Here’s Why You Should Get Your Ham Radio License.

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By the author of The Prepper’s Guide to Post-Disaster Communications and Zombie Choices.

Arguably the most difficult part of preparedness is figuring out everything that goes into off-grid communications. Think about it. Learning how to shoot an AR-15 and your Glock is a lot of fun, offers tangible feedback, and lets you get to spend time out with a trainer/friends figuring out the ropes.

Learning how to raise livestock or garden? Again, I think it’s a lot of fun, and while there’s definitely a steep learning curve, it’s relatively straightforward (but not easy).

But comms? Once people start talking about antenna theory and propagation, eyes begin to glaze over. You start to delve into physics, and I would argue the bulk of the world isn’t wired to be a physics nerd.

This doesn’t make off-grid comms any less important, however.

Consider that after a disaster, over and over again, we find that it’s knowledge of the safety of one’s loved ones that people are frantic for. Think about the last time a tornado, earthquake, or other disaster hit your area. It’s likely that one of the first thoughts that ran through your head was “where is so-and-so?”.

Imagine a world without cell phones. Given the current spate of events the US has found itself fighting against, I don’t think that this is that difficult to accomplish. We’re now at the largest risk of nuclear war, arguably, in world history. Our power grid has been found with backdoor access installed in it. The EMP Commission Report from 2009 didn’t have much encouraging to say, and Ted Koppel’s Lights Out has done a fantastic job of opening up the eyes of Americans everywhere to the fragility of our power grid.

It wouldn’t take much to turn out the lights, taking cell towers with it. And when this happens, will all of your friends and loved ones be in one place? I doubt it.

Your family is likely to be scattered in a disaster. 

And even if your family is all at the house, there are still going to be close friends and others who you are going to want to make sure are okay after a hurricane like Ian hits, a terrorist attack occurs, or the like. Ham radio is one of the best off-grid means of doing that.

This, in and of itself, is a huge reason that I think you should get your ham radio license. You’ll have the skills necessary to reach everybody.

Ham radio helps you to coordinate. 

It’s not just that your family and friends may be separated after a disaster. You also have to consider that the ability to communicate with one another not only serves as a mental relief but it allows you to figure out the next steps as well.

Ideally, your family will already have a plan in place should everybody be separated (we’ve written about one option here before), but if you don’t, ham radio will help you to notify everybody of where it is that they need to go to regroup.

(Did you know there are four levels of disaster? Check out what they are at our free QUICKSTART Guide.)

Why not just use CB, FRS, GMRS, and MURS? 

I think that all of these are excellent options for disaster comms. But there is a lot that can be accomplished with ham radio too. And the problem is this: you will miss the opportunity to learn about these benefits first-hand if you limit yourself to just those above-listed parts of the radio spectrum.

Consider that FRS, GMRS, and MURS radios typically don’t have a detachable antenna. You won’t get the opportunity to learn much about antenna theory with them, and your range will be minimal as a result.

CB gives you a lot of options, but I think that just using CB is kind of like limiting your gun safe to just Glocks. Sure, they’re fantastic, but you only have one tool in the toolbox. You can do a lot more if you diversify your options there.

To get the most use useful tool possible, you have to use ham radio, and to do that you need a license. I know, I know. In a life or death situation, you’re going to say “screw the license.” There are a lot of other times you may need to use ham radio that aren’t life and death situations, however, and for those you will want a license if you don’t want hefty FCC fines.

And once you have that license, you’ll have the ability to put in a lot of practice with one heck of a tool.

Ham radio experience allows you to learn a lot about signals intelligence. 

Guess what? Bad guys use radios too. In a grid-down world, let’s say where there’s been an EMP attack against the US, there are going to be coordinated bad guys, whether they be state actors or not, that are moving about with radios.

If you got your ham radio license years ago and spent your fair share of time behind the mic, you’re going to be able to pick up a lot of information not only from knowing where to tune in but from other factors that I’ve written about here before.

Practicing with your setup is what helps you to learn the nuances you wouldn’t know about otherwise.

I think the main problem here, though, goes back to what we were first talking about.

