Getting a License
I became a ham and prepper about 20 years ago. I had always been interested in amateur radio, but the code held me back. In 1999 Wayne Green was on the art Bell show, and I found out that there was a no-code license (Now all U.S. licenses are no code.), so I joined the local radio club where my friend was the president. Within a year, I was an Extra (the highest class of amateur radio operator) and also was fairly well prepared for a year or more if SHTF. In the last 20 years, I have been the president of two radio clubs, am an aRRL VE (with 74 VE testing sessions to my credit), and helped design Logbook of the World. Throughout this time, I have been prepping and now live on a farm, with our church retreat only a mile away. I have enough solar energy to power my house.
I have also heard that during an emergency, I won’t need a license. There is no such exception to FCC Part 97. Some misquote para. 97.403 and 97.405 as justification, but 97.403 makes it clear that the exception is for the immediate safety of human life and immediate protection of property.
#2. Call signs are in one of ten call areas based upon where you live. Since call areas are fairly large, your call area isn’t a dead giveaway of your location, but it won’t hurt to have a vanity call with a different call area than where you live. Vanity calls are now free and aren’t hard to get. Of course, anyone that has the FCC database will know close to where you are at.
Techs have very limited HF privileges; General and Extra have quite a bit more. What HF privileges Techs have aren’t really useful during SHTF. So if you want to talk more than a few miles without the aid of a repeater, then you need a General class license.
#1. 6 Meters 50-54 Mhz
This is the heavy lifting band of amateur radio. Most amateur traffic is on this band. Very few people reading this won’t be within the range of a 2-meter repeater. a repeater is ham speak for a station that receives on one frequency and transmits on another frequency to extend the range to tens or hundreds of miles. However, don’t count on repeaters being up after TSHTF.
It is mainly a nighttime band when it can reach thousands of miles if conditions are right and hundreds of miles during normal conditions. It is mainly used in winter when thunderstorms are at a minimum as the lighting causes interference, called QRN in ham speak.
#4. 20 (14.0-14.35 Mhz, 17(18.068-18.168), 15(21.0-21.45), 12(24.89-24.99 Mhz), and 10 Meters (28.0-29.7 Mhz)
This is something most people don’t think about. When you press that transmit button, you are sending up a flare for miles (maybe hundreds of miles) saying, “Here I am.” This is done with Radio Direction Finding (RDF), which hams call fox hunting, and they do it for sport.
From the time the SHTF until people start to get hungry and gangs form, there will be a grace period when you can transmit without a lot of concern. However, at some point, the zombie gangs will learn to hunt foxes. It isn’t hard to learn either.
#3. Public service VUHF, HaM VHF
So, if there is a SHTF situation and someone is calling on the radio for help the Hams gonna first checkout if de caller has a license? and if not,.. sorry sir, have a nice day
My hope for you is, there comes never a situation in your life you’r asking someone else for help, maybe they asking you if you have some sort of license or permission to do so.
I understand very much what you are saying about emergency help and checking first. It does seem very heartless and cruel to be checking first but here is the situation. We can be heavily fined, loss of equipment or even go to jail for communications involving a bogus station.
In our normal everyday life we have so many communication avenues to use that it has become uncommon for an emergency call via Ham radio especially since cell phones. When it does happen the Ham is going to ask for your location and then will call via cellphone for an EMS unit or police to go to your location don’t expect the Ham to show up at the location. We are really not that cold hearted. almost all base station Hams are computer oriented and have it turned on. I do. It takes less than 10 seconds to check out a call sign and to who it belongs.
Sorry to say, that even under normal conditions today, to me it seems 10 times more dangerous out there than it was 65 years ago. Maybe because I grew up on a farm and now live in a big 260 K population city.
@Storm. I spent most of my working life in code or law enforcement and thus fully appreciate the need for such limitations to smooth out the complexities of crowded populations. HOWEVER, in a SHTF situation,none of that governmental control will apply, or even exist as most of the military, federal, state, county, and local law and code enforcement enforcers will either no longer exist, or will like the rest of us, be scrambling too fiercely for survival of selves and families, to be enforcing laws, codes, and regulations. There won’t be any legitimate need for as you state, “We can be heavily fined, loss of equipment or even go to jail for…” Once, IF, a greatly less crowded civilization is restored, then there may be need for some that.
