Survival Communication for Preppers: Ham & CB Radios
It’s hard not to look around at the world and not be concerned about how fragile everything is. We all depend on so many other people for so many things. If SHTF tomorrow, it would all come falling down, and then where would most people be? It just makes sense to prepare for when that happens.
Communications Are Fragile
Of all the systems we rely on in the modern world, communication is one of the most fragile. The amazing technologies like cell phones depend on an incredibly elaborate infrastructure that can be knocked out at any point.
Cell phones rely on a network of receivers and transmitters that in turn rely on power systems and computers. Losing just one cell phone tower site can create localized dead spots right where you need to communicate. A large-scale power outage knocks the whole system down so that no one is communicating. And even if the cell phone system is still functioning, during a catastrophe everyone is trying to use the system at once, causing it to jam up. Even if some people are able to communicate, you might not be able to.
The kicker is that in a SHTF scenario, the one thing that will save you above all else is information. Knowing just what is going on, what areas are affected, and being able to make decisions is more important than any other survival prep you might have made.
Should you hunker down in your bunker or make a run for it? With the wrong information, any bunker can easily become a tomb, or an attempted escape can lead to a literally dead end. The problem is, you can’t rely on being given the information you need. You can’t trust what you’re being told on the news—they may not know or may be deliberately concealing what’s going on.
You need survival communications that are robust against catastrophes and can get you the information you need whether you’re in the path of destruction or right in the thick of it. CB and ham radio can give you that communication.
CB Radios—A Great Start and Not a Bad Option
CB radios are a great place to start for SHTF radios. First of all, they’re inexpensive. For example, the Cobra 29 LX, recently rated the best CB radio, runs under $125. That’s easy to fit into your preparations budget. And Cobra radios get under $50, so there’s no excuse for not being able to afford a CB to get started out.
Another benefit of the CB option is that you don’t need a license to operate one. No license means you’re not on a list and nobody’s going to come knocking on your door. CB radio operators largely fly under the radar, and as long as you’re following the rules, no one is going to note or question your use of them.
The downside of SHTF CB radios is that their range is limited. By law, CB radios are limited to 4 watts, which gives you a pretty limited range. Terrain can really cut down your range, and with a good antenna at this power, you’re really looking at a range of less than 20 miles. Is 20 miles enough? That depends on a lot of things. How good is your network? (See below.) How hardcore do you want your prepper communications? If that’s not enough for you, you can either become a prepper ham radio operator (see below), or you can consider boosting your power.
SHTF CB Radio Boosting
Now, technically, boosting your radio beyond the limits allowed by law is illegal. Doing it could result in hefty fines, confiscation of your equipment, and ending up on some list, which is what you were trying to avoid anyway. So, if you do it—which we’re not encouraging—you’d have to be careful. Set it up, do a test, and then put it away. Most of the time using your equipment once isn’t going to get you in trouble. Someone has to complain to the FCC, the FCC has to register that complaint, and respond to it with agents in the field who have a directional antenna to track the signal to you.
Another option, which is the safer, legal option, is to buy the equipment but perform the modifications only if and when SHTF. There are two ways that people normally boost their CB radio. Either they amplify their CB radio, or they get a 10 meter radio and modify it to operate in the 11 meter CB band. Both methods are illegal and both could result in the aforementioned consequences.
Prepper Ham Radio
There are many good things about ham radio for preppers. It has much better range. It has a great network of repeaters (see below) that can help you get information from around the world. And, it has a wider range of broadcasting and reception, allowing you to listen to (and talk on) frequencies where important communications will be happening when SHTF. The only downsides are that the equipment can be more expensive and you need a license to operate.
Radios usable in the full range of frequencies you want to listen to are going to cost you on the order of $200-300 or more, like the Galaxy DX2517 10-meter radio shown to the right. For more limited functionality, you can often get radios quite cheap, as little as $30, but these may not fill the purpose you’re looking for. The license is another reason why prepper ham radio may not be your best option.
If you have a license, the FCC will have you on their list, and they will definitely monitor you for violations (like not identifying yourself every 10 minutes or so when you’re broadcasting). If there ever comes a time when they don’t like what you’re doing, they will come and get your radio. And the Feds are aided by the network of ham operators. They won’t necessarily target you specifically, but if you’re operating without a license and interfering with their communications, they will lead the FCC right to you. And then it’s fines, confiscated equipment, and possibly a lifetime ban.
Expanding Your Range Legally: Make a Survival Communications Network
There’s a perfectly legal and highly advisable method for expanding your range of communications, and that is getting to know your neighbors (on air, that is). Talk to people in your area. Find out who is out there with what kind of equipment, what they know and what they’ve done (or are doing) to prepare. That way, even if your range is only limited to 20 miles or less, your effective range may be much, much larger.
You can also tap into the network of repeaters. These repeaters receive communications from local radios and send them out with much more powerful signals so that even if you can’t reach someone nearby, you still have a chance of reaching someone far away. Of course, repeaters are a part of infrastructure that can fail. But your radio is yours, and can be set up to run off a 12-V battery or other backup power supply that can make you an island of light even when the world goes dark. And it will make you part of an archipelago or preppers who can stem the tide of chaos, if not for everyone, then for yourself and your family.