Understanding Survivalist Communications Needs

20160131_111626 Often among those new to Survivalism, Prepping, and all things on the more self-reliant side of communications, it becomes pretty important to define the exact role your communications equipment will play and what you expect to accomplish with it, all in an attempt to best suit your package to your needs. This is a really important, especially for the majority of us who are on budgets and have a definite need to justify what at the outset is expensive gear.

Take the kit pictured here. My most oft-used portable station setup, revolving around the much-lauded-by-me jack of all trades (and master of several) Yaesu 857, its LDG tuner, 14 AH battery, and CF-19 toughbook, altogether runs a good large chunk of change. Then again, I’m also an Extra Class Amateur who runs his equipment a lot because it’s something I like to do, and it’s taken me a long time to narrow down what works best, but even still the rather large investment here can be tough to swing for a guy (or gal) who’s just starting out or has little interest in communications to begin with. I can easily justify my needs and the expense, but perhaps my organic farmer, welding shop owner, and diesel mechanic neighbors can’t. Similarly I can’t justify the top tier equipment they run for occasional use as I’m not in their business professionally. But that doesn’t mean I buy junk for the sake of buying junk, either. It takes a community with a combined skill set, along with understanding that there is a fair degree of needed overlap.

Communications, like food production, water, and defense, is one of those areas that overlap.

From a Survivalist paradigm we must first define our need in order to justify our gear, not vice-versa. A lot of folks have a subconscious issue with this, whether its guns, radios, or Harbor Freight stuff, in that they buy the cheapest items possible, justify them with their own projections (it’s a psychology thing…sociologists study this too but as a group dynamic called commodity fetishism), then never use the stuff they buy. For certain occasional-use items, sure, and even sometimes great deals can be had with minimal investment. But usually you get what you pay for. This is almost absolutely true with radio when buying new. So while that $20 dual bander gets you on the air, and may even work for a while, there’s no promises it’ll keep doing so, no promises it does it well, and perhaps some other drawbacks you may or may not know about. And perhaps none of these potential problems are an issue to you. And that’s ok, it’s your money and you’re accountable to you.

ch3Maybe all you want to do is talk to your neighbor down the street who’s got a $2,000 amateur station setup and can talk to the world. From a community networking perspective, which should be the core of a Survivalist planning perspective in all things but especially communications, this can be done using AmRRON’s Channel 3 Project. I highly suggest it as an open networking standard, because it’s simple, easy to remember, and both of those factors mean it works with the least headache when the chips are down. We can accomplish two of the three legs of the CH3 project with that $20 dual bander, as well as monitor NOAA and possibly some of the MED interoperability frequencies. Don’t rule out those cheap CB radios you can find at most flea markets; community networks can be up and running fast and furious with a tiny amount of money, some wire (remember how to build antennae? Check the past few posts for some tips) and a lawnmower battery for off-grid use.

But we can accomplish all of our goals better with a bit better investment in gear, which aside from the anecdotal person reading this saying “but my cheapie has lasted XXX-years” (I know you’re out there and I don’t care…good for you, but I’m not going to recommend them, go cry elsewhere) we can assuredly say that higher-end gear will produce at least longer-term use. For general purposes, look for used Yaesu VX-5R or 7R radios.1005161506 Do you need a license to make the best use of the sets mentioned? Yes, but…you’ll be better off in the long run. In addition to standard 2m/70cm fare, they can transmit on 6m and 1.25m as well, as can the Yaesu VX-6R if buying new. Each are rugged, well built, and can be programmed via Chirp. Each can transmit from a very low power level (.5w) up to 5w which is an important tactical consideration. Each has the capability to use AA batteries, and each use the same FNB-80 lithium battery, resolving a logistical concern. Standardization matters! The Kenwood TH-F6A is another excellent tiny HT which mirrors the capabilities mentioned of the Yaesu HTs. All of the ones mentioned receive Shortwave broadcasts, and the Kenwood also receives SSB HF. This is a whole lot of capability in a tiny package, compared to it’s far cheaper (in both cost and quality) counterparts. Removing the “neighbor handout” piece of the puzzle, which may or may not justify buying cheaper gear (again, that’s on you…but also should be an issue you address LONG before Variable-X aka ‘SHTF’ happens), the more options your kit brings to the table, you guessed it…the better off you’ll be in the long run. So even if you have no interest in becoming a ‘Ham’ (I absolutely LOATHE the term…seriously…), from a listening perspective you’ll gain much more capability from spending a tad more on your gear.

