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How to Get Started In Off-Grid Communications

by David M. Hill, Sr.

People often ask what the best option is for off-grid communication. There is only one answer to this question that makes sense to me and that is the wonderful world of amateur radio or ham radio.

The reason is quite simple—ham radio is the only legal form of two-way radio that you can get involved in that will provide you with all levels of communication ability. If local communications are all you are interested in, ham radio has it. If you want to expand your capability to a more regional level, ham radio provides that as well. But if you would also like to open the entire world to your communications ability, then ham radio is your only answer for reliable off-grid communications.

No other radio service can provide all of this to you, and it’s very simple to get involved in ham radio today. There have been many books published on this subject and I am not going to try to re-invent the wheel here. I am simply going to share some ways for you to consider beginning your journey into the wonderful world of ham radio. Ham radio has something to offer everyone and it takes a big book to cover all the different modes that ham radio operators can use. What we are going to focus on is reliable off-grid communications and how you can get started on the path to reach whatever goal you set for yourself.

Your First Step…

Make the decision to expand your communications ability and then start studying to get your entry level license. We will first cover one of the most popular ways to accomplish this. You can take practice tests online for free at http://www.qrz.com/xtest2.html. That is how I got started and many people I know did it this way as well. There are 100 different tests for the technician level and each test consists of 35 multiple-choice questions. That sounds like a lot, but keep in mind that, once you get thru the first ten or fifteen tests, many of the questions will repeat on the following test numbers.

Here is another very popular choice for getting started and one that I think does a much better job of actually teaching you the material. This is a much better choice for those that do not know anything about radio communications or electronics. This is not free, but it is very inexpensive in the grand scheme of things. Go to this website at:  http://www.hamtestonline.com/study.jsp

Now for those of you that prefer a classroom environment or have limited online resources, there are many classes held by local ham radio clubs. One of the guys involved with our group at the APRN did it this way. His story is rather unique in today’s society.

This man has a farm in upstate New York that does not have grid power. He does not own a computer, and he has no motor vehicle. He uses a horse and buggy for transportation. He saw the need for communications and went to the local library to do research. He found his local ham radio club and got in touch with them. They had a class coming up and, when he explained his transportation restrictions, one of the members stepped up and offered a ride to and from the classes so he could get his license. This goes to prove that there is no excuse for anyone not having a way to go get there license.

It is real simple folks—if you have the desire, someone in the ham radio world will be willing to help you accomplish your goal. You can locate your nearest ham radio club here at http://www.arrl.org/find-a-club. Once you have that page up, use the search box on the left side and enter your postal zip code to find one in your area.

There is one last way, just so all of the bases are covered and nobody has an excuse. For those of you that would prefer to read a book and learn that way, the ARRL puts out books for each of the three ham radio license classes. There are also other very good books out by Gordon West that are highly recommended by many. I have no affiliation to any of these. I am just trying to make it easy for you to get started in the wonderful world of ham radio! You can find the ARRL books here: http://www.arrl.org/shop/Licensing-Education-and-Training/

You can find many books on ham radio, including Gordon West books, on Amazon. Just search for ham radio or Gordon West. Amazon also has the ARRL books as well. Go to: http://www.amazon.com

73 “Best wishes in radio talk”
David M Hill, Sr.
W4DMH
Ham Radio Works When All Else Fails
http://www.taprn.com

Other articles in this issue:

© 2008-2014 Off The Grid News

34 comments

  1. Great article on ham radio. One thing that I might add, and that is the need to learn morse code ( CW) has been eliminated for all three classes of licenses. It may be important in EMCOM some day and will almost always get your signal out just a bit farther than the other modes but I know that many have stayed away from ham radio just as I did for years because I was never good at CW.

    I agree http://www.hamtestonline.com is the very best way to get your license along with any of the good books.

    • Grace and Peace,
      Is there a way for “SOMEONE” to TRACK H.A.M. transmissions? If so, is there a way to BLOCK them from TRACKING the transmissions? If you get a H.A.M. Radio will you have access to everyone that has H.A.M. or just people in your group? I’m very interested in learning about and obtaining this technology. I’m an old grunt from Ft. Benning, and I learned somethings recently that shocked me and made me aware of the NECESSITY of having the ability to communicate off-grid. Thanks

  2. When I took my license exams Morse Code was required but almost all new ham equipment allows you to type and Morse Code is generated so there is no longer any need to actually learn it. In fact I can’t even remember all the alphabet in code anymore. If things really do fall apart the Ham Radio is the only way information is going to get disseminated. It will be up to us Hams to make sure it is good information and not propaganda.

    We have seen more and more of our bandwidth get taken away for commercial use. We used to have advocates who where politicians but not sure that is the case anymore and with the FCC trying to shut down internet who knows what actions they will attempt with Ham Radio. Something we all need to be on the watch for. Though like most of their crap is will be done at night behind closed doors.

  3. Ham radio works so well in am emer sit because it is so DECENTRALIZED…THAT IS, NOT ONE PERSON “RUNS” A HR SERVER OR HAS CONTROL OF THE WIRELINES NEEDED AT SOME POINT TO COMPLETE THE MESSAGE AS IN THE INTERNET.

