Why Every Prepper Needs A HAM Radio

Whether we like it or not, the government is regulating the HAM Radio. From its use, to its ownership the government has their hands all over it. They’re even requiring people to have a license before owning/using this kind of equipment.

However, although it may seem like too much hassle to deal with, a HAM Radio is exactly the survival tool that preppers need in order to help them endure an SHTF situation. In fact, it’s not just necessary – it’s vital for your success.

And, although the government is hell-bent on controlling everything they can, the fact is when SHTF that will all go out the window.

As such, it’s crucial to get your license to own one of these now, so that you can truly understand…

Why Every Prepper Needs A HAM Radio

Approximately 90% of Americans own a cell phone. And, if the cell phone network is operating, go ahead and use that smartphone. However, just know that this is a very unreliable communication device when it comes to mass emergencies.

That’s because cell towers, in a natural disaster, are often taken down for days on end (like during Hurricane Katrina, when over half of them were out for multiple days).

Not to mention, in a critical emergency thousands of people will be dialing for help at the exact same time. This quickly leads to cell phone networks overloading and jamming up. They’re just not built for that amount of call volume. And, once a cell phone network jams up, nobody can get through.

This was the case during the Boston Marathon bombings, when participants were calling their families, and everyone outside of Boston was calling to make sure their friends and family members were alright. In the end, nobody could make any calls in or out successfully.

Yes, cell networks have backup battery systems we can rely on. However, these are only built for short-term emergencies. Which means, in a long-term crisis, they don’t stand a chance of remaining functional.

For all these reasons, a cell phone simply not the answer for mass emergencies. And very few technological devices are.

Thankfully, the HAM Radio is different. This may just be the only long-range communication network when all cell networks and towers are down.

These survival radios have the longest communication range possible, and have the lowest dependencies on grid power possible.

Granted, the HAM radio itself needs power, so you’ll need a backup power system, such as batteries and solar panels.

Long-distance communication will also require repeaters (which also need power). These repeaters have a crucial role in an emergency.

As preppers, HAM Radios provide our best opportunity to communicate once the grid permanently goes down.

HAM Radios also allow you to access both remote and mobile internet access. This takes some extra gear and know-how to set up, but is a great perk.


How To Get Your HAM Radio License

Getting your HAM radio license may seem tedious, inconsequential, and perhaps even intimidating (after all, you need to pass a test). However, by following the right steps you can get your HAM Radio license in as little as seven days. Here’s some information from Tin Hat Ranch on the process:

How To Get Your HAM Radio License In 7 Days

The HAM Radio license, it seems, is one of the biggest prepping mysteries.  Communications will be very important in any disaster,  be it a local disaster, a regional event like Katrina, or even an all out grid down event.  I myself fell prey to the notion that getting a license was reserved to folks who didn’t have friends and lived in their mother’s basements.  Heck, the previous requirement of knowing Morse Code was enough to scare me away.  Fortunately, things have changed for the better.

I’ve previously espoused understanding a subject before investing a great deal of money or going for the credentials, yet the deeper I get into this hobby the more I disagree with the sentiment.  There is way too much to know about HAM radio.  Taking this approach will lead to disappointment and a failure of accomplishment  No, I’ve concluded that HAM radio is best learned “on the job”.

Lots of folks have the attitude that HAM radio shouldn’t involve a license.  True, we don’t own the airwaves.  But understand that the airwaves are broken up, by frequency, and allocated for different purposes.  The misuse of these airwaves can cause tragic events, from a missed call for help from a police officer to a plane crash.  Also consider Amateur radio operators are very proud of their hobby and personal accomplishments.  Pirate stations are often tracked down and turned in, at that point it can be a hefty fine and jail time.  For those that feel “the Government” is going to someday come knocking at your door because you are an amateur radio operator, stand in line, they will be there for your guns, food stocks, and political beliefs first.  If you make if through those rounds of confiscation your HAM radio will be next.