From a community networking perspective, the price of admission for a quality radio which gives you all of these capabilities is actually kinda small when you factor in all of the additional equipment you’d have to buy to fill each role. You now have a wideband receiver, shortwave radio, and possible SIGINT scanning option all in one convenient package. So with all of that in one, plus the superior build quality, you’re coming out…you guessed it…better off in the long run. While not negating the need for those other items, it overlaps your gear, which adds redundancy to your plan, which ensures if one thing breaks you have other options. Keep in mind we’ve addressed Survivalist concerns here and not Tactical, with squeezing the most capability from our equipment being our paramount issue. Survivalist communications revolve around networking reliably independent of infrastructure.

63 thoughts on “Understanding Survivalist Communications Needs

  1. Pingback: Brushbeater: Understanding Survivalist Communications Needs | Western Rifle Shooters Association

  2. Pogo

    One reason to have a “cheapie” in the pile of gear is the capability to futz up ‘public-service’ comms IF NECESSARY (5 MHz offset). Not every radio can do that out of the box.

    1. I’m assuming by ‘futz up’ you mean to say interfere.

      I hope that’s not what you’re implying but my intuition is usually at best not wrong. This post deals with communicating off-grid. Nothing more, nothing less.

      And by the way, the Narrowbanding you’re referring to by ‘offset’ is wrong.

  3. Henry Bowman

    Once again, another spot on article on keeping things real and in perspective for EMCOMM…Always work with the end goal in mind, then everything else should support that, from kit, to education, skills, testing & playing, to friendships w smarter folks than oneself..

    For myself, this has been, and continues to be, an evolving process of becoming better skilled, and in a position to actually be of value to my local community and like minded individuals in a time of need….

    That’s what i can bring to the festivities, and i take that seriously….

    Thanks BB, for your continued knowledge, sharing it so willingly, and w/out ego…

  4. Mike Hohmann

    Good post. I’m looking forward to a productive winter, rearranging the shack, some new equipment, an upgrade to General and enhanced skills. I’ll be ready for the spring warmup and some trail work!

    1. Definitely!

      Put Winter Field Day on your schedule too- it’s the last weekend in January. It’s the re-named old FYBO (freeze ya butt off) contest.

      It’s lots of fun and, at least in my opinion, a stronger measure of your emergency communications preparedness.

      1. Agreed. Winter can get pretty tough in my part of the country, and we’re only as strong as our weakest link(s). My radio club will have some Winter Field Day activity… Brrr! Lots of local net activity during the winter too, I expect.

      2. s6cnrdude

        Keep the info coming. When is that FYBO contest? The January VHF contest is sometime mid January.


    To all the radio guru’s belittling Baofengs…I don’t even disagree with what you say about them, however it often seems the improved benefit of something more expensive seems lacking in relation to price.
    Give a $100+ radio to bob and he drops in the drink or sets it on fire or whatever impossible things bob manages to accomplish, and you are out $100 (when I go for anything more expensive it will definitively be waterproof). Give him a $12 (bf888s) or $20 barfing and he performs his special talents on it then you are out…wait for it…$20. And assuming he still has the remains I can strip the battery and antenna off it when he gets back.
    Basically as long as you treat them as disposable radios and keep multiples you should be fine.
    I’ve spent $80 on a namebrand scanner just to have it’s screen go out and cost $80 to fix (which i have of course not bothered with).
    One exception to all the above is if one can find an 80’s/90’s HT for around the same price as a Baofeng.

    1. Ok- I knew somebody was gonna do it. I felt it in my cynical side.

      To your first point, we’ll refer to as ‘Joe-proof’, since Joe tends to be a klutz and break anvils by staring at them-

      Why give that person a radio to begin with? Why not let them do what they will, and you pick up quality kit? Why pay for their inability to take care of their gear?

      “…Care of equipment shall set the example for others to follow.” (look up what creed thats from, and it might give you an idea why my bar gets set high)

      Second, for your ‘$80’ scanner- oh well. That’s actually cheap by scanner standards. Lemons happen. Buy better shit. Period.

      Third, and what was implied in a big way and explicitly stated in a small way, was that you should have all this ‘ neighborhood handout’ stuff settled by now, not later. That way going back to point #1, if Joe Klutz breaks his $20 special, HE’S OUT THE $20, NOT YOU, which should teach him a lesson not to be a goofus.

      But then again, thats logic of reality and not a fantasy projection.

      End of story.

