM Worth it?
So, what other reasons make HAM radios worth investing in and including in your bug out bag or communications plan?
While HAM radios can be expensive, especially once you start looking at upgrading items such as amplifiers, sound cards and antennas, entry level equipment is incredibly affordable.
Handheld units start for as little as $30, while base stations can be picked up new for $100.
You may choose to later invest in upgrading your equipment to a much more expensive systems as you learn more about the equipment but for most new to the hobby, these units are more than effective.
More importantly, once you have purchased your initial set-up and gone through the F.C.C. licensing process, HAM radios are completely free to operate.
This makes them a much more cost-effective option for off-grid communications than other alternatives, such as satellite phones, which typically come with expensive subscription plans (which start at around $50 per month).
Another reason that makes HAM radios worth investing in is their long-range capabilities.
For most people looking to get into HAM radios with UHF/VHF frequencies, your range is relatively limited to only a few miles with line-of-sight between users as these signals are easily blocked by obstacles such as buildings or trees.
With that said, as you become more comfortable using HAM radios and increase your capabilities to include HF broadcasts (3-30MHz), your range increases exponentially.
These high-frequency signals are able to bounce off of the ionosphere before being directed back to Earth to be picked up hundreds of miles away from your original broadcast location.
Once you add in the use of repeater stations, a HAM radio with the correct equipment will truly let you communicate around the world, making it very easy to make new connections or source the latest pieces of intelligence.
Very few other off-grid systems (such as CB radios) offer the range support long-range communications, giving HF HAM radio transmissions the edge over most of the competition.
Being able to broadcast and receive transmissions from around the world is incredibly useful, but HAM radios allow far more than simple voice transmissions.
The simplest way you can do this is through Morse code. We’ve discussed this previously when looking at how you can increase the security of your broadcasts but sending Morse code through HAM broadcasts is incredibly powerful.
Not only does Morse code offer a very practical means of increasing your broadcasts security, ensuring that only the intended recipient can understand your message, but it also offers a way to practice Morse code, which can be a very useful itself in almost any SHTF scenario.
This versatility only increases further when you pair your HAM system with a computer and appropriate sound card, making it possible to make full use of the radios digital broadcast capabilities.
These added accessories are by no means necessary to broadcast with HAM systems, but can substantially improve your device capabilities, namely by allowing emails (with attachments) to be sent remotely over HAM digital signals.
HAM radios earn their place in almost any loadout or bug-out-plan by being extremely functional and affordable option that can be employed in a range of circumstances while giving you almost all the control over their power.
How to Get the Most Out of your HAM?
Out of the box, HAM radios are extremely powerful. This is especially true with handheld units, such as the Baofeng UV-5R, which are ready to broadcast immediately with no setup or modifications, but what if you want more from your device?
The first change you may look to make with your radio is upgrading the antenna. Various antennas are available depending on your requirements.
Personally, I am a fan of flexible whip antennas as they can be easily collapsed and stashed away when not in use, but you should look for the best style that meets your broadcast requirements and use cases.
While improving your equipment is one way to increase your broadcast capabilities, the most important way you can improve your experience with HAM radios is through training and studying.
As you begin to learn more about how HAM radios work and how to use them, it is easier to operate your radio over larger broadcast distances such as through repeater stations.
Like most survival and preparedness skills, the more you can learn and understand, the more capable you become while guaranteeing you are able to get the most out of your tools.
Knowledge is also critical for allowing you to not only know how to use your current tools, but also determining where weaknesses exist.
It is important to select your equipment to make sure each piece is suitable for one another so each piece can function at their maximum effectiveness. An increased knowledge of how they work can make shopping for upgrades much easier.
Finally, you should look to get involved with other enthusiasts near you. There are many local groups that can help you in this that are not only a great opportunity to meet new others interested in the hobby, but also a place to learn new and extremely valuable skills.
Local groups can be excellent for meeting people, but they can also serve as a great way to test your capabilities, with regular competitions for a range of skills such as tracking a HAM signal.
Whatever method you choose to get more involved in the world of HAM radios, your radio is likely far more capable than you may originally think, so get involved and start experimenting to truly unlock the full potential of your device.
HAM radios are incredibly capable tools that belong in almost any preparedness loadout. Very few other communications methods are as effective in such a wide range of environments and conditions.
While it’s true frequencies are not as active as they once were in the 90’s, there is still a very dedicated group of users that can be found across the world, that can help make sure you have the absolute best experience possible with your device.
Have we convinced you to take the dive and start investing in HAM radio? Be sure to check out some of our other articles exploring the world of HAM broadcasting, including a look into the security of HAM transmissions or our beginner’s guide.