Why Preppers Should Have a General Class Ham License

A trend among Preppers and Survivalists is to use amateur radio to communicate during a crisis. Given ham radio’s rich history of service during disasters, it’s a natural place for people to go when they want to prepare for the unexpected.

There are lots of articles encouraging people to get their license. And that is great. I think that the Prepper movement, and the proliferation of inexpensive Chinese hand-held radios, has contributed to the growth of licensees in the United States, especially with the entry-level Technician Class license being the most common.

If you’re studying for your Technician, go on and earn the General Class license.

Here’s why.

When you search for “Prepper Radio Frequency List,” you’ll run into this list that covers GMRS, CB, Ham, and even Marine Maritime and Search and Rescue.  This list is meant to be a standardized “watering hole” for Preppers during a crisis.  (I hope that you have licenses for all these services and can transmit legally, but that is a different topic.)


The ham radio section includes four HF frequencies used by the American Preparedness Radio Network (TAPRN), a group of preppers who meet on the air regularly to communicate and share information. But there is a problem.

If you don’t have a General Class Ham License, you can’t participate.

TAPRN frequencies are in the voice section of the HF band.  You must have a General Class license or above to transmit there and participate.

  • 3.818 MHz
  • 5.357 MHz
  • 7.242 MHz
  • 14.242 MHz

Also, every state has a state-wide communication net for emergencies. Most are located in the voice section of the 80-meter or 40-meter band. Again, you must have a General Class license to transmit and participate.

If all you want to do is communicate locally, the Technician is fine. You have local repeater coverage until a storm knocks out power. At that point, you’re no better off than if you had a bubble pack FRS radio from Wal-Mart.

With a General Class license, you can communicate locally or across the world. International Relief Agencies, the military, and ships at sea use shortwave to keep in touch. If it’s good enough for them during a disaster, it’s probably good enough for most Prepper scenarios.

Lessons from a 10 Mile Hike

The plan was to hike about 12 miles from Channahon State Park to the Theodore Marsh. I expected to complete the course in about three hours and be home in time for lunch with my family.

Unfortunately, things don’t always go as planned. This hike taught me a few lessons that I will carry forward on future hikes.

Illinois & Michigan Canal

The I&M Canal was the first complete water route from the east cost to the Gulf of Mexico. It connects Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River by way of the Illinois River. Today, the canal is a popular outdoor trail and follows the old towpath where mules and horses pulled barges until 1933.

This is what most of the canal looks like on the trail.

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Except for mountain bikes and a stray runner or two, I had it all to myself.

About 2:15 into the hike, I left the I&M Canal and started a half-mile, 75 foot climb on paved road to the Rock Run.

Lesson 1: Heavy Snacks Weigh You Down

I knew the climb would be difficult, and planned to take a break at the top. I packed a PROBAR Meal, something I carry in my Red Cross GoKit. This particular PROBAR is a meal substitute, and, as I discovered, not something that gives you a quick energy boost. It sat on my stomach like a beached whale.

Lesson 2: Exposed Paved Paths are Not Your Friend

Back on the trail, I planned to bypass the leg that went behind Joliet Junior College. Not only would it shave four miles from my hike, going straight down Houbolt Road would get me back under the trees quickly where I could finish the hike.

For some reason, I stayed on the Rock Run Greenway (which isn’t green at this point). By the time I realized my mistake, I could feel my energy level plummet.

The next three miles were brutal. I had no shade and was chugging water at a rate that would leave me empty with miles to go.

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It was at this point, I had had enough. I called my wife, who came and retrieved me.

Lesson 3: Use a Live Tracking App

Although I left a map, had a cell phone, and carry a hand-held amateur radio; had I fallen into trouble in a more remote part of the trail (it’s really not a remote trail, but parts are not easily accessible), it would be difficult to find me. Having a live GPS tracking app on my phone would be useful.

I’m going to experiment with different apps to see what works best.

Distance: 9.82 miles. Total time: 3:28. Average Pace: 21:16. Total Climb: 370.

Here is my RunKeeper activity log.

Stair Workout at Swallow Cliff

This beast is Swallow Cliff Falls near Palos Park, Illinois.

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It’s a 100-foot high bluff formed 12,000 years ago when glacial meltwater carved out the Sag Valley, leaving behind steep walls and a varied landscape of morainal hills and pothole lakes.

The Civilian Conservation Corp built 125 limestone stairs in the 1930s that lead to the top of a toboggan run. It’s a popular exercise destination for fitness buffs and casual walkers.

And it owned me as I spent 90 minutes over two days hauling myself up and down it for stair work.

Day 1 was tough. I made it up and down seven times with a 10 pound backpack. I don’t know what was worse about the experience: the two Polish supermodels who frolicked like gazelles, always passing me; or the three year old toddler who did the circuit 3 times with him mom.

My legs were wobbly when I stopped.

Day 2 was tougher. My calves were already tight and sore from the first day, but I pushed myself up and down 10 times with the same backpack.

It was awful; and I did it.

On Saturday, it’s a 5 hour hike along the Illinois & Michigan Canal.

Ham Radio Can Bring Morse Code Back to the High Seas

For more than a century, Morse code was the language of ships at sea. This simple code communicated messages ranging from the routine to the life-saving.

Morse code slipped under the seas in 1999, replaced by satellite communication. It’s demise left amateur radio operators as caretakers of an art form first demonstrated to Congress by Samuel Morse himself in 1844.

Recently, the FCC granted amateurs access to a portion of the historic maritime radio band where most Morse code communication took place. This grant means that people will once again communicate regularly using Morse code around maritime channels at 472, 476, and 478 kHz.

In a way, this makes amateur radio operators curators of a living museum on the air.

But Amateurs can do much more that be caretakers.

How? The FCC can still issue ship licenses with radiotelegraphy privileges.

Part 80 Rules defines a voluntary ship as “any ship which is not required by treaty or statute to be equipped with radio-telecommunications equipment.” Amateur radio operators who own documented vessels in the United States, such as a sloop or a yacht, can apply for a ship station license. And pursuant to 80.13(b), you can receive authorization for radiotelegraphy and narrow-band direct printing (fax).

With maximum power up to 2 kW.

Amateurs Have the Skills for the T License

To operate a ship station, amateur radio operators need to earn the FCC Radiotelegraph License, also known as the T License. This ticket gives you the authority to operate and maintain a radiotelegraph station on a ship or at a coast radio station, such as KPH near San Francisco.

Outside a few differences in the rules; the radio theory, antenna principles and operating practices are nearly identical to material most hams already know.

In fact, many amateurs already hold the General Radiotelephone Operator License (GROL) with Element 1 (Maritime Rules). By passing Element 6 (Advanced Radiotelegraph) and two Morse code exams at 16 and 20 words per minute, the FCC will issue you the commercial Radiotelegraph License.

Keeping Maritime Morse Code Alive

Every July, the historic RCA coast station KPH returns to the air in commemoration of the closing of commercial Morse code in the United States. The station communicates with other historic maritime stations and ships using Morse code. Unfortunately, there are just a few stations left…mostly museums themselves.

Many yacht-owning amateur radio operators already outfit their ships with radio equipment. By adding a ship license for radiotelegraphy, amateur radio operators have the opportunity to keep Morse code alive on the maritime bands.