To HAM or not to HAM?

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My brother contacted me to borrow one of my FRS handheld radios. While talking about it, he mentioned a new radio he and some of his flying friends (powered paraglider guys, nut-jobs, if you ask me! I mentioned him and his antics here.) He was saying that the radio had several hundred mile range, and was programmable…all for the low price of around $50, not much more than what I paid for my FRS radios.

So I was very intrigued. I know a bit about radio frequencies, and how the “good” stuff is regulated by the FCC, and in many cases, a license of some sort is required. So I wanted to know where I could get a radio that offered that kind of range from a handheld, so I looked into it…

…and came back to the same end result for getting long range communications power out of hand-held radios, go with HAM, or Amateur Radio. I’ve looked into it a little, but really have only a very basic knowledge of the guidelines (three levels of licensing, each allows a wider range of frequencies).

I see a several possible uses for a HAM license, particularly if I can get a radio for $50. With a much longer range, plus the possibility of hitting repeaters and going about anywhere in the world, HAM might be another feather to add to my technical cap.

The first test, Technician, costs only $15, and is 35 electronics-based questions. I’ve gone through several sample tests and have done fairly well, without any studying, thanks to a technical background. With a little more practice and a bit of reading, I should be able to pass the test.

BaoFeng UV-5R+

The radio in question is the BaoFeng UV-5R+ Dual-Band 136-174/400-480 MHz FM Ham Two-Way Radio. The reviews are mostly good, with the detractors mainly reasonable, licensing required, and odd lemon, etc. I love to research the snot out of something when it is new to me and I am interested, and this is both.

My reasoning behind the idea of getting into HAM is that I work on the road, sometimes an hour or more away from home. I carry enough gear to get me home by either mechanical repairs, or using the “shoe leather express”, but in the event of a true emergency, lines of communications (the cell phone) can be down. We’ve had it happen in multiple storms before. Since I base most of my choices around how to keep my family safe, letting the wife know what I am doing and where I am, along with a potential ETA home will allow her to better deal with a crisis.

Overkill? Possibly, but its my nature, I’ve sad before that bad things happen…and NONE of you can argue that I’m wrong. Two $50 radios, some studying,and a couple of tests seems like a small price to pay, just in case. (Been a while since I typed THAT out!)

My questions are:

  • Should I go with HAM?
  • Is there a better , license-free option (keeping me off one more government list)
  • Is there a better handheld HAM radio available with a similar price point?
  • Do any of you have your HAM license, and if so, why?
  • Should my wife get her license as well, since my primary reason is to stay in touch with her, or can she piggy-back on mine?

At $15, I can get the license either way, and probably will.

As to the radio, I’m not sure yet, but it seems to be a good idea…BaoFeng UV-5R+ camo



…Plus, it comes in camo :)








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  1. You know, I still keep an old fashion CB in my Jeep and have a portable VHF for the sailboat. That would be fine in a line of sight situation but having worked as a storm trooper up in the hills of Alabama and Connecticut and lost cell communication, I’ve often thought that a portable HAM rig would be a great option. Thanks for the idea and keep us posted on what you find out.

    1. CBs and VHF DO have their uses…I should probably get both as added insurance…

      And I’ve posted to my personal facebook page, and am already getting folks coming out of hte woodwork that I’ve known for years that I never realized had their HAM operators licenses…

      Should prove enlightening :)

      I’ll be following up as things develop…

      1. Any idea on what the realistic range might be? I just looked at some of the posts on Amazon and they vary widely according to the programmer and the availability of repeaters.

        1. Reading reviews, I’m see ranges from 12-20 miles, depending on terrain and frequency used. I can’t confirm this though.

          Repeaters boost your signal, so as long as you can reach a repeater, you should be able to get anywhere….

          ….if I understand this stuff correctly 😛

          1. Depending on your frequency, power output, and antenna array you can theoretically talk to people on the other side of the world. This is of course dependent on weather, time of day, position of the moon, etc.

            For low power, small antenna handsets (like the one pictured above) you would be hard pressed to get outside of earth curvature after dark, with out a repeater.

          2. So if a repeater is 4-5 miles away, a signal will automatically get boosted and sent on?

            As I’ve said before, I’m a noob at this…

  2. Ham is different…
    Distance depends on frequency of the signal, weather, solar weather, position of the moon, and I can keep going.
    Within the frame of Ham there are sub-genres of long range(DX), short range, and then you have the newer internet connections (D-Star, etc).

    I think that for starters Wikipedia and all the associated links are a good place to start your research. go down all the rabbit holes until its too deep and start over.

    I have my General license ($15 + $15) but no equipment. The majority of people who get into Ham do it as a way to socialize in club speak. I enjoyed the local club meetings but with my work schedule it is hard to keep up.

    I think I rambled a bit but I hope that helps some. I am not the best place to start for info but I have passed every exam I took…


  3. One more thing.
    Find your local Ham club. Most welcome new blood with open arms. Usually you don’t have to be a paying member to attend meetings, you just don’t get to vote.
    Florida is chock full of snowbird Hams looking to spread some of there knowledge and love of the hobby.

  4. Ha, I didn’t actually read your questions DB.
    1. I cant give any advice on that. Knowing you like to geek-out on electronics, it may be better if you leave it alone. I hear it can be consuming.
    1.5 however, since you like to fix things, you could pick up slightly broken equipment, fix, and re-sell. Having your license would allow you to test it before you sell it.
    2. for local stuff MURS may be another option. like I said before Wikipedia is your friend.
    2.5. brother if you think that you are not on every list already you are deceiving yourself. Having the license allows you to practice your skills when it is not an emergency, without having the fcc knocking down your door and making you sad.
    3. I don’t have any equipment because I am hesitant to make the investment. I may here soon though as my wife has finally taken the red pill and can now understand why I am spending that kind of money when my cell phone works most of the time…
    4.yes, General. I’m a prepper and it seems like another way to get news in an emergency, and find help in same.
    5. Your wife may not legally operate a radio in the Ham bands without a license period. But you can both (and your daughters, no age limit) make it a family thing. Then you don’t have to worry about getting in contact.

    Ok, back to work. Gotta get that OT so I can afford a pair of those camo handsets!

    1. you have to “log/sign on” to a repeater using a certain tone/pulse. Most repeaters are owned by clubs who don’t have a problem with you using there repeaters. Power, equipment, and labor are paid for by club dues.

      there are several systems that use the internet as a repeater of sorts, D-Star for one.

      If you need to go outside of your earths curvature range you log onto the repeater for the boosted range. Some hams log onto the repeater even when they are not trying to go far because it allows them to use less power at the handset.

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