6 Meters: Survivalist Magic

1005161506These days, nearly exclusively, when someone brings up survivalist communications, the default always resigns to some sort of chinese dual bander with the added justification “because its cheap!” Nevermind the fact that the build quality is junk and the thing will likely fail the person using it sooner rather than later, they keep being bought because the personality cults of the Internet tell them to…only because they’re cheap. But if one thought critically, all those folks having the ability to listen to hi band VHF and UHF might be a bad thing- especially if you’re looking for any sort of security.

The VHF/UHF Basic Bandplan. Note the pink sections are for CW operation on 6 and 2 (50-50.1 and 144-144.1 MC, respectively). Although a bit dated, the diagram gives a good breakdown of the frequency ranges. Consider what your equipment is capable of, the potential OPFOR, and how to maximize capability to both effectively communicate and intercept.

Your area may be different, but around here there’s next to no activity on some of the other bands…you know, the ones Baofeng doesn’t make a radio for. Especially interesting for Survivalists is the capability the 6M band offers- with little to no overall traffic, great capability in rural terrain and many older repeaters sitting idle, 6M really needs more consideration for those actually concerned with creating a capable net versus those just cosplaying. Also nicknamed the “magic band” for it’s unpredictable long range qualities especially on SSB, 6m is just below the FM radio broadcast band (88-108mc) and the VHF television broadcast band (54-88mc); 6m occupies 50-54mc, with 51-54mc supporting FM mode. The band’s properties make it a very good performer in the hills with simplex use, and with repeaters can cover a broad area networking Survivalists spread near and far. The best part? Little traffic and well built equipment.

Here in central NC, many of the 6m machines were built by the same great group of folks, mostly retired engineers, and emergency communications was a significant

Most 6m repeaters are robustly built from older equipment. Even a motivated newcomer with a Tech license can garner the good graces of an older owner of such a machine, adding a huge capability to both your skills and your area of influence.

focus when the systems were designed. Favoring converted GE Mastr II  and other converted commercial mobiles, these have been hardened and are designed to function when everything else fails. Although our 2m and some 70cm machines are similarly constructed, those operators on 6m are likely to be more proficient and not of the Baofeng-bandit category. Making it work in the field with simplex and not relying on repeaters, 6m has lots of options for those looking to embrace it. The old Cherokee AH-50 handhelds are a great find for those browsing local hamfest fleamarkets, as are the excellent Yaesu VX-5R and 7R, the later being a strong candidate for the most versatile and durable Survivalist radio ever made. All of these sets mentioned are incredibly well built and durable units; for those more serious about having great capability for years to come, these are excellent choices. Since they’re usually much higher priced, even a decade old, than their chinese imitations, many dabblers get scared away in lieu of the material satisfaction of buying junk…er, inexpensive stuff. Mobile and base options are plentiful but curiously underutilized; three of the most popular Survivalist radios, the Yaesu 817, its bigger brother the 857d and the old workhorse the Icom 706,

Even an inefficient antenna such as this Maldol 50/145/440 duck have their advantages. Keeping a signal within a mile or so in the terrain as well as on a band not in common use is a good, cheap way to keep things somewhat bubba-proof.

each include all-mode 6m support providing a built-in capability for an excellent all-mode 6m station. Keep in mind that every operating option you have on HF, be it CW, Phone or Digital, you can do on 6m base to base.

Working the “magic band” is not without its issues however- there are drawbacks despite all the positives. For one, efficient antennas are large. Carrying a much higher signature than their hi band VHF or UHF counterparts, the antennas can be more visible to onlookers or get snagged up while moving through the bush due to size. Compact antennas can be found for the handhelds while moving or working, but are severely limited in the efficiency department. Not to say they don’t perform, they simply are a compromise between size and efficiency that some brands accomplish better than others. In certain situations this is not a bad thing. Another drawback is the positioning of the band itself. 50-54mc sits right within the military ground VHF band, as any user of the PRC-77 to SINCGARS can attest, and may be prone to interference from those users. Good gear and experience can both mitigate and turn this into an asset.

