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Survival Radio Option Without a HAM License

By   WirelessPhreak      Friday, November 24, 2017      Labels: , , ,  

I've been thinking a lot about Survival lately, what with the 8th season of Walking Dead starting up and our impending nuclear war with North Korea. In my day job as a networking nerd I deal with communication on a daily basis, but as a society our world is becoming much to dependent on Digital communication.  In a survival scenario ain't no one got time to troubleshoot packet loss!

This has got me thinking about radio and the role they might play in self sufficient communications.

I've been telling myself I am going to take the HAM radio test, but haven't got around to it yet. So I started researching the GMRS and FRS radio systems and was surprised just how capable the GMRS systems are and how easy it is to get an FCC license.

GMRS, FRS and MURS radios are excellent for local communications, but are much more capable then just those 19 dollar radio shack hand held units. FRS and MURS do not require an FCC license, they’re cheap, and easy to use. They’ve pretty much replaced CB radios for a lot of families. In fact they share a lot of the same limitation on power and range. There is something to be said for their availability though, and in a disaster scenario you could probably scrounge up a number of these radios from anywhere.

If you have a true GMRS radio, you have a much more capable radio.

GMRS radios have the ability to tap into a repeater, which expands the radio's range to possibly hundreds of miles — meaning your local family radio can be transformed into a life saving communication device. GMRS radios are also allowed to operate at higher power than a lot of other radios, this will expand their local communication even without a repeater. You do need an FCC license to operate the GMRS radios, but they are easy to get, with no test required (a big bonus considering how hard the HAM test is), and they cost around $70 dollars. Also, you only have to renew the license every 5 years and one license covers your entire family.

So here's the rub!  Getting your License for GMRS is a no brainer, and playing around to build a repeater sounds pretty fun. But in a true emergency you should give your self every advantage. So buying a GMRS radio might not be the way to go. In a true life threatening emergency you can communicate on HAM radio frequencies as a last resort. So what should I get?

Well, it's not illegal for a non-HAM licensed individual to own a HAM radio...its just illegal for a non-licensed individual to transmit on the designated amateur radio frequencies.  That being said, many of the HAM radios can be programmed to transmit on the same GMRS FRS channels your store bought hand held radios transmit on. In addition to leveraging the thousands of GMRS and FRS radios, you can program channels/bookmarks for GMRS and HAM radio repeaters in your area, NOAA weather channels, frequencies used by emergency personnel and groups, as well as maritime radio frequencies.  Having these frequencies pre-programed and documented can truly make the difference in a stressful emergency situation. The best part is you can get some of these radios for pretty cheap.

To start exploring the world of radio you probably don't want to go drop hundreds of dollars on radio equipment so my suggestion (and the radio I have been exploring) is the BaoFeng UV-5R Dual Band Two Way Radio (Black). This radio can be programmed as a HAM radio as well as FRS and GMS frequencies. I know a lot of hardcore peppers are going to disagree with this radio and I agree the quality and reliability will be less than more expensive radios. But if you want to get your feet wet $30 dollars is an acceptable amount for most people to experiment with to see if this solution works for them. The radio is small and has an operating Frequency Range of 65-108 MHz (only commercial FM radio reception) VHF: 136-174 MHz(Rx/Tx). UHF: 400-520 MHz(Rx/Tx).  You will probably want to purchase the USB programming cable as well, this makes uploading and downloading the frequencies a way easier. Baofeng Programming Cable for BAOFENG UV-5R/5RA/5R Plus/5RE, UV3R Plus, BF-888S


Radio Configuration:
There are a ton of people out there with great articles on how to program this radio specifically, so I have put together a list I used to set up mine:

Programing the Radio:
Both guides were straight forward the only issue I ran into was downloading the correct driver for my radio programming cable.
Survival Channels for the Baofeng Radio (this is step by step guide on how to config your radio)
Manually Programming the Baofeng Radio (the same thing but a really good youtube resource)
CHIRP (Radio programing software)

GMRS Radio License:
Getting your GMRS License (This is a guide to getting your GMRS license put out by the AGRC)
FCC Website (The FCC Website discussing the GMRS license regulations)

General Survival Radio Sites:
Graywolf Survival (Their post discusses survival radio options as well as emergency frequencies)

At the end of the day HAM radio is still the defacto survival communication standard, and is an important institution that needs to survive. I just wanted to pose an option that seems practical and more attainable to those who may not feel they are capable to getting a HAM radio license.

About WirelessPhreak

Just your everyday Packet Wrangler who enjoy's traveling and anything techie...