I agree with your sentiment. When SHTF, I would hope that any HaM operator would be hitting the airwaves, if possible, notifying the masses about the current situation. and, if a non-licensed operator found a radio, the FCC code would have to go flying out the window. Even if you still believed in published rules, ” 97.403 makes it clear that the exception is for the immediate safety of human life and immediate protection of property.”, would be well adhered to by the simple fact that SHTF!!
Our small prepper community is widespread. Safety in numbers can only be achieved by the ability to communicate. While I don’t currently plan on obtaining a HaM radio, I did download the FCC database. With names and addresses in my area, I will be able to contact the “licensed” operators for information. and, if those operators are no longer among the living, the possibility exists that I would be able to make contact if necessary.
My intentions are to survive, with no ill will meant towards anybody. Other people may use the database as a possible source for doing harm to those that may have been diligently prepping. Think of the ant and the grasshopper story.. this world is FULL of grasshoppers.
I tend to agree, Tigron. If the government is scrambling to provide food, water and security to the general population or hunkered down covering their own butts, tracking down unlicensed radio transmitters is going to be a very low priority item on the agenda of whatever government is left.
Secondly, everyone, licensed ham or not, is going to be hungry for any news and so will welcome communications with others, whether legal or illegal. If that were not the case, why would so many be interested in news programs on radio and television? In an EOTW scenario, news from any sources, even a bottle in the ocean will be hungrily sought.
It is for that latter reason that it behoves one, if they are interested in keeping in touch after a catastrophic disaster, to become more familiar with radio procedures than merely turning the radio on and inquiring about the weather.
If someone makes a call on a licensed frequency without a callsign asking for help, the same applies. I don’t know if they really need help and just trying to get me to keep transmitting so they can hunt me.
Darryl, this is a really important article. But with respect, Paragraph 1 of your comment above is a classic, unfortunate example of “apples vs. oranges”. Your “3 aM” circumstance involves the possibility of an immediate, proximal threat to life/property, and the other simply does not. and the proximity of a threat counts for a LOT (even in court.)
I invite and welcome your response.
OK, I am a person willing to do anything to survive, I am looking for resources. So I get on the CB and start calling for help. Someone answers. I now know that this person has power, is within a short distance and mostly has other resources that need to survive. With my homemade directional antenna made with 10 ft of coax, a large drink cup wrapped in foil or Pringles can and a CB walkie-talky I can find the exact location once I get them to transmit 2 or more times after I change locations.
Here is what I would do if I was trying to hunt after TSHTF:
1. I would find high grounds
2. I would monitor and record all FRS/GRMS frequencies or CB frequencies.
(I would get LOB (line of barring) on any signals I could.
3. Next day move to another high ground in the same area. Repeat 2.
Hi Darryl. KI6YUK here (though I must have missed your call sign in the article. I don’t wish to be picky, but I think there may be a typo under the section you call “VUHF” (new to me). Under #3, you have “25 meters” down as the wavelength for the 222 MHZ band. I believe it should read “1.25 Meters” yes? a minor detail, but I thought you might want to correct it. Nice article! 73
1. a radio call is not the same as a knock at 3am
2. are you saying liscence holders won’t be desperate and looking to find you, but all unliscenced individuals will be on the air looking to hunt hams via directional receivers?
Come on dude….
If one is an unlicensed radio operator, then the FCC, the CIa, the NSa and every other acronymed federal agency will not have your address unless you believe they are tracking all shortwave radio purchases. an unlicensed radio operator who has not bothered to download the licensed hams’ addresses will not have them either and I suspect will not even know that they are accessible.
In any event, unless the operator knew your exact location, I doubt he would be triangulating on your location. The exception, as you noted would be if and when the government ever gets its act together or if criminal bands realize that they can triangulate on your position and have the necessary skills to do it. But why you you spend a lot of time in chit chat anyway?
In my uninformed opinion, it seems to me there is a significant difference between someone hammering on your door at 0300 and talking briefly to someone even as close as 25 miles away in an end of the world situation.
Besides, if I am broadcasting seeking help from other radio operators in the area, I have not been much of a prepper. I wouldn’t respond to such a call personally. There is an old joke about two hunters and one gets bitten by a poisonous snake and the punch line is, “The Doc says you’re gonna die.” It is such an old joke I think most posters already know it but I think it is apropos to this post.
You radio me that you have gotten bitten by a rattlesnake or are out of food or water and my response is going to be the punch line of the joke unless you were already a member of my group and thus would not be broadcasting in plain English but in code.