Back to reality.  So, how can attaining a license for HAM radio in 7 days be possible?  Simple, the testing isn’t that hard and the format of the test (multiple choice) lends itself to quick study.  This article is designed to get you on the air in a week or less, with a radio, for around $50.

Keep Your Eye On The Prize

Since we are taking a different approach attaining your HAM radio license I’m going to suggest you firstget a radio.  You’ve probably seen this ad nauseum in the prepper community, but the Baofeng UV-5Ris probably the best begginer’s radio.  Why?  It’s cheap and it works well enough for a first time user.  After you get your license you may find yourself in a spiral of more capable and expensive radios, but the Baofeng will always be there.  You don’t care if you drop it in the mud or forget it at a buddy’s house.  It will probably be the radio you carry when you traipse off into the woods.  Breaking a thirty some dollar radio is much better than breaking one that costs several hundred dollars.  Buying the Boafeng will give you something tangible, the prize if you will, while studying for the test.  You will want to take the test as well, you can’t legally transmit without a license.  You can, however, program and listen to radio traffic.  We’ve done several videos on this radio, here is the one on how to program it.  Check out the Baofeng here.

How and Where To Begin Attaining Your License

Once your radio is on the way you next need to know how and where to get your license.  As I mentioned before, attaining the license requires you to pass a test.  Currently, there are actually three different licenses available for amateur radio operators.  Our method should work well for the first two, the Technician and General license.  The third, the Extra Class license is it’s own animal.  The Technician license will get you talking regionally and will be most useful for local communications in a disaster, i.e. getting news in and out of the area or communicating with friends or family members in a grid down situation.  The General class license opens up worldwide communications.  Why is this?  Well, we are not going to re-invent the wheel here.  One of our first bits of suggested study are our articles “A Prepper’s Guide To HAM Radio Basics” and “HAM Radio for Preppers Explained“, check them out.

As we alluded, the way the tests are structured are the key to attaining your license without spending months or years understanding the subject.  The technician test consists of 35 questions from a pool of 426.  Each question has four multiple choice answers.  Passing the test requires you to answer 26 of these questions correctly.   These tests are administered by Volunteer Examiners from the American Radio and Relay League, or the ARRL.  These tests are administered across the United States and chances are you will find one near you each month.  There is no charge for the license, but the ARRL charges $15 to cover the costs of administering the test.  That $15 and the thirty or so dollars you spent on the Baofeng gets you to the “fifty dollars or less”.

Step 1: Finding a Test in Your Area

Finding a test in your area is quite simple.  Head over to this link at ARRL.orgenter your zipcode, and pick a location and time that are convenient.  Some tests require pre-registration, some do not.  Pick a test that is a week or more out and commit to it.

Step 2: Finding the Questions

Now you’ve got some skin in the game.  You’ve got a radio and you’ve picked your testing date and locations.  Now what?  You must find the questions that are going to be on the test.  Fortunately for us, there is an excellent resource out there that will be the crux of your study.  Hamstudy.orgis where I have directed (and helped get licensed) dozens of individuals.  The method seems to work, so why not share?  The site is easy to understand and contains all of the questions you will find on the all of the licensing tests.  For this article we will focus on the Technician exam.  Selecting the technician portion of the site will yield three choices, “Study test questions”, “read test questions”, and “Practice Test”

Step 3: Familiarizing Yourself With The Questions

For some with even a mild electronics background you might instantly recognize the answers to the questions, for others, it might seem like gibberish.  I’ve personally directed people to this site for over a year.  All who have committed to the test have passed using this site as a study guide.  For some it took a just a few hours of study, for others it took up to a week (and that was for the general).  Assuming you can dedicate an hour or two a day for a week, spend the first study period just reading through the questions (read question option).  You will quickly ascertain whether this will be easy or hard for you to do.  All of the questions are presented with the answer as well as the incorrect answers.  You should be able to read through the all of the possible questions in the first study period.

