Note: This is part two of the guest post from Andrew Base at the Emergency Communications Blog. Enjoy!
This is probably one of the most important areas for you to invest in your emergency communications plan. Get licensed (because it’s easy), get some inexpensive equipment to begin with, and get familiar with it (which is easier to do when you’re licensed)!
Common amateur radio brands include Icom, Kenwood, Yaesu, Alinco, and more recently from China on the inexpensive end of the spectrum, Wouxun. The first three I listed are usually considered to be the highest quality handheld radios.
You should select a waterproof radio capable of putting out 5 watts on 2M (it will probably put out slightly less on 440 MHz). You should also get a 12V vehicle battery charger, a backup battery pack (most modern battery packs are lithium ion), and an AA or AAA battery holder. With one of these battery holders, you can insert two or three disposable AA or AAA batteries into a casing, which fits in the radio where the rechargeable battery would go.
You may be able to use rechargeable AA/AAA batteries in some cases, but only if they provide sufficient voltage, as many do not provide the full 1.5V per battery that disposables do. You will need to check the directions that came with your device to ensure rechargeable batteries will function. Running on AA batteries, your radio’s output power may be lower, but it will work in a pinch! Everyone should have this flexibility.
Since we’re talking about radios with a lot of flexibility when it comes to using any variety of antennas, I also recommend you buy an aftermarket whip antenna, which you attach to the radio directly, in place of the factory antenna. Almost every factory-supplied handheld radio antenna, often referred to as a “rubber duck” or “dummy load”, is quite inefficient.
I also recommend a “mag-mount” (magnetically mounted) antenna to attach to the top of your vehicle, or your metal filing cabinet if you’re operating indoors). You attach the flexible coaxial (“coax”) cable from this antenna to your radio. Such a setup will usually significantly improve your reception and transmission effectiveness.
I’ve described only a few things you should consider regarding ham radio, but acting on these recommendations will put you light years ahead of the person who only has an FRS/GMRS or CB radio.
You’ll find additional recommendations and ideas on www.emergencycommunicationsblog.com, and you’ll find many more details, pictures, etc. in my upcoming book, due to be released soon!