    2. Keypounder

      A long time ago, I had a carpentry apprentice named Mike. He was basically a good kid, but he wasn’t very smart. When the Super hired him, ( he was the son of the crane operator) and sent him to my crew, he hadn’t any tools. I took him aside that Monday and lent him my backup leather tool pouch, with my second favorite hammer and the other needed form carpentry tools, nail puller, chalk box, speed square, etc. I told him he could use my tools until he got his first paycheck and could buy his own tools. 2 weeks later, he showed up for work with his new ‘tools’.

      They were junk, absolutely the cheapest dime store trash you could imagine. Every week, something broke, hammers, squares, tape measures, and he’d borrow my spares. This went on for about 2 months, and I never said much about it, but kept track of how many of which item he had broken. Finally, one day he broke his seventh hammer (cheap tube steel handles are not up to pulling rusty 16 penny double head form nails) and I said “Mike, why don’t you buy real tools?” He said, “I can’t afford to buy those kinda tools, they’re too expensive!” I said, “Really? You have bought 6 hammers, 8 tapes, 3 chalk lines, and at least 4 junky chinese squares. IF you had bought a good Estwing hammer, a good Stanley tape, in other words if you had spent the money on real tools, you would have spent less money and STILL had GOOD tools to work with right now! I’ve had the tools you are using now for 10 years, and these are still good!” He argued with me, and I added up what he’d spent to date, and showed him what a good set of tools would cost.

      Then I said, “Mike, from now on, I am not lending you any more tools. From now on, you are on your own.” Next Monday he showed up with decent tools. (I still have both of those sets of tools, BTW)

      I have had my Icom 2AT since 1983. It still works despite my abuse. I have dropped it countless times, carried it around in the rain with a bread bag over it, and it still works. I expect to be using my TH-F6a for the next 20 years, EMP or tsunami excepted.

      Baofengs, not so much. For a $25 or $30 dollar radio they are OK, but when you drop it or it fails, you buy another radio. I’ve dropped my Icom and Kenwood HTs more times than I’d like to admit, but how many Baofengs would I have bought if they were my main line HT?That’s fine, if like Mike, you don’t mind spending the money, and if there is nothing more at stake than a little inconvenience. If you are trying to keep a group together in the mall, they’re OK.

      IN a grid down or other SHTF event, where good comms can be a life or death issue and you CAN’T get to the store, do you really want the cheapest radio you can buy? Suit yourself, it is supposed to be a free country.

      1. Absolutely right.

        That’s exactly how I see it, but then again, we’ve had to depend on our equipment. Quality costs money. Likewise nobody recommends a Hi Point pistol as a dependable weapon. Its the exact same principle. It’ll be interesting when all of the ‘amazon preppers’ actually have to rely on the junk they’ve bought ‘just to have something.’

      2. I dropped on of my 02AT’s off a third floor roof….

        The battery was knocked loose, I reset it and it was fine.

        I don’t expect that kind of life from my Baofeng.

        BTW, I paid something like $100 or $125 for the 02AT, in 1982. Still going strong, except of course for the batteries. A Baofeng? What will it be worth in 35 years?

    3. Eric

      You really should take a closer look at what a better built rig will get you. Sure, the BF and other knock-off stuff looks like a radio and even acts like one at times, but among other shortcomings, your transmission is frequently chewing up a larger bandwidth, not completely broadcasting on the freq your display is showing, and you get a lot of wasted power (you didn’t really expect all 5W to be pushing your transmission out of your rubber duck for $20 did you?).
      Put another way, did buy a used riding lawn mower to drive back and forth to work every day? Probably not. Save up some coin and get better stuff. Get your General ticket, hit your local Hamfest and buy used gear from a guy or gal who knows their stuff, then get the best antenna you can afford.

      1. One must wonder the logic of a person labeling themselves “SIGINT” and touting known inferior kit.

        But hey, what would any of us know?

    4. How about no?
      You give the decent radio to the newbie, and even if it is dropped or drown, it still work. Give newbie an bao – and you’ll count as “one accident – minus one bao”.
      Not to say there is no place in reality for bao’s and other chinese tamagotchis, but miserly man pays twice. Bao 5R was my first radio, i sell it to new ham, and not missing it.

      1. A SAR team that was trying to get started got some money donated, and bought a couple of nice (commercial) HT’s – Kenwood Commercials, or something like that, around $500 EACH.

        The first exercise they went on, they gave a radio to one team member. Crossing a stream, he lost the radio. His team claimed they searched for it, but didn’t find it. By the time competent people were told, they couldn’t even recall just where they fell in….

        So, do we give an idiot a $500 commercial radio, or a $25 commercial radio? Or perhaps no radio at all?

      2. Yep.

        I stated that same logic in a reply above.

