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Introduction to Amateur radio - Presentation made at Camp One

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  • Introduction to Amateur radio - Presentation made at Camp One

    Introduction to amateur radio

    I am trying to wrack my brains and remember what I said during the radio class at camp 1

    Amateur radio is a tool, a very useful and necessary tool for preppers.A foundation licence is relatively easy to obtain and lasts a lifetime…

    :Cue wobbly screen special effect as we journey back in time to camp 1:

    *waves ‘foundation licence now’ book in the air*

    I have read thicker pamphlets from the Jehovah’s witnesses

    It is 34 pages of easy to follow information there are even cartoons to help you remember key points. Yes there is some maths, but it is reasonably basic maths. Although at first glance the formulas look a bit scary.

    Now I’m not going to teach about how to get your licence; instead I shall give you a reason to want one.

    Imagine, if you will, the phone network breaks down.All mobile phones are routed through the landline system, so they are down too.

    You need to get a message to a friend, another member of your Charter.Without the phone it becomes a bit more difficult. If they are in range you could use the UKSN frequencies but let’s suppose they aren’t. You could “bucket chain” a message via another UKSN member within range, they repeat your message word for word to the receiving person, obviously the more “buckets” in the chain the more likely a mistake will creep in and be passed along.

    With an amateur radio licence you could use your Baofeng to access a local repeater, an automated radio that picks up and then retransmits your message on a slightly different frequency.

    These repeaters are usually positioned on hilltops or high buildings and increase the range of your signal, even over the other side of hills where line of sight communication wouldn’t work.

    The licence also gives you access to HF, or “high frequency” bands, which are capable of direct communication over a much larger area than the Baofeng can manage. Obviously this means you would need a different radio.

    HF radios can be expensive, some are as big as a desk top and can do just about anything.They can cost in the thousands of pounds, but if you resell them you can get your money back; sometimes even make a profit.

    There are other radios available though, I use a Yaesu FT 817ND *Gets it out of the bag*

    This was about £400, still a lot of money, but I could sell it tomorrow for £500 on Ebay. It is capable of working on the same frequencies as the Baofeng as well as a whole load more. That means I have the ability to communicate locally, regionally, nationally and internationally in a package no bigger than a concise dictionary. There are radios that are smaller and cheaper than this, they are on a single band of frequencies and capable of similar duties as the radios worth thousands

    It does need an aerial which, if you buy from a shop can be expensive… but if I show you this *brings out 3” square Tupperware tub*This is my homemade antenna, it is designed to use two different bands of frequencies. I made it using Christmas lights extension cable, it cost me 50p for 20 meters of cable. I can make two of these antennas from that and still have a little left over.

    That’s another benefit of the Ham licence; you have the ability to experiment. In fact the radio licence is a licence TO experiment within the boundaries of the allocated amateur radio frequencies and licence limits.

    *pulls out A4 sized document wallet*

    In here I have a loop antenna that is capable of working the majority of the radio spectrum, a commercial version of this would be in excess of £300, and I made it for under £30 using “junk” and a military spec. variable capacitor. So alreadyyou can start to see how the licence can lead to an expensive hobby or, with a bit of work, a relatively cheap one.

    Now I’ve already mentioned how the radios can be used to communicate local, regional, national and internationally, the way it does this is by using different frequencies. Each frequency has different characteristics in the way the signal travels. Some travel a short distance, some bounce off the atmosphere and some follow the curve of the earth, sort of. The how isn’t important for this introduction.

    So far we have been thinking about voice communications, many of you will know that morse code can also be used on radio too. What if I was to tell you that you can also send text, pictures or even video? Pictures could be maps, video could be a “how to” and text could be instructions on any topic. It can also be used to transmit your location, similar to GPS tracking, something that could be handy to keep track of your Charter members in a SHTF evacuation or bug out.