If you want to devise a simple but easy code, get a book. You then use a chapter for the month, i.e., Chapter 1 for January, Chapter 2 for February, etc and how many pages into the chapter for the day or any other subdivision such as paragraphs from the beginning of the chapter and then select words from that page for your coded message, using a string of numbers for the words. Each operator on the net has the book. You don’t mark the book up and you just have it in a bookshelf along with other books. It’s like a published one time sheet which is the strongest simple code method ever devised.
In any event, unless one is running a network or attempting to reach distant relatives, FRS or GMRS is more than adequate for neighborhood watch communications. Because it is basically line of sight and is just slightly better than shouting, it is fairly secure. Sure, if someone is on your channel and is line of sight, he may be able to pick up your transmission, but again, using code will help negate his interception. If he can pick you up on FRS, he has got a pretty good idea already that you are close by. It would be even more confusing to someone if you just happened to get a good bounce and your transmission reached as far as Wheeling WV from the PDRK.
I just had to throw that in. Many, many years ago on a clear cold night every once in a while there was a station in Wheeling WV that would get a bounce and you could pick them up on the aM channels. I haven’t heard them in years so I don’t know if they are off the air or not.
Just lurking on shortwave channels doesn’t require a license and doesn’t betray your location and unless the other operator is transmitting in code or via electronically scrambled broadcasts, you can just lurk and listen and potentially gather news for your group without betraying your location.
To triangulate, doesn’t require an exact location. Hams do it as sport.
It also doesn’t require a bunch of special equipment. Just a scanner and direction antenna. The antenna can be made with stuff around the house.
Just google “amateur radio fox hunting”.
Because it is a skill easy to learn and the equipment is easy to find, is why I am concern. That is why I did the analogy of someone knocking on the door. When you transmit it is like sending up a flare or opening the door. That is why I had a section on countermeasures. Don’t think of them as a cell phone, but as emergency communications
Your comment about shortwave and lurking is spot on. However, most shortwave radios do not have a single sideband, which most hams use on HF. all shortwave will need a better antenna than the built-in one.
When I get some time I plan on doing an article on SDR(Software Defined Radios) for preppers. They are very cost effective and make a great prepper radio. However, it does require a computer, which may be a cell phone or table.
Excellent information. I have been a Ham since 1974 and there are many more things to learn than what has been touched upon here. Emergency communications is a very important and mainstay part of Ham radio and in my opinion all preppers should have a knowledge of radio communications beyond just pushing a button. Ham radio is a way to learn that knowledge with help from others and you can build your own station from scratch. What a way to be prepared for a SHTF communications setup. There are stealth methods to learn: how to build different antennas that are nearly undetectable – battery operated radios, receive and transmit, that with the right antennas can reach thousands of miles or close in. I would suggest learning Morse Code because it is hard to copy or receive on a general coverage short wave radio without a BFO, and besides that limits even more who can understand what your saying.
as far as direction finding, there are tricks that only those who participate in Fox Hunting only share with other Fox Hunters. When a Fox Hunter participant becomes the Fox the bag of tricks is opened and even new methods are tried. So in a SHTF situation and non detection of whereabouts is needed you can bet I will use all the tricks when I transmit.
Even if you don’t get a Ham License, take some time to learn more about radio than just pushing a button. There is so much more to learn and to say about communications and prepping – go for it.
Thank you for the great article. I am almost finished with my 8 day class and will be taking my exam this coming Saturday. Your information is very well put together. Super helpful!! Pay no attention to Tigron. He is just annoyed because he isn’t part of the club.
WHERE DO YOU GET a LICENSE?
You will need to study for the test. I used Ham Test Online for Tech Lic. Iam now studying for general test. Most counties have a club so Just type in Ham clubs in my _____ county. The aRRL is a great source for books and testing material. The test pool questions are changing this year I think in June or July.
No matter the Code or Encryption are made by Humans and can be defeated by Humans It is just a matter of time before be broken…faster if they have computers and the right programming…Hackers use of similar type programs to crack passwords or codes to get full versions of games and other programs for free.
Something that can be easily done among is creating “Duress” words…. The Ham Operators could snail them to or email them to each other or to the Ham Operators that they want to know them.
The same for other things they want to use only among themselves.
The bad part of someone not being Licensed (Or being Licensed) asking for could be setting up a ruse to draw people in and take captives and to take them back to where they could rape, rob, pillage, and burn…….and steal their supplies weapons etc….People coming to their aid coming from more than one place to help would now all be targets.
