Coping (Prepper Notes): Ham Radio Presents/Lessons

My friend Gaye ( and her hubby are proud new ham radio owners, having picked up a pair of Baofeng UV-5R 136-174/400-480 MHz Dual-Band DTMF CTCSS DCS FM Ham Two Way Radio at under $30 each, along with a programming cable (USB Programming Cable for Baofeng UV-5R UV-3R+ Two way Radio With Driver CD) for less than $7-bucks.  Dandy season gift, huh?

Which means, they’re about to pick up ham radio licenses and become part of a US population of hams which presently numbers (as of a year ago) in the area of 710,000

I think a couple of things have driven them to ham radio.  The most recent being that they live in the San Juan Islands of Washington State.  And, up there, they were recently part of the 20,000 people, or so, who were impacted by a major Internet failure when fiber optic cable serving the islands’ population was severed due (apparently) to a small undersea earth slide and accompanying small quake.

That little adventure left them without communications which became very spotted.  Ever check the cost of roaming from the US to Canada?  That IF you could get a connection.

A good bit of the San Juan island group is covered by radio services, such as the Mt. Constitution tower site which puts antennas up at 2300 – feet, or so. In addition to things like public safety (fire and police agencies) such towers (around most of the US) provide television coverage, cell phone antenna space, and more.

What was interesting during the Internet issues, was that the two-way services kept on working, since the AC power to the island didn’t fail.  And, even if it had, there is plenty of back-up and emergency power at the typical such mountain-top site.

And it’s on tall towers that this that ham radio clubs often put their “repeaters.”

The operation of a repeater is pretty simple:  A person transmits on one frequency (called the repeater input frequency) which is “heard” by a receiver on a high location (like Mt. Constitution).  The “repeater” then rebroadcasts this on what’s call the “repeater output” which is a different frequency, often times 600 kilohertz above, or below the input frequency. 

This difference between the input frequency is also commonly called the “off-set” of the repeater.

Only one more little addition:  Sub audible tones.

Pretend, for a moment, that you didn’t want random interference to “key” (begin transmitting) of your repeater on a mountain somewhere.  How would you prevent it?

One simple way is to encode a low-frequency audio tone – something that would almost never happen with interference.    All you need to do is inject a low frequency tone, say 103.5 Hz, into the audio of the handheld unit and tell the repeater (using a very selective audio filter) not to transmit until this tone is heard.

This technology has been around for a long time and is called a CTCSS tone and most ham radio repeaters (as well as public services) use them.  It stands for Continuous Tone-Coded Squelch System.

A few other useful things to know about tone encoding systems:  It’s a variant (quite audible) of this tone-encoding system that is used by the National Weather Service to trigger NOAA Weather Radio Alerts.  You can read move about the alert system (as well as discover the tone frequency they use is 1060 Hz) and get a list of receiver manufacturers over at the NOAA website here.

Gaye and I spent a fair bit of time figuring out which ham radios they wanted as “beginner rigs” and the Baofengs are very good.  For under $30-bucks, are you kidding?

But Gaye’s a stickler for detail, so this led her to learning about the UV-5R reviews over at, which is a favorite watering hole for hams to post reviews and thoughts on equipment, both new and old school.

As long as you’re over at eHam, check out their review of the Nagoya-771 antenna here.

Here’s how the antenna discussion game up:  Gaye and Shelly are both in Seattle and the Eastside often.;  And, since Mt. Constitution is about 80 miles (liner of sight) from Mt. Constitution, the odds of making a reliable connection  at that distance is fairly low with the “stock” antenna with the Baofeng.

However, the odds improve after seven bucks per radio spent on the Nagoya NA-771 dual band 144/430Mhz U/V SMA-F antenna for Baofeng UV-5R radios.

That ought to get them coverage from most of Anacortes up into the Islands from the ferry terminal in Anacortes.  But will they be able to connect into Seattle?  Or, into Bellevue?

This is where budding hams, like our friends up north learn about the differences between antenna height above sea level and  HAAT, or antenna “height above average terrain.”

So Can They Communicate?

image Pardon the crude drawing here, but here’s how the question (can they communicate?) will be solved:

We know that the Mt. Constitution ham repeater is at 2,300 feet elevation (*above mean sea level) and so we click over to the one of the convenient online calculators to keep us from having to find a calculator to work out the formulas by hand.  Their output frequency (the one to listen to) is 146.740 MHz.  Tone is 103.5.

A good one is located over here.  And we can see that if the mountain is 2300 feet to the antenna (or thereabouts) and the handheld radio is at 100 feet up, then it should work.

But there are a couple of variables here that are still flapping around in the breeze.

The first is that we don’t know how strong the signal from a 5-watt handheld will be from Seattle up to the mountain.  Radio waves, you know, propagate at the “inverse square law.”  This simply means that at twice the distance, there’s only a quarter of the power.  Do that several times because of the distance involved in getting 5-watts to “talk” 90 miles and a LOT of whether this works will depend on how a) sensitive the Mt. Constitution receiver is – and where its squelch threshold is set and b) how high the handheld radio is above average terrain.

image If you look at a map, there’s a lot of high ground between Seattle and Mt. Constitution.  And while height above sea level is useful, it’s only applicable when you’re using boats and open water.  In this case we have a good chunk of Whidbey Island in our way.

By the way, this map is something I snipped out of Streets and Trips 2013 with GPS which is now under $40 at Amazon.  You talk about a great stocking stuffer? 

