Friday, February 6, 2015

Why Should a Doomsday Prepper Get a HAM License?

I see posts on lots of boards from people who think they have no need of a HAM license because when the SHTF they can go on the air without worry about licenses. It isn't that simple.

Others worry that getting a license will make them a target for thieves who use the publicly available license information to figure out who has valuable radio equipment to steal. Perhaps they worry that the government will use the license list to confiscate the radio equipment once martial law is imposed.

If you think not having a license "hides" you somehow from government notice, I think you are dreaming.  The government would have a great deal of difficulty confiscating all the transmitter equipment from licensed hams in the country, even Russia has hams now.  An experienced ham can cobble together a transmitter from a few parts that fits in an Altoids can and will reach anywhere in the world.  Therefore, I doubt the government would even try.  Transmitting during a situation where the government has suspended the right to transmit would require some special consideration that licensed ham operators would be far more likely to know and get away with than someone who just bought a radio and wrapped it in tinfoil expecting to use it post SHTF.

Three Categories of SHTF Radio Needs
1   Tactical communications.  This is information for the next hour or day and can likely be accomplished with handheld or mobile FM radios in the 2 meter/70 centimeter range.  On the suface, there isn't as much to learn about this mode since it takes place within your current horizon (around 5 miles or less for handheld units).  Getting a license and some experience can help you learn how to tweak antenna systems to get more mileage and set up ad-hoc repeater systems to extend your range.
2   Strategic communications (2 way).  To plan your next week or month, you need to be in touch with people within a few hundred miles of yourself.  For this you need HF radios using Single Side Band (SSB) and Near Vertical Incidence Skywave (NVIS).  The band selection for this is critical and depends on time of day, solar activity and other conditions that you have no hope of understanding without both studying the licensing materials and practicing.  For an amateur, even one with limited experience, this is not such an obstacle even though the equipment required is rather simple and the antenna system can just be a piece of wire, placement of that wire becomes critical for NVIS operation.
3   Strategic news gathering (shortwave listening) can be accomplished by anyone with a broadband receiver and some wire, although the right eqiupment can make it more successful.  This requires neither license, training or very much experience at all.  While this type of radio use will likely be very important, rebuilding our nation will have to start from the local communities outward and without two-way communications, there is little chance of forming alliances with anyone beyond shouting distance.

If your goal is tactical communications with your next door neighbors, then get a blister pack radio from the neighborhood sporting goods store.

If your goal is to listen to the stronger shortwave stations in the world, then get a shortwave receiver which is available all over the place.

I recommend you build a strategy based upon what your personal goals are.  My goals are not for everyone, but increasing the number of people equipped to communicate effectively both strategically and tactically is a big part of my planning.


  1. Very nice article. The only caveats I can toss in is that although ham radio has a low barrier to entry, the learning curve is rather steep once you are in the door. I know preppers who bought a $40 Chinarig radio after passing an easy ham test and think they need not pursue the topic any further. They have no concept of what being a radio operator really is and somehow think the proper wisdom will magically come to them when the hour of doom arrives.

    As for the "Altoids tin" radios, your statement is true but a bit oversimplified. Those QRP project rigs are intended more as an experiment than to be a practical working radio. And of course, you'll need a receiver to go with that breath mint transmitter.

    Larger prepping groups should have a dedicated, full-time ham who is highly qualified and equipped to set up effective communications without many outside resources.

    Anyway, very nice blog you have here. I wish there was a way to subscribe without having a Blogspot account.

    My website is and I invite you to stop by sometime. It is not a single-issue blog but I hope you find it worthwhile.

    1. I could not agree with you more. Including the point about the Altoids tin. My point in bringing it up is that experienced hams can find a way to get on the air. I feel the government can find me anyway, so the OPSEC I worry most about is those who will attempt to prey upon those who are better prepared.
      The whole point of the article is that so many preppers (and lots of new hams) pick up a Chinese hand-held (I have several), find them easy to use and decide they can put a check mark in the radio communications column.
      I divide the comms into three categories in order to urge people to consider their own needs. Certainly EVERY group needs an experienced ham (I'm talking about the experimenter, tinker, antenna mad hams that dwell in the HF bands). I think that those of us who are left behind, will have to regroup and reform communities. Establishing trade relationships with other communities requires two-way comms, so any group larger than a household is going to need at least one experienced HF operator.
      The more biased the major news networks become, the more we have to turn to worldwide communication options for our information. World-band shortwave radio sets are inexpensive and should be practiced with in advance. Otherwise, a local schill government could go on the air pretending to be a european broadcast.