Sometimes codes leak information about the meaning. Unless you hear me saying I am going to “hook” and then see me at the Walmart store on main you cannot decode the word hook. You may get context clues, like if I say I am going hook to get ammo and milk. This would clue you in that it is 1) a location, 2) it sells ammo and milk. Codes can’t be broken without additional information.
Can encryption be broken?
If a text was encrypted with aES256 which as the name implies is a 256-bit algorithm with no known weakness, which means the only attack is brute force. Unlike Hollywood, the key is all or nothing. One key will give meaningful decryption. 256 bits is a large number. It is so large you can count the number of atoms in over 8 billion galaxies. So with all the computers on Earth trying to crack a single 256bit aES encryption couldn’t be done before the heat death of the Universe.
Not exactly, but I did say that in the second paragraph of my comment. Part 97 says messages encoding for the purpose of obscuring their meaning. So if I was using public key encryption to make sure my message couldn’t be altered or forged, but published the public to decrypt it, then my purpose wasn’t to obscure the message.
Darryl, been waiting for this thread to update but it’s VERY slow. So yes, you’re probably right. I’m just recounting what we encountered when we stood up emcomm for a local hospital. We relied on fldigi which required the software to decode the signals at both ends, but are sent in clear text allowing anyone with the software to know what information is being exchanged. We decided to refer to patients by a number, the identity of which was communicated through secure channels (trunked) of first responders.
Simmer down, eat some fruit. I’ve been a ham most of my life and now in my early sixties, I’ve seen, read, and heard it all at this point. During the second world war which was still before my time, the Korean war, Vietnam, hams became very useful. Nobody hunted them down, but were eagerly sought after. If you really think about it our government is NOT the poster child of being organized, especially with politicians who feed off of each other. The truth is hams were sought after because they brought very needed skills to the table. That’s the track record, not some kind of Hollywood scifi movie. That’s the benefit of checks and balances in this country. There’s plenty a Boogyman (real and imagined) out there bent on taking that away from us. They sow the seeds of many noxious weeds, the chief if which is confusion. Don’t be part of the problem; become part of the solution. If everything goes south, we need to stand together, not apart. I know there are people who tend to operate solely in panic mode and justify their own sense of self importance by waving a red flag (or whatever color). To them I say, get a grip. Yes, everyone should be prepared, we should have food storage and other commodities which just makes good sense. If as it’s been said, the “SHTF”, people with their own gardens will be a bigger target than somebody growing an antenna farm. It just amazes me how some people can be more influenced by the movies coming out of Hollywood, ie, some kind of zombie apocalypse, and that ilk, than the good experiences of their own life, which surround us all. Yes, there’s a lot of corruption and bad out there but there’s more good than what people give credit for. Remember the words of Elisha, “They that be with us are more than they that be with them”.
anyone reading this undoubtedly has the benefit of some kind of education, which means you possess the ability to think for yourself. Don’t waste your energy and finite resources sowing panic and confusion. Don’t contribute to disorder and anarchy. and for Pete’s sake, don’t plan on taking to the airwaves without a license. That very act is exactly what any enemy wants their prey to do: Disregard their own laws and devolve into chaos.
Choose a better way. Get licensed now, be legal aND practice good operating skills. One of the biggest challenges in any emergency communication drill or event, is having operators with experience under their belt. It isn’t enough just to have a license; you must have experience dealing with conditions on the air. and the only way to gain experience and build good operating skills is to get licensed. a very good starting point is to reach out to an organization like the aRRL; visit their website (http://www.arrl.org) to identify the local resources who can help you get qualified and on the air. If possible, attend the Hamvention held every May to acquaint yourself with even more avenues of interest within the hobby be it do-it-yourself topics, all the way to satellite work (yes, we have satellites).
Bottom line, don’t contribute to the problem, be part of the solution. Get licensed, get on the air, gain experience. Only then will you be properly prepared with skills and knowledge, and not be guided by fear.
( ͡ʘ ͜ʖ ͡ʘ) KE7FD
Excellent follow-up Glen,
I agree I don’t think the government will be the problem. However, I do think gangs will be if it is a true SHTF event and will learn to foxhunt. a person transmitting is broadcasting that they have the power and resources to support a radio station.
In a true SHTF situation, even a radio snob is going to get hungry. I think it’s funny that some of you actually think that the “purists” will be tracking down the unlicensed operators like me when the world is coming apart. I don’t want to operate in your snobby environment at this time, but when it hits the fan, I’ll do what I must to protect and inform my family…and so would you!
