How to prepare your family to survive and thrive in todays uncertain world

Choosing The Right Ham Radio

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, and you’ll find many more details, pictures, etc. in my upcoming book, due to be released soon!

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4 Responses to Choosing The Right Ham Radio

  1. I have emailed 2 ham radio groups in my area about my interest and how I’d like to attend a meeting, etc and i got no response for either. Should I just show up?

  2. I have two Yaesu’s, a FT-2900 and a 270-R HT. I use a Daiwa SS-330W power supply to power the 2900. I have a Hustler MX-2 mag mount 5/8 wave antenna that is sitting on a piece of sheet metal on my front porch until I can get around to building a better antenna. I use this for the 2900 and for the HT when the power’s out or there’s a lot of lightning around. I’ve also used it with the HT when I’m in my truck. It works really well no matter how I use it. I have a Diamond SHR77A antenna for the HT on order because the rubber ducky just doesn’t do much at all. Another ham in the area uses the Diamond with a good deal of success.

    Using the mag mount with the handy talky I can broadcast pretty decently over about a ten-twelve mile radius around me. I live in the Ozarks so I’m dealing with a lot of hills. With the 2900 and the mag mount I can get out about 20-30 miles depending on the propagation on any given day. Considering the HT runs at 5 watts of power and the 2900 can go up to 75 watts that says a lot about how important antennas are compared to having a whole bunch of power. The biggest difference the power seems to make is clarity of signal in marginal areas.

    Ham radio is a blast. I just got my general ticket so now I can start playing with the HF radios. Looking forward to it. I’d suggest that if a person gets licensed they join a local club and probably their local ARES group. If they’re anything like me a little hand holding can go a long way in figurin’ all this out. There’s a bunch to learn if you want to be a good operator. These are not CB radios. They do take some skill to run and even more skill to operate in a way that doesn’t cause other hams problems. You wouldn’t want to move into a new neighborhood and immediately alienate your new neighbors with bad behavior. The ham community is the same way. They’re a great group of people that will help newcomers with all our stupid little problems so I figure the fewer of those problems we cause the better off we are.