Emergency preparedness from a Counterintelligence Agent

How to get a ham radio license

how to get a ham radio licenseHow to get your ham radio license

It’s actually easy to get your ham radio license (also called an amateur radio license). I always wanted to get mine but didn’t actually do it until the Morse code requirement was dropped. Here’s why you need one, how I got mine, and how you can get yours. If you want a quick answer, just get this book. If you want more info, keep reading…

Every time I bring up the need to get a ham radio license, some idiot always pops up and says, “You won’t need a ham radio license if SHTF.” WTF? Read How to communicate when the world goes silent (hint: ham radio is the best way to do that, and you need a license to use it).

Operating a ham radio and actually getting a hold of someone is a bit more difficult at first than you might seem. You may be able to transmit without getting in trouble, but no one will hear you, and you won’t hear them. Using a ham radio to transmit long distances in a variety of circumstances is quite complicated and takes decades to master. You might be able to get in touch with the guy down the street (maybe) but you won’t be able to figure out long distance (called dx) communications by just picking one up and plugging it into an antenna. Do yourself a favor and get a license.

Just like with FCC investigators and volunteers who track down offenders (you have to call out your FCC every 10 minute on the air or you’ll probably get some unwanted attention), if you find yourself in martial law and don’t want to be found, they can track you down pretty easily. ABSOLUTELY read this book if you’re a prepper and going to use ham radio for comms:  Stealth Amateur Radio: Operate From Anywhere.

For many years, you had to learn Morse Code to do it. That requirement was dropped – now it’s a no-brainer. In 2011, I didn’t work a full-time job because I was finishing my degree and doing all the preparation for Warrant Officer School (WOCS) for the Army. During that time, I started getting pretty heavy back into survival. One of the key things to survival, especially in a disaster situation, is communication. Nothing beats Ham Radio for survival communication. I finally got my ham radio license.

So what is ham radio? Check out this link from ARRL (American Radio Relay League) to explain it. They’re actually called the National Association for Amateur Radio so I don’t know why they’re called dd and not NAAR. Whatever. Essentially, it’s a radio that lets you talk to people kind of like a CB radio but with a lot more frequencies you’re allowed to use. The frequencies you can use depend on what level of licence you have, as you’ll see below.

I first went to Barnes and Noble to read up on the subject, as I’m wont to do on occasion, read several books, and then got the official ARRL ham radio test manual (there are tons of ham radio study books available if you don’t like that one). It looked like a pretty daunting endeavor at first. I was thinking it was going to be too much work in addition to school and beer. Then one day at Starbucks, I perused the Internet for a while to study the subject and I came across the idea that you can practice easily online because all the test questions and answers are out there – exactly as they are written on the test. You just have to drill them into your head over and over.

I settled on QRZ and HamTestOnline and downloaded a $5 iPhone ham radio test app. They have a free version but it doesn’t have all the questions.  I then spent about 30-60 minutes for a few days a week for a month or so. I passed easily. This, in spite of the fact that the free versions of the websites don’t give you all the questions. By going to several sites and using the iPhone app, I managed to get enough to pass. It did help, however, that I know electronics and RF theory quite well, but if you don’t, it won’t take you much longer to study to get it since you just have to recognize the question and match it to the correct answer. If you’re not familiar with electronics and RF, I’d get the book and study online to test yourself.

Here is now what I’m allowed to transmit:

Ham Radio License Frequencies for the Technician Class:

Band Frequencies (In MHz) Mode Notes
80 Meters 3.525 – 3.600 CW 200-watt limit
40 Meters 7.025 – 7.125 CW 200-watt limit
15 Meters 21.025 – 21.200 CW 200-watt limit
10 Meters 28.100 – 28.300 CW, RTTY, Data 200-watt limit
10 Meters 28.300 – 28.500 CW, Phone, Image 200-watt limit
Above 50 MHz All amateur privileges

Knowing what I know now from starting into my General License studying, using an app like Amateur Radio Exam Prep, I would have gone this route first. For just a few bucks, you get all the questions and answers you need to pass, right in your pocket. Why would I want to get another ham radio license? In addition to all the frequencies you get from the tech class, you get the following:

