Prepping: Invest in “Give-Away” Comms?

Had an interesting reader note come in:  Basically asked if I could please do an article on communications (for the SHTF scenarios) that would be simple and no “diode this” and “Morse that…”  Yup, guilty as charged.  Why, if I got a dollar for everytime someone said “Ask George what time it is and he’s likely to build a watch factory”  I’d have $5-bucks, anyways.

So sure…glad to help anyone who’s thinking ahead to helping others..

From the Top:  Range Matters

Suppose the crappola machine really “goes off.”  What will you need to know?

There are a ton of answers and it’s almost totally  contextual – there is no “one size fits all” when comes to this mode of thinking:

  1. If you are retired and in the city, you need to keep an ear on what police and fire services are up to.  They will be your first line of incoming information   Have a city map and know that their problems can become your problems….  A good scanner in addition to listening to the local AM/FM stations and NOAA all-hazards radio  (a separate article on scanners is coming).
  2. You have a family in the suburbs – they need to know where the marauding gangs are coming from…
  3.  You live in the country.  You need neighbors on comms up the road so your “reach out and touch” equipment is ready (ahem…)

The “local comms” to give away would be up to a dozen, or so, critical homes in your area.  Two sets for two houses on each corner at each end of your block.  Two for across the street and for the house behind you.

If you live in a coastal community within a mile of water, a couple of marine radios might make sense.  Channel 16 is the marine calling frequency, but you can look up the bridge opening channels on NOAA charts (Channel 5 on parts of the Intercoastal, for example).  Bridges going up can isolate places, too,  right?

All these people will be you handing radios out to will be invited into a small community network.  It’s not critial whether you use marine or FRS/GMRS (though GMRS is our choice.)  CB’s like overdone and not as reliable.

Buy the five-pack of something like Amazon’s $87 Retevis RT27 Walkie Talkies Rechargeable Long Range FRS Two Way Radio 22CH Encryption VOX 2 Way Radio (Black,5 pack) which would do just fine, as a start.  One radio on each (approach).corner of your block and one across the street and one behind with one radio for you to act as “net control.”

The big deal with this will be re-charging.

Power is the Problem

Let’s solve that, straightaway.

These five (or 10, or however many) short-range radios will last a good while between charging, depending on transmit time.  That’s what eats power.  Grind into your teams to “STFU unless you really have something to say.”

Even so, you’ve got to charge.  For this, you will need four pieces (and some #12 wire, or larger):

  1. A large solar panel
  2. A “smart” charge controller
  3. A small inverter
  4. Some kind of storage battery

If you were rolling in the dough, a modest panel, charge controller, and inverter for each home which gets a radio.

For the individual home set-up?

We add this up to $357 per recharging station.  Before upgrades. One for you and…well, how much do you want to spend?

BUT…and this is critical…this is enough power to do a hell of a lot more than just charge up a few radios.  This is enough to recharge serious power tools and run some LED 12 volt lighting, too.  Charge up the batteries for your night vision goggles…all that kind of thing.

OR, if you upgrade the inverter to a 1200 watt size, you can microwave for 15 minutes a day…

Triple size it and now you might run a small freezer.

OR  have enough “spare” energy to run your long-range communications system.

Let’s buy one of those, shall we?

Long-Range Comms

What are “long range comms?”

High frequency (3-30 MHz) single sideband radios.

Simple off the shelf suggestion?  Hard to beat (for $675) an Icom IC-718 HF All Band Transceiver 100 Watts.  If you know a ham, maybe they can “open it up” for you, so it will transmit on all frequencies, but you don’t want this in “normal times” because the FCC frowns on unlicensed operations.  So do judges and wardens who measure out the time and fines…

Still, in a “worst case…”

You will also need an antenna.  Something like a simple $80 MFJ-1778 G5RV Wire Antenna 80-10 Meters .  Put the middle up as high as you can get it.