        Although this is also why the idea of TYING EVERYTHING DOWN, DIRECTLY TO YOUR PERSON is beaten so harshly into new trigger-puller’s heads.

        Losing kit is a painful experience.

      3. Indeed, in case of losing item at all there is no difference. Onli if radio is retrieved from water the quality makes sense.
        That’s why tacticool pouches appear somewhat reasonable solution – they are tied to the belt/vest, and can be used with externel speakermic.

  6. 2 replies…i will start with the “technical one”
    There are more reasons to buy higher level radios. I will refer to the TH-F7(6) cos this is what i have, but most of these reasons will hold true for the Yaesu radios AFAIK).
    It can monitor FOUR frequencies by the use of the priority scan (scans two preset frequencies on the background, say two emergency channels). It can receive 12V power straight to the radio, and not only charges, but operates by it too. This is a huge benefit, cos you can work with car or static power, and save on your battery. Lastly, the Kenwood has three programmable keys on the speaker mic. I have set them as scan, up freq & down freq. Now scaning is a breeze!


      Anyone know the scan speed for the (non-baofeng) radios mentioned?
      (I’ve heard the baofeng is like 3 freqs a second glacial speed)
      I’m doubting they have a “close-call” feature, but if their scanning was fast enough they could be programmed with all the garbage channels to be used as a “bubba detector”.
      Or short on scan speed as long it was always monitoring your primary frequency.
      It would be nice to have somewhat of a scanner and radio in the same package if possible.
      I’m sure the latest military radios already do all this and more but then again they also cost ludicrous amounts of $$$$$

      1. Each of the Yaesu models run circles around each model of Chicom radio I have tested (Baofeng 5R, 82, 5X, B5, 5R tri power and V2, Quansheng TG-UV2, Wouxon 1, 2, and 6, and KYD IP-670).

        And if you can check your attitude at the door, btw.

  7. Wrench

    NCScout: Thanks for all you do in this community. Like several others, I am trying to assemble the best gear I can afford and get things in “order” if there is ever such a thing…Finding the time seems to be as difficult as finding the bucks in my case.

  8. Second reply…
    Another way to approach this is more “philosophical”
    When building a communications network, one must answer 3 basic questions, forming a decision triangle. What, Where and Who.
    What is the purpose and object (what signals must be exchanged, text or e-mail maybe?)
    Where is related to distance, and interconnected stations
    And Who relates to the operators.
    These tasks can be mutually conflicting. Use of APRS messaging dictates radios that their manual alone weighs more than a Baofeng. You can not shove that down the throat of the average guy..In contrast you can hand him a dumb 8 channel baofeng, but this will negate half the usual radio security techniques and all the flexibility.

    1. Or option 3…work on it now while we have time 😉

      Ironbound sent me a couple of first-hand reports of the follies of baofengs being pushed into the tactical role. Definitely interesting, not at all surprising, and should serve a wake up to the more militant among us (but it didn’t, because they’re too busy self-validating).

  9. Ralph

    Not to detract one iota from the gist of this article, i.e., quality pays. But it’s also important to crawl before walking before running and never put gear before skill. The CH3 project is a wonderfully elegant protocol – as easy as 1-2-3 – CH3 (CB, MURS,FRS, GMRS) as the hailing frequency, broadcast at the top of the hour for one minute on either side of the hour in order to preserve batteries. If you can organize your neighborhood watch to employ that protocol with cheap Chinese crap or yard sale finds, you’re miles ahead of Mr. Gizmo who’s out there blasting away through a 2Kw linear on a mountain top, talking to….who, exactly?

    1. Yeah, that’s kinda what I said. Actually, it’s exactly what I said.

      I also stated that doing it with something better quality renders not only BETTER QUALITY but also saves a solid chunk of change starting out by adding so many more capabilities in the listening department.

      But since apparently NO ONE READ THAT F’ING SECTION and got butthurt that I don’t approve of commie-made radios, I get to re-write what I said, yet again, in a less friendly manner.

      1. lineman

        You have the patience of a Saint Brother…Thanks for being able to put up with it and still put out excellent information…

  10. Stacey Sonneland

    Great article
    My setup similar to yours
    857 d….battery pack from quicksilver…IBM thinkpad…mfj auto tuner
    love the 857 capability

  11. I just got into comms 3 days ago with my $20 purchase of a used Baofeng UV5R V2+. I see lots of disparaging of Baofeng stuff here so I’m curious as to what else I should get on my shoestring budget.
    I’m trying to learn as rapidly as I can but I don’t know where to start. I’m trying to read as much as I can but most of it isn’t geared towards total beginners who’ve never picked up a radio before. What do I need to know for tactical communications? Security, monitoring, transmitting etc? Is there some kind of total idiot’s guide to learning all this?