It seems as if the bulk of the content you find online related to ham radio was written by a retired electrical engineer. These people are incredibly smart, but a lot of times, the jargon they use is so extreme that the newbie can’t get a grasp on just about anything.

This causes people to give up and focus on what they can learn easily. We are creatures of convenience, and that’s just the way it works. So, disaster comms is dropped and people start focusing on their bean patch instead.

This is part of the reason that I wrote The Prepper’s Guide to Post-Disaster Communications, a book that uses cartoons, puns, and simplified language to explain radio concepts in a disaster environment.

Unfortunately, that book won’t help you to pass the ham radio license exam.

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But my new book will.

The Prepper’s Post-Disaster Communications EXAM Handbook is a study guide composed of all 426 questions in the technician license question bank, along with a cartoon associated with each question. This is a highly effective, proven mnemonic study technique.

This was how I made my way through high school – cartoon study guides. It was then that I learned that using goofy cartoons was a great way to get one to remember what one needed to remember to not spend July in summer school.

I figured, why not apply the same principle to the technician license exam?

I’m not an engineer brain, and I highly doubt you are as well. If, like me, the inner working of your head is a strange mixture of Bugs Bunny cartoons, Calvin and Hobbes, and VeggieTales, you’ll probably like this new book.

If, like me, you haven’t found a system of studying for the technician license that ever really worked for you, give this book a try.

My hope is that it will get as many Americans as possible past that hurdle of getting better squared away for disaster.

Check it out and let me know if you think I hit my goal.

Do you have your ham radio license?

How did you prepare for it? What techniques help you learn most easily? Tell us in the comment section below.

About Aden

Aden Tate is a regular contributor to and Aden runs a micro-farm where he raises dairy goats, a pig, honeybees, meat chickens, laying chickens, tomatoes, mushrooms, and greens. Aden has four published books, What School Should Have Taught You, The Faithful Prepper An Arm and a Leg, The Prepper’s Guide to Post-Disaster Communications, and Zombie Choices. You can find his podcast The Last American on Preppers’ Broadcasting Network.

Aden Tate

Aden Tate

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  • I have been an Amateur radio operator since the end of the 1990’s.I read each of the Gordon West books and now have my Amateur Extra license.

  • I have been interested in ham for years and studied off and on for the exam. Mostly off. Currently, I am wary of ham after reading that ham radio operators have a shortened life expectancy. That is probably true, as everything in the universe is electric, including human bodies and other life forms. To be alive physically is to have controlled chemical reactions–and those can be heavily influenced by energy waves of all kinds (including 5G cell, which may be the real cause behind the COVID shots’ sudden deaths). There are ways to mitigate this, such as Shungite, or Burrell’s information or The Non-Tinfoil Guide to EMFs, or Steve Lepkowski’s stuff. So if you go for ham, start studying this as well. If you skip ham, learn about this anyway, because it is health and survival.

    • All true, but here, we are not talking about being Ham junkies, on there day and night. We are mostly interested in survival communications, so you will not be constantly bombarded by radiation. Ham radiation pales in comparison to what everyone will experience under 5G, a real life-shortener.

    • I don’t think you have to worry about exposure to EMFs with ham radio. The equipment has to be shielded. Required by law. You run coax to the antenna (shielded). The signal is AIMED away from you, not broadcast. If you aren’t constantly in your shack, you should be OK. My closest radio ham is as old as I am, and the reason his health is poor has nothing to do with ham radio, but his malnutrition (he survives on energy bars) and his use of pharmaceuticals rather than supplements. And I know other radio hams who are healthy at the same age. I am 78. I am in good health because I take care of myself.

      5G operates on some frequencies that are also used by microwave ovens (Verizon) (but some frequencies used by other companies are not on that band.) And it is broadcast, not aimed and transmitted, and there is no shielding anywhere. Different story.

  • I’ve only been a Ham for a few years. Got my license for any SHTF situation for precisely the reasons stated in the article. I purchased a handheld and a mobile radio and antenna that I can literally set up anywhere. As far as health issues, I only practice with the radios occasionally to keep sharp. It isn’t a hobby really. If you are thinking of getting your license, do it now. The tests are pretty easy if you memorize the answers and these are available online. You can study the questions and the correct answers. My Elmers (experienced Hams who help new Hams out)-told me that 1 hour of studying per day for one week is what you need to pass. That worked for me. Real Hams will tell you that you need to understand all of the theory and that is true if you are going to make Ham radio your passion.

