Home Prepper Essential Prep: Getting your HAM Radio License

Essential Prep: Getting your HAM Radio License

by Anthony

ham-radioOne of the most reliable forms of communication is the radio; more specifically, radio waves. When people think about life after a major disaster or what many refer to as SHTF, they automatically assume (which they should) that typical communication methods i.e. land lines, television and cell phones, will all be down. In a world where we are use to Skyping with people on the other side of the world and getting news within minutes of it happening, going dark will be a major problem. You will have no idea what is happening, whether it is safe to move or whether or not it is safe to even breathe the air. You need to have some way to communicate with the outside world if you are hunkering down somewhere. A HAM radio is the go-to communication method for most preppers.

However, not everybody can just run out and buy a HAM radio, put up a giant antennae and start talking with people across the country or world. You need a license to operate one of these radios. You are probably wondering why you need a license in a SHTF situation. Well, you probably won’t have the FCC knocking on your door after a cataclysmic event, but as with anything having to do with survival and prepping, there is a learning curve. To practice and learn how to operate your radio, you need a license.

Getting Your Ham Radio License

Fortunately, getting your HAM radio license is actually a lot easier than getting a driver’s license. Yes, there is a test, but it isn’t as difficult as you would assume. About 10 years ago, the requirement to learn Morse Code was dropped from the licensing requirements. Morse code is a tough one to learn, but it is extremely valuable. Now that you don’t have to pass a test on beeps and boops, the licensing procedure is fairly straightforward and you will learn a lot of really good information.


Yes, there is a test and therefore you need to study. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways you can do that without sitting in a library for hours on end reading dry textbook material. Of course, that option is still available for those bookish people who enjoy that kind of thing.

Purchase the Book “The ARRL Ham Radio License Manual” this guide is invaluable for getting your license.

Check out some of the other options you have:

  • Download an app from the Google Play store—yes, there is an app for that!
  • Surf the internet and check out all the available posts
  • Buy an eBook on the subject
  • Buy a hard copy of a book about using a HAM radio

Ideally, you will want to have at least one hard cover manual of some sorts on hand. When the world goes sideways, you will probably not be able to access any of the downloaded material on your Kindle or phone.
You will find pretty much all of the test questions on the internet. This will help give you a pretty good idea about the information you need to know for the test.

What Test to Take

There are 3 different types of licensing available. Basically, you start at the bottom and work your way up. The more inclusive the license, the more information you will need to know to pass the test. Before you can go on to the next level, you must pass the test for the previous level. In some situations, you may be able to take all 3 tests in one sitting if you choose.
Technician License—This is the basic license for beginners. You will be able to communicate with folks in North America. The distance in which you will be able to reach people will depend on your skills and your setup. You will have access to VHF/UF bands.
General License-This license gives you the opportunity to take your communications overseas. The test will have 35 questions for you to answer that cover a variety of topics. Ideally, this is the license you will want to have if you want to be able to be a part of an emergency communication system.
Amateur Extra License-This requires more in depth knowledge and training along with a more thorough testing procedure. This license will allow you to use all band and all modes. There are 50 questions on the test.

License Details

When you go to take the test, you will need to take a picture identification and your social security number. You cannot take the test online. You will have to find out when a test will be held in your area and sign up to take it. The fee to take the test is pretty nominal, typically under $15 or so. Once you have passed your test, your license will be good for 10 years. Depending on what license you have tested for, your call sign will be sent to you within a couple weeks of the testing date. You can request and pay for a vanity call sign, which is basically one that you choose. There is a procedure you must go through and the number of letters in the call sign will depend on your license level. You will need to check the FCC database to see if your desired call sign is already in use or is prohibited.

Don’t put off this important step to becoming fully prepared for anything. You will want to spend some time getting familiar with the radio and how you can get the most out of it. Check into joining clubs that have plenty of experts that can provide you with plenty of free training along with valuable tips and advice.

For testing information check out: http://www.arrl.org/getting-your-technician-license

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1 comment

Observations99 June 3, 2015 - 8:38 pm

It’s also a good idea to get a PO Box or list an address where you can receive mail that is not your home address. In their infinite wisdom, the FCC allows anyone to search a call sign to find out the name and provided address of the person who has the license. It’s not illegal to use a different address than where you live. You only have to be able to receive mail there. A PO Box or your workplace are good alternatives.


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