Step 4: Flash Cards

After your first study period, move on to the ‘flash card” section of the site.  In this section the questions will be presented to you covering the different subject areas of the test.  You can click on the answer you think is correct and immediately it will be graded, the correct answer shown, and if you want to read a little about the subject of the question there is a spot on the upper right that puts the question into context.

As you move along your progress will be shown on the right side of the page, namely the percentage of the questions that you have seen as well as your overall aptitude in answering the questions correctly.

Remember, there are 426 total questions available.  You will begin to notice that a great deal of the questions fall into the “common sense” category, in lots of cases the correct answer is obvious, even to a person with limited exposure to electronics and HAM radio.  You will also notice that the questions that directly concern HAM radio, those covering specific regulations, frequencies, and even schematics will also present an obvious answer with three not so plausible options.

It is possible to cover all of the questions in the pool on your second study session.  If you are doing really well, meaning your overall aptitude is reasonably high, this may be all you need and can move on to the next session.  For most, you might want to spend your next two or three sessions in the flash cards, until you can answer a high percentage of the questions correctly.

Step 5: Where the Rubber Meets the Road

On the last two study sessions before the test you are going to want to move to the “practice test” section of the site.  This is much the same as the flash card portion, but the questions are specifically chosen from the pool as they might appear on the actual test.  You will be presented with 35 questions, just the same as the real deal.  Each question is selected from the different sub-sections covered by the real exam, so this is more accurate than using the flash card’s aptitude measure in predicting how you would fare on the actual test.

Each exam is graded upon completion with the questions you missed related to their sub section.  You also have the option to review the test.  If you choose to do this after each test, the question you answered incorrectly will be shown as well as the correct answer.

Remember, you must answer 26 of the 35 answers correctly on the exam, back in school we called this a “C”.  For the last two study sessions, take the tests over and over until you can pass 9 out of 10.  I haven’t had a person who followed this method fail, yet.

Step 6: The Test

At this point, if you’ve diligently put in seven honest days of study, you should recognize a great deal of the correct answers.  You may have found that a few nagging questions you can never seem to get right, but for the most part you can answer some of the questions by just seeing the first few words of the question.  You are ready to go!

Don’t forget to bring your $15 in cash with you to your test.  When you arrive, you will be greeted by three Volunteer Examiners.  These are nothing more than three (soon to be) fellow amateur radio operators that have taken time out of their days to administer your test.  You will be handed a booklet containing the questions and one of those sheets where you fill in the circle for the correct answer.

I always recommend folks take tests, especially multiple choice tests, in this fashion.  Sit down, relax, and take a look at the first question.  If your studying melded your mind from mush into an amateur radio expert, the answer should be readily apparent.  If it isn’t, don’t despair, SKIP the question.  Move on to question two, same here.  Answer the questions for which you are POSITIVE and SKIP the ones for which you are not sure.  Do this all of the way to the end of the exam.  Because you are answering the questions that you know, you should breeze through.  When you get to the end, go back and count the number of questions you answered.  My bet is most of you answered at least 26 of them.  Congratulations, you’ve already passed.  Go back and make you best guess on the remaining questions.  Even if you weren’t POSITIVE of at least 26, you are probably close, and with logic you can get over hump.

When you’ve answered all of the questions to the best of your ability, turn in your test and have a seat.  Your test will be graded by each one of the Volunteer Examiners, this is done for accuracy.  My guess is if you follow this plan they will be congratulating you and welcoming you to the hobby.

As a side note, for the really ambitious folks, the ones that breezed through the Technician Exam at Hamstudy.org; you can take your General Exam on the same day if you wish.  Best of all, you won’t have to pay an additional $15 to take it.  In fact, during my general exam, there was a guy that took all three in one sitting (and passed!).


Becoming a licensed amateur radio operator isn’t hard at all.  If you are willing to put in a few hours over the course of a week, you too can call yourself a HAM.  I realize this article is more about studying and test taking than amateur radio, but the resources listed tell you everything you need and hopefully take the mystery out of the process.  For those of you that would like to read up a bit more on the subject, the ARRL has a pretty good book that can also help with taking the exam:






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