One cool thing about 6m being sandwiched right in the military VHF low-band is that all of those cool diagrams from FM 7-92 and 93 all work perfectly. Those are two Army FMs that serve potential irregulars a good bit better than just thumbing through SH 21-76.

Although looked upon as a fun band by experimenters, 6m signals sometimes, especially in summer mornings, can be heard at incredibly long distances due to sporadic-E propagation, tropo scatter and meteor scatter reflection. This might get confusing especially if you’re hearing stations from several states away randomly, even on FM. Because there aren’t that many users, often people will lose interest unless there’s an active net, and encouraging activity locally can be tough. It’s also tough to convince newer operators to jump on board with new equipment, especially if they took the advice of a few and bought a boatload of cheap 2m/70cm handhelds simply because…they were cheap. But that being said some of the radios previously mentioned are not going to break the bank used, quality gear is worth paying for, and great deals can be found for those actively looking.

Despite a few minor drawbacks, 6m presents an option off the beaten path for the Survivalist group looking for something different; it’s cool to do something others ain’t. While low-band VHF might not solve all your issues, it’s versatility definitely goes a long way. Anyone in your group can take advantage of it with only a Technician license and it doesn’t parallel any of the license-free paths others are likely to be trafficking along. Between much better quality equipment and better operators on the band itself with limited users and great rural coverage, it might just be a Survivalist’s “magic” option.

36 thoughts on “6 Meters: Survivalist Magic

  1. Doc Raydio

    Dang, you just hit another one out of the park. I’ve been preaching about 6 forever. I have had an FT-690R mk II with the C cell battery pack for decades. It does all-mode, albeit at 2 watts when portable, but a folded dipole made from some 300 ohm TV twinlead and fed with one of those cheap VCR 4:1 baluns easily gave me 1000 mile contacts.

    Thanks for all you do, brother.

  2. Etech

    Recently in KC metro, ARES has been testing 6m FM using FSQ mode with good result. I’d say on average 6 db SNR improvement over 2m FM simplex also using FSQ mode. Not many have gear for 6m, but FM use allows inclusion of the FT-8900, an often used quad-band mobile by several EMCOMM groups. SSB does give MUCH better performance as does the ‘Fan’ antenna that NCScout shows, giving even more range.

  3. Great post, and I just downloaded the fms referenced in your caption. My wife amd I were just discussing comms on a farm we looked at last night with spotty cell coverage. My thoughts leaned toward licensing her and the older boy and getting some 23cm HTs. 6m might fill the same niche nicely, with the low gain antennas you referenced.

    1. 6m is going to do MUCH better on the farm. 23cm/1.2gc would be good for point to point communications using Yagis. Alinco’s 23cm HT, the DJ-G7, uses the same cable as the Yaesu VX-7R and may be capable of using the same Signalink for data. I don’t own that set, so I can’t say for sure.

  4. June J

    I bought a inexpensive BaoFeng BF-F8HP as a starting point and already regret wasting the $63 on it. I spend 2-3 hours per day in my car and despite a plethora of repeaters in my metro area, performance of the radio while driving is disappointing, even after getting a better antenna. Now researching a better unit, perhaps a true mobile that I can also use as a base while at home. Getting 6m capable is definitely a consideration.

  5. Back in the day when Buncombe County NC used the 6M wavelength for emergency services they had a repeater on Bear Wallow Mountain, just in Henderson county. During the summertime in the evening hours they would get traffic from a town in California! They got to where they would say the city when they put the address out. So, I am told by an old HAM that worked an ambulance back in those days.

    Otherwise, AMEN! Plus with a Yaesu VX-7 you can do 1 watt of AM, listen to , shortwave, plus air, 2m, FM broadcast and UHF. Bu the, they aren’t cheap…

      1. Yeah a friend of mine really likes his Wouxons, definitely a large step up in terms of quality.

        That 6m unit would be handy…and good to see that others are thinking about 6.