We always fly our old Beechcrate with my traveling computer (with Streets and Trips) and the USB-GPS antenna) as a “just in case” tool.  No, it doesn’t given airport data, but if I can just find an airport, I can land by just looking at it. So whether I’m driving, flying (as a fourth GPS, to go with the VOR nag system) or dinking around with ham radio, Streets and  Trips is one of those “gotta have its” in The Old Prepper’s toolkit.

Uh…where were we?  Oh, yeah….Will a handheld in Seattle or Bellevue to able to “talk” up to the San Juans? 

Yeah, likely:  If you can get to the north side of one of the high hills in Seattle (Queen Anne would do nicely), or if you had a friend who was on the north side of one of those high-rise condos in downtown Bellevue.

Then it’s going to come down to whether (even with the improved antenna) whether the Constitution machine (slang for “repeater” in ham-speak) would be sensitive enough.

If not?  Two options:  One would be to buy an inexpensive amplifier.  This would likely work.  Or, if you see the review on it, look at the Arrow Antennas 146/437 antenna which is available with an optional nylon bug-out bag.  Yes, I have one.

Why?  Well, not only will this portable antenna effectively increase the range of any handheld in the direction the antenna is pointed in, but it also opens up the whole field of emergency ham radio satellite use.

Say what?

Yep, ham radio satellites are up there and the only bit of knowledge you need to add now is how to run an orbital calculator and associated software so you can talk via satellites virtually worldwide.   But that discussion will have to wait for another morning when I arm-twist Gaye and Sheldon into getting their ham tickets and slowly work them up through the “Did you pick up a half gallon of milk? “ stage…

Oh, and 73 (hamese for regards) to the Mt. Constitution repeater groups from down thisaway. Limitations on business use?  Yes.  But monthly bill (like a cell phone)?  No.  Emergency service  potential? Unlimited.  And yes, I carry the ARRL pocket repeater guide and a charge UV-5 in my flight bag, every time, every flight.  We ain’t completely stupid.  And there are places (like our ranch, for example) where a handheld Baofeng works anywhere on the property and none of our cells phone do.

Prepping for What Matters

Reader Lee has a good contribution, as long as we’re talking about prepping…

Hey George,
I thought I’d drop you a line to tell you how my prepping has gone lately. I’ve written before, so you may know that I’ve been in EMS for about 15 years. That said, they train us to think in terms of thinking about and treating the “worst possible scenario”. This allows us to ‘cover’ all possible bases from the least invasive to the most. That’s a great quality have in view of ‘prepping’. If you prepare for the worst possible issues, you’ve got all the other minor issues covered.
Well – my wife has put up with my ‘crazy’ prepping since I started roughly in 2003, then more urgently in 2007. She’s been with me for most of my EMS years, so she’s seen me deal with the worst of it (so far). she’s seen how I prepare for on-scene calls, why I do what I do – and she understands why I have a few extra supplies laying around. She knows that i just pick up a few extra things from time to time and that’s how I keep my overall costs down. well – she’s come a long way, to the point where we’re just putting the finishing touches on Get-Back-Home bags (for her and the kids) in the van. She’s used to taking and keeping a rough inventory of what we have and need. Though she’s not schooled in the intricacies of EMS protocols and field medicine, she’s a mom – so she’s used to treating scrapes and cuts and busted heads. She’s learning the love of learning again. SHE is teaching ME better canning techniques, cooking more from scratch (I’m this both a blessing, and a curse) and watching the news more.

Now the point of my story…. in her first trip to pick up a few extra items that we may need in a SHTF scenario, I had given her some suggestions (feminine hygiene, or something else that makes most men uncomfortable getting), she came home with what amounted to a lifetime supply of….. Loofas.
we all start somewhere I guess. Her heart and mind is in the right place.


We start where we can.  Elaine will be perfectly quaffed for SHTF, too…

Worth Reading

Occasionally, some really good stuff – things some of us on the ‘net have been talking about for years now, comes out in the Mainstream.  I’d direct your attention to “Inside the Saudi 9/11 Coverup” in the NY Post in case you missed it.

Another good read? 

6 Surprising Scientific Findings About Good and Evil” in MotherJones.

The Moon Debate

With China up wandering around the moon robotically, we have seen a rise in people who think the US never went.  And that’s something which has resulted in a lot of good comments, like this one:


This is another where I have direct 2nd hand  information.

I worked for a gentleman who, in his previous incarnation, was the head of flight data analysis for the Apollo program.  He was also chief engineer of the Sky Lab II (unpressurized portion).  I Also worked for the guy who was chief engineer of the Sky Lab I (the model for our present Space Station pressurized elements.) He subsequently became the Chief Engineer of all NASA

These guys say we went and were in fact on the Moon.

They also decry the fact that we will probably never be able to repeat the act, not because we have lost the technology, but the ability

But another reader reports this little oddity:

I have always wondered why we can’t just point our highest powered telescopes at the moon and put this moon landing conspiracy to rest. We have land based and space probing scopes that can look out to other galaxies…yet we can’t get a decent shot of the moon? On another note…I did go to Lick Observatory near San Jose during one of their open scope nights last year and a few in the crowd asked to see the surface of the moon and they refused. Got a good shot of Mars, Jupiter and Venus…but the moon was off limits. Interesting.

If you have some first-hand info about the idea that observatories won’t let the public point high-powered lenses at the moon, well, that would be interesting, to say the least.  Although maybe there is a technical reason?

OK, Enough coffee and mayhem for now…ya’ll come back tomorrow…

Write when you break even,