    1. It’s not a disparagement, it’s a kind recommendation to get something better.

      You wouldn’t carry a Hi-Point by choice to a fight, right? No, you’d want something better given the choice. Same deal here.

      Second, by the time you spend money on a analog scanner, baofeng radio, and shortwave radio, you’ve at least paid for one of the radios I mentioned that were superior. And, you’ll come out with a better, tougher rig.

      Skim through this blog- I’ve taken all of my experiences deployed and in a handful of combat roles and condensed them here, almost entirely written to aid the beginner. It’s why I started this blog.

      And if you still have questions, always feel free to email me. My door’s always open and I run this blog to help folks just like you.

      1. Numismatist

        … and from the abyss of noobdom (where there is little light and even less sustenance) I offer my heartfelt and sincere appreciation for all you do.

        Many thanks!

    2. Get the original BAOFENG programming cable (from Amazon). Get the CHIRP software from chirp.danplanet.com (free). Learn how to use the Baofeng at miklor,com

      Reasonable accessories include a decent rubber-ducky antenna and a speaker-mic, if you are so inclined. Oh, and some sort of pouch to put it in.

      Good luck!

  12. Brad in TX

    Thanks once again for the well thought out, experienced info.
    Personally, we run the Kenwood TH6A you referenced for clan comms, in addition to ham HF, Vhf/Uhf, multiple scanners, SDR on a laptop, etc., etc. As you have said repeatedly, buy good equipment and learn how to use it now, when the learning is easy.
    But also, as part of our layered preps, I have recently added a couple of ammo cans full of Baofeng 888s. At $10 apiece, they are a cheap way to equip those in our very rural area who have zero interest in comms now. They are compatible with a few of the GMRS frequencies, and would allow a patched-together local net of a couple of miles or so. That’s about the only true use I can think of for the Chinese cheapies.

    1. Not a thing wrong with that. For supplementary use, they’re fine.

      It’s the jackwagons who jump on here to tell the world that their $20 wonder is better than known quantity equipment that get, for lack of a better term, annoying. Those folks don’t know what they don’t know, and when the music stops are gonna get caught with their pants down by anyone with a tad more sophistication.

      Anyone with a bit of common sense (and a serious attitude, as you exhibit) would understand the value in redundancy, which for someone starting out a higher-end HT offers in a small package. The ability to wear many hats can save some cash in the beginning and be more durable to boot. Supplementing that with lesser gear is fine, because you know the limitations and there’s not a thing in the world wrong with that.But to the walter mittys out there, that’s not the answer they want to hear.

  13. Brad in TX

    What you said. And again thanks for taking the time and making the effort with your blog to continue saying it…
    With comms, as in optics, you pretty much get what you pay for.

  14. Extra lass here too – I concur fully on getting the best quality radio gear you can get now. Get quality and learn on quality. i have mostly Yaesu with some Icom and Kenwood mixed in. All 3 major mfg’s have very good radios – it’s really personal pref as to what you choose.

    The only experience i have with Baofengs is at the campground i work at – we have 8 of the 82C (commercial rated) that so far have held up to the old farts who could give a rats ass about them. And i have to admit that they do sound far better than the Motorola FRS/GMRS radios we used before. But How long will they last? Who knows. So if you absolutely have to go the cheap route for a bag of radios as supplemental’s (like the post above) I guess i would look at these.

    But as NCSCOUT says – get a better radio first and you will have more available to you as well as a more durable tool – and many are now waterproof/resistant unlike the chi-comms.

    Put some FRN’s into good comms gear instead of DTV Football Season Pass – you’ll be much better off in the end.

  15. Tim

    Like your blog very much, and have found your posts worth careful and repeated readings. Thank you….only comment to add is that people make a mistake by not getting a tech ham license. It lets them get on the air before they actually need communications, and the whole point of the tech exam, is that to pass it you simple need to know the stuff you actually need to know to operate your radio.

    1. Julian is a great resource.

      I’m actually evaluating the Wolphilink that he likes now, and a write up should be done (hopefully) by the end of the month.

      VE3FAL is another good guy to check out. Fred let me know about RaDAR.

      1. Yeah the SC appears to be a bit more versatile. I’m working with the Wolphilink now- and there’s a learning curve for sure. Not so much the device, but AndMsg is buggy, like BAD buggy. It could be the devices I’m using, and I haven’t had time to narrow it down.

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