Monday, February 27, 2017

Ham Radio for Preppers - Why Get Certified

There's no question that communications is an important part of any preparedness plan.  Amateur radio can provide you with both local and long distance communications.  You may need to be able to talk with family members throughout the homestead, or security patrols running the perimeter of your retreat.  Alternately, you may want to be able to communicate with other prepper communities or retreat groups outside of your local area.

Amateur radio will allow you to do all this, but you really need to know how it all works and the best way to get this knowledge is through practice.  So many preppers believe they can purchase an all band radio, store it away in a faraday cage and bring it out after disaster strikes to get on the air.  In reality, it just doesn't work that way.  Knowing what bands to use for different needs as well as other technical aspects such as building and installing antennas, using different bands for different propogation situations, and more are all taught in the basic amateur radio course which most amateur radio clubs in Canada offer for a small fee.  The fee will usually include the examination cost and perhaps a one year membership into that club.  Alternately, you can take an online course here, although you will have to make your own arrangements to find an examiner to take the test, the cost of which can vary from one to another.  The cost of obtaining your actual certificate and first call sign is free.

There is of course the concern among some preppers in regards to the BIG BROTHER issue, in that the big bad government will come to your door and confiscate your gear in SHTF mode.  It is true that Industry Canada mantains a list of all certified hams in Canada as well as their qualifications and personal info such as name & address, however there is no database containing information on what gear you own. Also, it should be noted that anyone can view certain information by looking up your callsign on a webpage, but you are able to limit that information to your name and qualifications only...prudent governance of your personal information relative to your name will minimize you vulnerability.

There are 4 levels of certificate you can achieve in Canada and there are things you can (and cannot) do within each...

  1. Basic (test score of 70% or more on basic exam)  This gives you access to all frequencies above 30MHz such as VHF and UHF bands.  These bands are limited to local communications.  You cannot operate on HF frequencies or build your own equipment unless with a professionally designed kit.
  2. Basic With Honors (test score of 80% or more on basic exam)  This gives you access to all amateur frequencies including HF for world wide communications but with an output power of no more than 250 watts. You cannot build your own equipment unless with a professionally designed kit.
  3. Advanced (test score of 70% or more on advanced exam)  This gives you access to all frequencies in the ham band up to legal power limits.  You can build your own equipment from scratch, operate a repeater, sponsor a club station.
  4. Morse Code (test score of 100 on the morse exam)  No extra privileges other than bragging rights, but handy to know.

For beginners, I would suggest shooting for the basic with honors.  Frankly, you would want access to those HF bands for distant communication and the 250 watt power restriction should pose little problem given that you will have learned about propagation and other handy skills.  It should be noted that Idustry Canada's interest in home brewed gear is limited to transmitters, where careless design can lead to some pretty disturbing interference with other electronics nearby.  It is my understanding, as well as that of other hams I have talked to, that accessories such as antennas, pc interfaces, and other minor gear are NOT included in the NO BUILDING clauses of the law.  Remember, you CAN build from kits!

The course for basic certification is quite straight forward.  You will learn about the regulations you must follow, how radio works, how to properly set up a station, and some other theory.  There is a bit of electronics theory and math involved, but if you find this a bit too much, just memorize the exam questions to get through this.  There is a couple of handy tools to help you practice the exam such as Industry Canada's Exam Generator or my personal favorite, ExHaminer which was written by the instructor I took my course from and who also wrote the online course I mentioned above.

Getting certified just makes sense, as you will be able to become proficient with hands on practice.  Also, consider joining a club.  You don't have to tell them you're into preparedness or anything other than radio as a curiosity, and they often hold "field days" where they set up off grid radio stations...a skill that could indeed become very valuable.

Prepper Radios Canada

1 comment:

  1. I'd just like to add my support for this recommendation. On our small west coast island (pop 350) we have about 20 HAMs and are hoping for more as part of our LERN (local emergency response neighbourhood) system. The equipment doesn't have to be anything like as advanced as that shown in the picture. Most of us just have little handhelds which can either work with their own antenna or can be attached to a J-pole antenna on the house. The island is also looking at having a repeater antenna installed on a high point of the island, to help fill in holes in the line of sight frequencies we are most likely to use. Here in earthquake country, knowing that we can communicate with our neighbours and make sure everyone is ok, locate needed supplies or equipment, or whatever, when the phone lines and cell towers are down, is a great support to peace of mind.