Ham Radio License Frequencies for the General Class:

Band Frequencies (in MHz) Mode
160, 60, 30 Meters All amateur privileges
80 Meters 3.525 – 3.600 CW, RTTY, Data
3.800 – 4.000 CW, Phone, Image
40 Meters 7.025 – 7.125 CW, RTTY, Data
7.175 – 7.300 CW, Phone, Image
20 Meters 14.025 – 14.150 CW, RTTY, Data
14.225 – 14.350 CW, Phone, Image
15 Meters 21.025 – 21.200 CW, RTTY, Data
21.275 – 21.450 CW, Phone, Image
17, 12, 10 Meters All amateur privileges
Above 50 MHz All amateur privileges

I’m still interested in learning Morse Code; it’s one of the things on my Bucket List. I currently have about 11 characters down at a character speed of about 40wpm and effective speed of 5wpm. More on that to come on a later post.

One of the things you should do when you get your license is join ARRL. According to their site:

Founded in 1914, the ARRL is the national association for amateur radio in the USA. Today, with more than 158,000 members, ARRL is the largest organization of radio amateurs in the United States.

They do a lot of good in the community by helping out with emergency planning and response. I have a few friends who work exercises with them by setting up at hospitals and police stations to run communications during emercencies or mass casualty practice events. Sounds right up my alley! The Amateur Radio Emergency Service® (ARES) is a great group to do things like this too.The ARES consists of licensed amateurs who have voluntarily registered their qualifications and equipment, with their local ARES leadership, for communications duty in the public service when disaster strikes. I’m a member of the Maricopa County Special Forces Posse and a certified for search and rescue operations. Having a ham radio really comes in handy.
One thing you’ll realize as soon as you get your amateur radio license is hams are REALLY helpful. If you’d like to get started meeting people, check out the Prepared Ham forum. My buddy AD runs it (we actually met during our amateur radio license test).

Having a Ham license is great for planning. My son is now studying to get his Ham license so we can both talk to each other. It makes it a lot easier when you have someone else to learn with, although the Ham Radio community is extremely helpful and friendly. One of the things we have planned to do when we back from Afghanistan is to go camping with our radios and set up comms. We’re also going to figure out a thorough contingency communications plan (more on that in a future post as well). It’s quite an addictive and fun hobby; so much so that I created a whole category here just for it.

I have two Yaesu ham radios that I primarily use. They’re both fantastic radios. The first one I got was the Yaesu VX-6R Submersible handheld shown standing up between the two monitors. It’s waterproof, has lots of frequencies, and is about the size of a box of cigarettes. The next one I got is the Yaesu FT-857D. It has pretty much every frequency you’d want and pushes out 100W. You can even put it in your car or truck like an uber CB radio. I think it’s probably the best ham radio for preppers. It does have a version called the 897D that can hold 12V batteries that I almost got (and still don’t know if I should have instead).

I have a few different antennas that I use but my favorite antenna so far is the old dipole antenna for the 857d. I even have ham radio software that can run the radio for me. The ham radio software I use is called Ham Radio Deluxe. I have a Diamond SRH77CA anteanna for the handheld. //UPDATE// I recently bought a Baofeng UV5RA handheld. It’s ridiculously cheap and works well. It’s just stupid to set up. If you have one of these, watch this video because the Baofeng UV5r manual sucks.

If you’re interested in finding out where you can test for your Ham Radio license in your area, check out this form at the Amateur Radio Relay League.

To get started, I highly suggest getting the book Ham Radio For Dummies if you don’t get the ARRL book. Makes it much easier than just memorizing the answers. In the meantime, check out my article on creating a family emergency communications plan so your family will know exactly what to do in case of an emergency when the cell towers aren’t working.


About graywolfsurvival.com

I am a former federal agent and military veteran who has deployed to combat theaters in Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan and have almost three decades of military and military contracting experience.

My goal is to help families to understand how to intelligently protect their family and their way of life against real threats, without all the end-of-the-world doomsday crap.