In closing, if it really hits the fan and you want to spend your time tracking me down because I’m unlicensed, I suggest you arm yourself with something more than a microphone…just sayin!
Have a nice day! 🙂
“FCC License Information Is Public: #1. This includes your address.” So, Ham operators are already (or would become) targets of the criminal, low-life segment of SHTF survivors. Meanwhile, anyone trying to survive while using a fictitious call sign remains anonymous.
I find it really disappointing that licensed amateur radio operators consider themselves to be so self righteous and sanctimonious that they would not respond to a call for help or accept useful, actionable information from an unlicensed (unwashed) operator during a SHTF situation. That’s what I call poor citizenship.
It took quite a few more years before I was able to earn my Extra Class license; but, would have been easier had I just waited for the 20 WPM code requirement to be dropped. In 1981 my wife earned her Novice license and unfortunately still has that license, despite my prodding her to upgrade.
When you state:
after which you are required to contact the FCC and explain the event and the reason for the use of that exception. I personally don’t think we’ll have a global SHTF event that would obviate those regulations; however, local regional events can and do on occasion; but, most public service entities have their own communications systems and infrastructure for redundancy and use of amateur radio is not utilized as much as many of us would like.
We may not always dig; but, an unlicensed person often sticks out like a sore thumb and we can and do just ignore them.
Bands and Uses (Background for Other Important Information)
For discussing the frequencies, bands, and modes, I find this pdf perhaps the best overall resource: http://www.arrl.org/images/view//Charts/Band_Chart_Image_for_ARRL_Web.jpg
I live in a rural area and have antenna capability from 160 through 6 on my wire antennas and VHF / UHF on others, with our local club working on 2400 MHz broadband capabilities throughout our county. My only shortcoming at the time is a 6 meter radio, that has been purchased; but, yet to be installed.
Radio Transmissions are Not anonymous!
While this should be obvious, it’s good that you mentioned it. One other confusion I’m constantly having to explain to non hams are the so called “privacy features” on the FRS and FRS/FMRS combination radios. Hams know these as CTCSS (Continuous Tone Coded Squelch System) or PL (Private Line) that are only effective to help eliminate some type of interference; but, do not convey any kind of privacy, since anyone with a scanner or properly programmed radio can hear what is being said. PL is BTW a Motorola trademarked acronym for this common feature.
Your list is pretty good; but, in my experience doing fox hunts (for fun and practice) the best countermeasure is to keep transmissions infrequent and short. also use of the newer digital modes makes direction finding a bit harder. as hams, if you have a distant repeater, you can use low power and communicate over a wide area, making the individual transmissions harder to detect.
Use of pre-positioned and aimed directional antennas can also be a great help in foiling any would be enemy.
Make up your own call signs when not communicating with hams.
This is also somewhat of a good idea when communicating with other hams. We MUST identify with our call signs every 10 minutes; but, that could use Morse code at up to 20 WPM, and other transmissions may legally use tactical calls, We often provide communications for charity bicycle events, and use tactical calls like SaG (Support and Gear) wagon, Rest Stop 1, Rest Stop2, etc, all done quite legally as long as we each mention our call signs within the 10 minute interval.
It’s interesting that you mention NVIS, since Ohio will be having an NVIS contest of sorts on Saturday april 27, 2019 as part of our aRES training, so all of you hams out there who want to talk, should start scanning the HF bands that day.
One other thing I’ve noticed is that nearly all of my amateur Radio colleagues are also shooters, most with concealed carry licenses. also, many of us participate in local emergency organizations.
73 DE K8LVZ
I think a word on digital modes is needed, since this seems to be a place with lots of confusion. There are numerous audio digital modes, going back to the earlier days of my experience with RTTY and aX.25 Packet radio, both of which produce audio tones that are used to modulate a standard carrier mode such as FM, SSB (Single Side Band), or even aM. With the advent of more powerful and inexpensive computing like the Raspberry Pi, we can now implement DSP (Digital Signal Processing) algorithms to generate and decode simple waveforms without additional expensive hardware, and free programs like FlDigi allow anyone to use newer transmission modes like RTTY, PSK31, Olivia, and others with simple inexpensive hardware, that allow both phase and amplitude to be used in the modulation scheme. While these are called “Digital” modes, since they essentially transmit binary information, they still modulate a standard carrier method on the air.
These digital modes along with programs like Echolink allow remote access via the Internet, bringing more of the younger crowd into the hobby.
The RTL-SDR and a Raspberry Pi can perform things we only dreamed of just 10 years ago.
Getting a License