  • My son wanted to take an amateur radio project for 4H this past year and, like a good mama, I gladly offered support and to help him navigate the process. Having absolutely zero knowledge of ham except what I gleaned from prepper websites and the random youtube video, I was about as green as you could be. After some general web searches we got connected to some local clubs who connected us with other clubs that were offering free prep classes for licensing. Originally I was just going to be his ride to the classes, but since I was there anyway…After a few weeks I obtained my Technician and General licenses on the same day by studying for both exams simultaneously. Now I’m studying for my Extra license. Local clubs are terrific to help you get you connected in the hobby. The website and the app Ham Radio Prep were valuable resources for me. It would have been easier if I had been connected to’s website initially. As the main body of the hobby, their website has a lot of consolidated information that would have been very useful in the beginning, especially, and I would highly recommend it for anyone thinking about getting connected in ham radio.

  • Only one comment-in an Emp situation-will HAM work? Is the radio EMP proof? Don’t t think so, just saying and yes I have my HAM license. KG5OMG.

    • I’ve got my license once I learned that the Morse Code requirement had been lifted. I have all the equipment but haven’t gotten on the air, because there are just too few hours in the day. I keep all the essential parts of the system (radio and electronic power supply and tuner) in a Faraday cage.

      The testing was easy and there are test simulators online that you can use for practice. If you are stuck on some section of theory, find your local Ham Radio club and get an Elmer to help you.

      Ray K

  • a license is like a number tattoo on your arm, or like train-ride to a so-called better place.

    a license is permission granted by govermin folks.

    a license permits govermin folks to track folks to monitor or act against them.

    a license resembles a condom, providing a sense of security while interacting with some one else; the idea seems to be that a license is an indicator of safe operation.

    learn the techniques. get the gear. take the practice tests and pass them. don’t apply for a license. do not let govermin folks know that you know how to do something.

    so how onerous are the fines? are they greater than the price of incarcerating non-compliant folks? how does anybody know that you have or do not have a permission slip to operate a radio?

      • first offense is only $10,000 or imprisonment for no more than 1 year. subsequent offences are imprisonment for no more than 2 years. see 47 CFR § 95.313 – Penalties for violations of the Communications Act or FCC rules.

        “Based on FY 2019 data, the average annual COIF for a Federal inmate in a Federal facility in FY 2019 was $35,347 ($107.85 per day). The average annual COIF for a Federal inmate in a Residential Reentry Center for FY 2019 was $39,924 ($109.38 per day). (Please note: There were 365 days in FY 2019.)

        Based on FY 2020 data, the average annual COIF for a Federal inmate in a Federal facility in FY 2020 was $39,158 ($120.59 per day). The average annual COIF for a Federal inmate in a Residential Reentry Center for FY 2020 was $35,663 ($97.44 per day). (Please note: There were 365 days in FY 2020.)” at Annual Determination of Average Cost of Incarceration Fee (COIF)
        A Notice by the Prisons Bureau on 09/01/2021

        so, $40,000 per year on a $10,000 rap… what point do the govermin folks go broke enforcing this code?

        what keeps a knowledgeable operator from using a plausible call sign?

        remember that this site is about preparing for, and living through interesting times. I think that govermin folks will target compliant radio operators for hostile encounters during upcoming events within the US. getting a license just targets licensees.