  6. Don’t forget 220Mhz! The fact that it is seldom mentioned is an indication of just how quiet it might be in your area. It has gained some interest recently, but it is essentially unused. It does not have all the desirable attributes of 6 meters, but it is quiet, perhaps the quietest band? If you want quiet, there it is, and it would do better than UHF in the woods. The radios are hard to find, but that could be a good thing as well.

    1. I didn’t forget it. I’ve done a post on it in the past.

      That fact and the fact that Baofeng makes a 220 radio now is reasons why this one focused on 6.

    2. RadioRack

      Using 220Mhz for point-to-point data links is an ideal solution. Lots of dedicated bandwidth available – there’s an entire Megahertz allocated solely to P2P digital links – but unfortunately not so much commercially produced gear.
      So yes, every band has a ‘sweet spot’ that cannot be overlooked, but for local communications in a rural setting, 6 Meters can’t be beat. There’s an old rule of thumb among the commercial comms guys which says, “A hundred watts, with an antenna at a hundred feet [above average terrain] will give 100 mile coverage” [to typical mobiles] on VHF-Lo Band. Divide that by a little more than 2 for reliable communications from the Base to handheld portables. Even 25 watts at 50 feet could provide solid coverage for an average NC county.

  7. Sorry I missed that article. It appears Boafeng has discontinued their 22oMhz radio because of a lack of interest. They are now hard to find. 6 meter is much more interesting as it has many more advantages, yet I believe 220Mhz will continue to be relatively unused. In my area is it is complete dead as is 2 meter usually is as well.

    1. The 6R is perfectly fine, I own one. Out of the box it doesn’t do 6m. You can fix that of course, but the filtering will be kinda rough.

      1. It’s cool, it’s actually a question I had when I picked one up….

        “Why the heck does this NOT have 6?”

        The answer I found…snip the jumper that freebands it…aka MARS mod. 🙂

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  9. Very nice article.

    There are a few of us who meet Sunday nights around 2100 Mountain Time, on 50.125 MC USB, here in Central Wyoming. If the band is open, we then QSY to 50.145 MC USB.

    At some point that net is going below 50.100 MC once enough participants get proficient enough with CW.

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  12. John

    There’s a design flaw with the VX-7r where NFM receive go out. Each VFO gets one ceramic filter, and they can be replaced in about an hour with a solder sucker. The 450 filters are in there from the factory, but it might help to replace them with the 455. I had the issue on my radio after five years and figured it was never going to work again. With a little patience, some help from ebay, and an Internet search I’m back up and running.

  13. Lamar

    I found a vx5 but it’s missing the antenna extender. Do you have a particular replacement that you prefer for yours?

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  15. S6cnrdude

    Here is a training opportunity: the CQ VHF contest (sponsored by CQ Magazine) is this weekend. It is a 6 and 2 meter contest only. It starts Saturday, 15 July at 1800 UTC and stops at Sunday, July 16 at 2100 UTC.
    The different modes can be used, FM, SSB and CW etc. The national FM simplex frequency for 2 meters is off limits for FM (146.520) but 146.550, 146.580 etc are good.
    There is a category of operation called “hilltopper” that I will be participating in. It is for a 6 hour period during the contest and is QRP portable. I’m hoping to be in central NC on Saturday.
    There is no self spotting: you can’t get on a repeater and say meet me at such a frequency or website posts “beyond that of call sign, frequency and sequence”. See the CQ VHF Contest rules website for details.
    I hope to catch some of you on Saturday. If I can cobble a keying system together I might even try 2 meter CW. So if you hear someone pathetically pecking out a CQ DE …. at 3WPM, that is me.
    I’m trying to abide by the contest rules so I don’t think I can give my exact planned location, or time, frequencies, etc. Like I said, I’ll be QRP portable – low power and portable antennas. I’ll have SSB and FM available and possibly CW on 2.

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