    HAMS MUST BE CAREFUL, THOUGH: IF THOSE THAT CONTROL WHAT IS LEFT OVER OF OUR CIVILIZATION, THEN THEY, TOO, WILL BE MONITORING HAM COMMS AND NO DOUBT THEY WILL BE FILLING IT FULL OF DISINFO AND ON A DARKER SIDE, TRYING TO TRACK DOWN ALL THE HAM LOCATIONS THEY CAN TO SHUT AS MANY OF HAMS DOWN AS POSSIBLE. USE YOUR SMARTS. DONT’ LET ‘EM CATCH YOU. YOU WILL ENDURE TORTURE, EQUIP CONFISCATION OR POSSIBLY DEATH TO KEEP YOU SHUT UP AND TO SENT A MESSAGE TO OTHER HAMS…WHAT WE ARE ENTERING INTO, MY FRIENDS. IS PEACEFUL. THE OLD SAYING……..we are from the government, and we are here to help you”…DONT BELIEVE A WORD OF IT! HAVE YOUR WEAPONS READY. THIS IS INDEED A NEW WORLD WE WILL BE LIVING IN WHEN THE NEW WORLD ORDER MAKES ITS MOVE….BE CAREFUL AND BEWARE, MY BRO AND SIS IN THE LORD. AS WITH THE HITLER YOUTH, “COULD BE EVERYHWERE”

    REV.DAVID Your voice of God in these dark times……amongst other voices.

  4. Ham Radio, and its sister organization, the Military Auxiliary Radio System sponsored by the Joint Chiefs are very important to emergency communications. Even listening to the MARS system can give you much important information in an emergency. I believe that Monitoring Times has the Frequency Matrices of each service giving the time and frequency of each service net in your area. Both Services train very hard to be able to perform in any emergency. If your next door neighbor is a Ham, don’t pin any interference of your stereo or TV on him. Make friends with him/her, so that anything that they know, they will tell you. Ham and MARS operators are very much “in the know” when it comes to the latest info during an emergency. If you want to join us, then search out your local Ham club, and we will get you started on the path to working the world through Amateur Radio. It is a very rewarding experience.

    Reverend David, aren’t you very misguided in your post? We are just as concerned about our families safety as you are for yours. I doubt that you have ever listened to a communications receiver, and monitored what we do. Hams have traditionally connected missionaries around the world with their home Churches, for help and guidance that only their Churches can provide. It’s ashamed you should be, condemning something you have not investigated. AND, if the government should turn on us, we have many tricks to keep from being coerced into hurting our neighbors, or being “snitches”. David, I think you need a hobby, so that you will not be “tempted” by the “nameless one” to post things like you do. You do sound like the Reverend Nehemiah Scudder character found in the story by Robert Heinlein called “If this goes on”. Read it and see if it matched your personality. You look like you do to me.

    • I might have clicked on the wrong menu item before getting to reply. Old age 8-) Longshorts, I don’t know how young/old you are and if you know your history of WWII. Read the part that never interests anyone – the part about how the Nazi government moved against German amateur radio operators and shut them down – confiscating equipment and imprisoning or killing the operators. Same thing happened in Italy and also in France. Only the hidden radios were able to communicate and the direction finders got many of them – with deadly results. One of the first things a dictatorial government will attempt will be to shut down communications between hams, independent groups, patriots, etc. I guess I am old enough to have lived through that period. I got my first ticket in 1944 and I follow history closely. BTW the government has already begun a program supporting snitches here in the US.

  5. I got my ham license last spring —I thought it might be a good idea. Half way through studying for it, I realized that it was more then a good idea, it was going to be down right essential. I used ham test online, $20.00 for the technicians license. Then $14.00 to take the test here locally. It took me 3 weeks to finish that part, then I went back and did the general license. [$29.00 and another $14.00 for the test.] The nice thing is, that you can study for all 3 tests, and take them all at once for only $14.00, instead of one at a time.
    It helps if you have knowledge in DC electronics which I had, but you don’t have to have, most of the questions were simple, and Ham Test online gave you all the info you need to understand it.
    In two months I had my General license. I haven’t used it yet, as equipment is expensive, plus I am moving out of Florida in the spring , and going to the mountains to start a small farm, —- and other obvious reasons. I will buy my equipment then.
    Bill-KJ4UUW

  6. I was a operator back in the 40′s and then went into the military and let my ticket lapse. Just got my general last year and I am slowly building up my shack, both based and mobile. Having been a radio op in the Navy and USMC, CW is old hat to me. Still love to use it. I keep my bug warmed up. One suggestion to all amateur radio operators – create a shielded container for your bug out gear. An EMP strike could wipe out all unshielded electronics. I have a complete bug out kit in a secure, shielded, box with power supply and all necessary components. Bring it on!!!!!!!!
    Lee KJ4TFG

    • Ham Radio (Amateur Radio) is a very valuable rerscoue, especially in times like this. Every country should have a cadre of licensed, experienced Hams at the ready should an emergency arise and require quick, reliable, fail-safe, and direct communications!