  • I get the impression this article misses the mark. I was married to a radio ham for 52 years. When we dated, if we didn’t go to a movie or a concert, we went to his house and hung out in his shack. He designed and built equipment while I took scrounged equipment apart for the parts and put the parts where they belonged in his stock. Here’s the thing. During a time of lack of communication, ham radio might be the only option. But it only works if the radio ham has backup power that he can use when he’s off the grid. This either means solar WITH BATTERIES (expensive), because solar goes down when the grid goes down if you don’t have batteries, or a generator, which means storing fuel on your property: a fire hazard, and the fuel will degrade over time. And if you are a ham, all the neighbors will descend on you to communicate with others who may not be close to a radio ham, and most of US won’t be close to a radio ham. When the neighbors descend, the ham is at risk for violence for any other preps he has made. And his presence in the neighborhood is obvious because of his antennas. I live within walking distance of a radio ham, though it would be a bit of a hike. And as far as I know, he has no backup power, and he’s been a radio ham for decades. A knowledge of the questions on the technician test is not necessary for survival. Close proximity to a ham only works if he has backup power. And if you don’t have close proximity, you won’t have access. And getting a ticket means time spent, which you may or may not have. Think twice about this.

  • I got my general and technician licenses, also both on the same day. This was at least 25 years ago. I got my license renewed once but it has since lapsed. How difficult is it to get relicensed, and can I keep my same call sign?

    • The grace period for reinstatement is two years. Beyond that you would need to re-test. With all of the online study materials, retesting shouldn’t be difficult at all. You can request possibly request your old call sign as a vanity sign if is available.

  • I have HAM, a variety of OTC handhelds, etc, as well as my close friends, for yakking and potential emergencies, however, we have no expectation that after a true nuclear confrontation there will be any repeaters or radios in operation. True, “tests” and random online speculations say it’s possible radios may function, however, according to military and foreign military documents, (And two friends that are retired Army Colonels) the EMP’s will not only be multiple hits over hours or even days to weeks, (satelite weapons on timed delays) Also the pulses from the newest massive yield weapons (Russian and Chinese)are designed to be capable of shutting down the electronics even into the farthest depths of NORAD. (About 2 miles underground) So when folks pop the electronics out of those farady cages, don’t expect it to be once and done.

  • This article doesn’t make any sense to me. I live in rural Illinois and travel quite a bit for work. How am I going to reach a family member that’s out with her friends in a grid down situation when I’m the only one that’s licensed? My wife has a lick of sense to turn the shack radio on at the top of the hour or half hour and listen on our designated frequency to know what’s going on with me in a worse case scenario. The message won’t be encrypted, so anyone listening would hear. But again, How would they then forward a message to several family members in a grid down scenario? Who would risk leaving their home and travel x amount of miles to tell my family am alive if stuff HTF?

    This might be possible in a more populated area. But depending on the situation and the article mentions an EMP event. Let’s be real. This is a prepper website not a Walt Disney movie.

      • Well aware of the National Traffic System (NTS), repeaters, Winlink, and so on. The article does mention and gives a link to “four levels of disaster”. MY thought was directed in regards to an EMP event. Now “Your family is likely to be scattered in a disaster”. The average Joe wouldn’t know if an EMP affected the area right away. Again, I believe that most people will not be venturing far from their homes unless they are going to a BOL or to help loved ones.

        Its good to see that a commenter has a Sunday School class that everyone is licensed. Good for them. Do they have more than HT’s? Back up equipment in Faraday cages, power supplies, solar panels, etc. Will they still be operational?

        I’m a licensed ham and have tried getting a few family members involved without success. Nobody in a SHT_ scenario will be traveling 10-20+ miles to tell me Aunt Gertrude and her kitten Buttercup are OK.
        Just saying.

  • Several of us met with an experienced Ham for 4 weeks, using the standard Ham Tech manual to learn the basics of radio. As an older adult with limited knowledge of electrical/radio, I ended up really studying the practice questions and just the correct answers as well as reading the manual twice. The test is multiple choice, so the correct answers were easier to identify from my practice style. Our group of Seniors then set up an emergency radio communications group for our community since loss of communications is common during wildland fires. Basically, a couple of our people listen to the scanners, then use the ham radio to relay information to everyone else. We use a pre-written script for Net practice, as well as developing a routine for updating local fire information. The community members who are not hams are encouraged to ‘listen in’ to our weekly practice and keep their radios on. We also have a weekly radio practice for MURS. Amateur Radio aka Ham radio is an essential part of our community ‘safety net’ as cell service is spotty and landlines are not at all homes. Good communications improve survival rates in natural disasters.

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