  1. dragon5126 says

    the easiest way to study for the test (every class of ham license) is to register on qrz.com and simply take the tests, dont worry about not knowing any answers, the test will tell them to you. first master test one for the technician class, then ADD test two ( take test one and two in sequence) when you are scoring over 86 percent add the next test, and so on and so forth, until you are taking all the tests for that class in sequence and scoring over 86 % on all of them. Want to challenge yourself? Add general class to the mix, do the technician tests in this manner, and then General (the same manner) and eventually Extra Class, and you can go and test through all the classes at once if you wish. Doing it this way literally make your mind memorize the answers in an extremely fast (and cost free) manner.

    If you are HALF way good at math, go to this link and read the page and learn about Ohms law, you can then actually try calculating out the math parts of the tests.

    Ive been a ham radio operator for almost 25 years, Ive used this method to teach hundreds (literally) of people to get their ham license, and as long as they have done their part, they passed the tests with flying colors. The only ones who did not get their licenses are those who did not try. this study method supplies immediate feedback and works wit the way the human mind remembers things the best. take the info and run with it. Share it, and above all get your license so you can PRACTICE using the radio equipment. After the S hits the F will a license matter? probably not. BUT it will be too late to learn all the ins and outs of radio comms and how to use them, and how to build antennas for any given situation, and many other tings that are NOT about buying but are about assembling and using.

  2. Mike D K0MRD says

    Welcome to the hobby!

  3. SANDRA HAWN says

    who is going to care if you have a license in a shtf situation??? …just wondering…

    • No one, but you’ll care if that’s the first time you’ve tried to communicate with a ham radio. They’re more difficult than you think and take a ton of learning and practice to actually reach someone, which requires a licence to do it now.

  4. Phil KG4JRR says

    Learn and pratice radio skills. HF is one type of skill and VHF is another. With HF you have to learn to listen and listen very well. VHF/UHF is line of site and most is done on FM it is real clear. You need to get a license to pratice. Beside you might find some part of the hobby that you like. CW, digital messaging, microwave, designing equipment, things you never thought of. I now live in th NW and being ready for the big one is on my mind. I came up from Florida down there it isn’t if you will be hit with a storm, But when. If you are in a place you need help and can’t reach out the world for help are you to your family?

  5. The above information will get you a license, but not the information you will need to set up and troubleshoot a station. I suggest you buy you a study manual to read and study and then take the practice exams online. You will have a much better understanding of how propagation of radio signals work and how to properly set up a station that works. I have helped several people who memorized the answers but then didn’t know how to set up an antenna or what parts were needed. You need to understand how the questions and answers apply to operation of a station. You will gain much more from the hobby if you understand why things work or don’t work!

  6. ARRL stands for American Radio Relay League.

  7. “halfway good at math”??? The Ohm law is just I=V/R, what “math” are we talking about???

    • Exactly that. You do have to put them in the correct units in order for it to come out correct and convert word problems to math problems. I used to tutor algebra, Calculus, and LaPlace Transforms Analysis. Believe me, some people have difficulty with these simple parts.

  8. Okay..seriously new to this..have the UV-5RB radios x2- just followed every step and it works great-this next part I have to ask being a newbie…what are the bottom numbers on the screen? under the channel I just programmed. Thanks

  9. Why do you need a licence at all? It’s just a radio.

    • Only one person can talk at a time on any given frequency. That is a rule of thumb, that isn’t always true, but most of the time, it will help you get your communications get through. If everyone is nice, all the time, then I agree with you, “Why do you need a license at all?” But that isn’t reality. The FCC and some volunteer groups have some rules that help when exchanging information over any radio. Following the rules helps you learn how to be a better communicator. There are also folks who abuse the airwaves. A lot of HAMs have worked for their privileges and will aid in getting those not following the rules off the air. If I might make a suggestion, follow the rules. Get a license. Be polite. Learn how to communicate effectively and efficiently. And if the time ever comes when the rules are different, you’ll be a LOT more prepared to be an effective communicator.

    • You don’t need any license to own the radio or even turn it on and listen. As soon as you want to push that transmit button, though ….the feds say you must have a license.