  7. I got my technician license a couple years ago thinking “it just might come in handy.” Thought I would get a 10 watt Elecraft K3 radio. Any suggestions for how to supply power to the radio in an emergency? I’ve been looking into the bicycle powered generators and would welcome any feedback. Thanks.

    • For an excellent power backup, check out the solar panel at Harbor Freight. That plus a deep discharge battery plus a inverter you have power for your radio/s, the ability to charge a vehicle battery or other if needed, 110VAC available (wattage depends on the inverter) and you can even charge cell phones, computers, etc. A solar panel, battery and 400W inverter will do just about everything you need for an emergency setup and you don’t need gasoline. I operated at a 3 day hamfest with two 50W radios, a light and some other stuff off that setup. No noisy generator either.

      I have a 18KW generator that powers from natural gas or propane. There are conversion kits for this. When the power goes out so do the gas stations. 5 gallons of gasoline only runs for so long and then ?????. I have solar panels at home that provide enough power to handle lights, refrigeration, etc., and I cook with gas. Natural gas does pretty well for a reasonably long time in the average disaster.

  8. I was issued my tech. license back in mid 2009 and I love it I now have quite the nice communications room in my home and still adding to it,I monitor a # of repeators at once for listening pleasure and for emergancy traffic, with a half dozen radios that i have at this time but i’m also involved in the local ares emergancy communications group in the area. now rev. David you really need to step back a few steps and wake up and take another look at the ham radio world because you really sound miss guided and that’s not a good thing. where I live the state and local dept.’s look for and love our assistance when things happen they give us all kinds of support all the time.I now have upgraded to my general license and am also at present studying for my extra license,i’m also enjoying playing with echo link allthough I prefer using an actual radio to talk rather than i comp.
    And ray as far as powering your radio either a marine batt. will do it or a generator will do it.I have a generator here for when we loose power so i can keep my communications room up and running.As well as my home powered.

    thanks take care

  9. Reverend Dave,

    You may be right about the US Government. However, if the US Government wants to exterminate hams, they won’t need direction finders to do most of it. We all had to give our national ID number (SSN) and our address to become hams.

    As for those who cannot fathom the very real possibility that our country continues down the path of total authoritarianism, Dave, we can’t same them from themselves.

    Ham radio is still a great way to communicate when nothing else works.

    73

    • Bruce: I’m going to be new to HAM radio, but I understand that certain discussions are off-limits when you are on the air. Topics such as politics, sex and the use of bad language has always been banned. So there isn’t much of a reason to get rid of HAM operators. Even the former Soviet Union and other communist nations have issued and allowed licenced radio operators.
      But with the Obama administration we seem to be entering uncharted territory. He manages to come up with ideas that even the Soviets didn’t come up with. Mr. Obama likes the feeling of power and does not want to lose it, so it is possible that HAM radio may be a target that he has set in his crosshairs.

  10. i want to obtain my license

    what the quickest/easiest way?

    thanks

    lewis
    santa rosa, ca

  11. I have been wanting to get my HAM licence for a long time, but the perceived complexity of getting the General Class licence has always held me back. “Ham Test Online” has made the process seem easy. It’s all online, computer based and it dosen’t make you feel stupid., the practice tests makes it almost certain that you pass the test the first time you take it. Thanks for providing the link.

  12. I want to get your free one year subscription

  13. For me, the reasons to have and to maintain my ham radio license far outweigh peoples ‘feelings’ about what they >feel JUST < finished teacking a course in improvised antennas. Out of my shopping bag came cheap, Chinese 15 foot extension cord, and on the spot, using our class notes and pocket knives (you DO carry a pocket knife – yeeees?) we made a dipole antenna for the twenty meter band and with three of the classes members holding the dipole antenna over their heads (bio-dynamic-self-propelled- antenna-supports… ;^) we continued our long range digital radio contact with the team member in Texas.

    The point? It is not what you COULD buy if the store are open but what you know that counts, especially when the stores and a Platinum credit card are not there. Ham radio licensing encourages you to learn new things, ham radio operation will have you learning 'things' continuously, if you are even the slightest bit curious and soon you learn that even chopped-up Chinese power cords held in the air CAN communicate much better than you EVER would have thought possible – especially in digital modes or in Morse. You look at junked electronics sitting on the curb for pick-up not as blight but as potential radio projects!

    So – I would HIGHLY recommend getting your ham license and growing in your skills, aquiantances and abilities. Drop by http://www.taprn.com and we'll do what we can do to help. (Yes, that was a shamleless plug…)

    de Ray …_ ._

  14. — sorry folks – for reasons unknown, my post above turned into word salad when I posted it. You get the drift though. -Ray

  15. I know this thread is about HAM radio, which I plan to get into sometime in the near future. But I’m wondering about the next level down, should being a HAM radio operator be entirely too risky, or impossible due to EMP attacks.

    The only things I can think of are pony express, carrier pigeon, and notes under park benches. None of those are scalable or mass communication-capable.

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