    With Amateur radio it is possible to do all of these things, and so much more. Data can be sent over the airwaves too, a linked computer can send files. Imagine an encyclopaedia of prepping knowledge available simply by asking the operator to send the relevant file. All it takes is a receiver linked to a computer on the correct frequency with the right software, the majority of which is available free because it is written by fellow Ham operators. Those operators want to share their work with others for the benefit of everyone in the hobby.

    Talking of the hobby, there are Ham ops that want to talk… and they do… about anything and everything. There are groups who talk about gardening, steam trains, computers… in fact, you name it and there will be a group dedicated to it and on Ham radio.

    Now you may be starting to see how it can be useful but the possible expense is putting you off. Remember:The licence is for life. You don’t have to buy it all at once. As soon as you get your licence you can sign up to “Echolink”, this is a radio on your computer, kind of. It uses VoiP to route your voice communications to a “node” which is a computer linked to a radio that transmits and receives from Echolink in a specific location, that location could be anywhere on the planet as long as there is a node available.

    This gives a new operator the chance to practice their skills even if they don’t have a radio themselves. Many of the “old hands” use it too.

    So there we are, an introduction to what an Amateur radio licence can do for you as a prepper.


    I hope I remembered everything

    If you have any questions, please ask


    ​​​​​​Without darkness, we would not value the light

  • #2
    Some good points here Carl, but I wouldn't assume that any repeater station is going to be there/workable in a SHTF scenario, as if mobile towers are down, the power is likely to be down as well. I wonder how many radio hams that operate repeaters, have them on battery or generator back up systems. Is there a group plan to implement regional/local VHF/UHF repeaters in the event of the Fan switching on. (this used to be one of my old regiments jobs back in the 80's).

    I'm still going to pursue my license however as I feel it's important to practice the skills before they are actually required, in particular voice procedure, and the only way to do this legally (HF) is via the license. Its over 17 years since I did any real comms and working HF long distance requires a lot of experience in frequency selection and antenna placement.


    • #3
      As a member of an Amateur Radio prepping group (IPN) as well as UKSN we are looking at the options for a post fan scenario.
      The newer technology solar and battery UPS systems are gaining popularity with the amateur radio clubs maintaining the repeater network, as well as integration with internet based ham comms such as echolink.

      I agree that practice is a key to being ready, after all skills get rusty. If we were post fan, adrenalin and its sister "panic" are skill depleters. The repetition of these skills almost guarantee it will be remembered.

      ​​​​​​Without darkness, we would not value the light


      • #4
        Understood. I was chatting with a guy I wildcamp with and he's got a solar panel for his van camping van. His setup can run his van with internal lights, fridge, etc with a leisure battery without the need for the engine running.


        • #5

          Some excellent points, we live in an age of ever increasing reliance on communication and in the event of an emergency of any type keeping coms alive is going to pay dividends to all, information is a valuable commodity at any time but especially when you are up against it.

          I am very much hoping that a radio camp will go ahead as has been discussed so that I can get my Foundation license. But if it doesn't or I cannot attend I will absolutely be pursuing this in my own time as I think is a vital tool. At the moment my family has PMR for personal communication if required and we practice using it at least once a week, my 4 year old is getting quite good infact, and obviously I have a UV-5R for wider communication but always looking to improve my situation.


          • #6
            Originally posted by andywragg View Post
            Some good points here Carl, but I wouldn't assume that any repeater station is going to be there/workable in a SHTF scenario, as if mobile towers are down, the power is likely to be down as well. I wonder how many radio hams that operate repeaters, have them on battery or generator back up systems.
            GB3EK in Kent, a 70cm repeater with a huge footprint, can run for around 6 days without mains power. I've had it running on the UPS for 4 days without any issues.

            I don't think many other repeaters have that capability.


            • #7
              Originally posted by Matt View Post

              I don't think many other repeaters have that capability.
              I think last year I read in the RSGB monthly magazine that repeaters are set for updating to a UPS within the "next few years".
              Since they are owned and operated by clubs it could be a bit longer due to funding.
              However, as battery prices are falling the UPS systems become more affordable. It all depends on the other priorities of the club holding the repeater.

              ​​​​​​Without darkness, we would not value the light