  10. greg melanson says

    I’m just starting out and I’m trying to figure out the best/most economical way to get started. I don’t mind spending the money if it’s worth it. I was going to take your advice and get the baofeng uv-5r for starters, but then I ran into someone who swears by the newer version, the bf f8hp which has 8watts instead of 5. So my question is, is it worth the extra 20 or whatever dollars difference? It seems like basically the same radio, but with some changes that might not make a difference to someone like me who will eventually make a huge upgrade once I learn a few things.

  11. What does it mean by the bands you were approved for?

  12. Bob Fairchild says

    What is the acronym shtf that I keep seeing everywhere relating to ham radio stand for? Sorry. New to all this. My local radio station broadcasts a ham news show on Sunday mornings. It sparked my interest. I was deejay when they still required you have a restricted radio telegraph operators license.

  13. Snailmailtrucker says

    Just bought 2 Boafeng UV-5R V2+ FOR $53.50 Total….
    For the two of them on Ebay.

    Now I am thinking about a Ham License….
    Thanks for putting this site out here Graywolf !

  14. Larry C. Hudnall says

    I am just starting I have a background in electronics,computer’s and was a commercial journeyman electrician for about 10 years I. Bought a six pack of beofeng 888s to play with they are only 3watts and come preprogrammed with 16 channels easy to work with for unit-to-unit communications recently ordered a pair of beofeng BF – UVB2 plus 8 watts output these are a little more complicated I will be getting the license for these these radios have better stats then the uv5r series bigger battery 4800 mAh and are more compact in size I considered the 8 and 9 series and looked at the uv5r-TP series which are 8 watts also but battery size was only 1800 mAh unless you bought the 3800 mAh battery pack this made them more bulky so I am awaiting delivery of my BF-UVB2 Plus

  15. The deplorable cruelladeville says

    For the Beofeng radios download the Chirp software. It’s free and very useful for programming these. Along with the Ham repeaters, I programmed in the local EMS, fire, SAR, and CERT frequencies as I participate in the local rescue activities. You can set ham freqs as static, and use the radio as a scanner for the others. The UV8 also have a huge add-on battery with a real car charger available as well. All on Amazon.

  16. My state doesn’t have testing anywhere. Is that normal? I am really interested in getting my license and wouldn’t be able to go out of state to do it (if that is even allowed).

  17. Hey Graywolf. You nailed it! 🙂
    Taking ham radio license is not supposed to scare people. There are so many resources to help peole get their ham radio license. With just some patience and determination, having a license and ham radio call sign is very doable.

  18. Something I ave wanted to do for awhile. Now seriously getting ready to learn the ropes and do it.

  19. I’m starting to put together our bug out bags with my wife, and was wanting to have a radio in each in case we got separated. Reading that we would have to provide our address to own and operate a HAM though makes me a little uneasy. I can understand the need for licensing to make sure people will at least somewhat know what they’re doing, but why must the know where we live? It seems unnecessary and makes me think that would just make us a target for others in a real SHTF scenario. Can anybody tell me a reason why they really need that information? Or is it simply another way to gather info on what people have and know like every company and federal organization seems to love to do nowadays?

  20. i live in chicago il north side kilbourn and palmer 2205 n kilbourn i wanted a fcc license two way radio license and a ham radio license comecto the house take me the police station to take the test to get the ham radio license

  21. Ham radio is a long established (since the dawn of radio in fact) radio service for radio experimenters and those wishing to promote international goodwill and fellowship. We do NOT need paranoid doomsday “preppers” polluting our hard established radio service. Take your foil hat siege mentality paranoia and go find some other spectrum. This a not a “cam-blammo” radio hobby. Get lost

  22. Robert Conner says

    I’ve been trying to locate a test site. I live in a small town in Georgia. It seems that this hobby is dying.

  23. Is the Ham (Amateur) Radio license the same as getting the GROL license through the FCC? Or are these completely separate and require different testing? I have no desire to own/operate a radio. I want to get into repairing them.

  24. Please add me to your mailing list. Also, I write books that wander into the prepper fiction genre if you’d like to review one. http://www.johntheo.com

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