Also toss in 25-feet of coax cable to get from the bottom of the antenna “ladder line” that should be kept off the round and way from metal objects.  Small LMR-240 style line like this works great.  Not cheap, though:  25 feet is about $50 bucks, so don’t faint when you read in the specs and price of MPD Digital LMR-240-Pl-259-Uhf-Male-25ft Times Microwave LMR-240 Pl-259 HF/VHF/Uhf Coaxial Cable Ham or CB Radio Antenna Cable – 25 ft – with Polyolefin Cross-Linked Strain Relief.

While we’re spending money, let’s toss in some 3/16th’s Dacron line to pull antennas up into trees, shall we?  $45 bucks for 3/16″ X 500 Ft Dacron Polyester Black Cord (6) which is enough for 2-3 HF stations.

The HF station can be “accessorized” all to hell & gone.  But the one thing you might want to get (for receiving weather faxes (if they’re still up after stuff hitting the fan) and for digital HF messaging is a dedicated audio soundcard adapter for a laptop.

Something like Tigertronics SLUSB13I SIGNALINK USB FOR ICOM 13-PIN DIN is what you want.

One tip here, train your ops that the 718 does NOT mute the mic when using the 13-pin accessory port for data, so pahleez!  Unplug the mic when  using on transmit in digital modes..

What else?  HF Software, look for FLDigi software and load that onto your survival laptop.  Also PDF and keep (and print out) the Beginner’s Guide to FLDigi over here.

I am at constant risk when I write this kind of column of running off into the weeds on technical matters.  But, this is what I think my inquiring reader was after:

  • Local comms to give away to homes around you.
  • A seriously capable power system (upsize the inverter to microwave popcorn and reheat coffee during the crisis!)
  • And a very capable HF radio system with basic digital capabilities. If you remembered to download FLDigi and the manual.  (It’s not hard to use).

The grounding of the radio to a solid RF ground system?  Even that (when on emergency power, not AC mains) is of lesser import.  Sizes of cable for such grounds?  I like #12 or larger.  Braided grounds are NOT better, which is why I keep a roll (of less-than-free) 1-inch copper strip to run real grounds.,

Pack some BandAids.  I sliced the shit out of my left index finger a couple of weeks back.  Bled for 2-hours, or so… (thanks, daily low-dose aspirin!)

We could talk abound standing wave ratios (efficiency of transfer from feedline to antennas is involved) and we could pronounce for hours on antenna tuners, and such.

But, my reader wanted a shopping list, so here it is.

If he has any money left over, take a look at the Icom 7850 50th Anniversary Edition.  Sure, it’ll likely be in the $15,000 range, but hey!  My birthday’s coming up, right?

Write when you get rich,

24 thoughts on “Prepping: Invest in “Give-Away” Comms?”

  1. George

    “High frequency (3-30 MHz) single sideband radios.”

    Good article on comms!

    But there could be a problem.

    I expect the Feds to jam all the Ham bands in a SHTF scenario. They don’t want the sheep to have coordinated communications.

    The local neighborhood comms should be OK.

    • Up-sizing the inverter to be able to run a popcorn machine, microwave or fridge, also means a wiring cable upgrade, battery capacity upgrade and solar harvest upgrade (more PV panels and larger charge controller)

      And Induction Hotplates, are +90% efficient compared to any other heating/cooking method. Microwave ovens generate a lot of wasted heat in their internal cooing fans, but they do have the advantage of simply heating a doughnut without a pan.

  2. For your battery I’d look at a Walmart EverStart Deep Cycle Power 12v battery. Part number 29DC, 122ah.
    It’s less than $90

    • Excellent CHOICE!!! And – for those unawares – the metric is “cost per amp hour.”

      So $90 divided by 122? $0.738 per amp-hour…that’s our kinda thinking.

    • Those are what I use in my solar power battery bank. If properly charged and not over charged by you system they will last several years. Don’t forget the cost of the “core” charge. It’s about $12 these days unless you have a junk battery to give Wally World.

  3. Morning George and another good article. I should think that as we approach 2020 the readership will inquire about more excellent articles on “What to do” when the SHTF occurs.
    They will then need to adapt the info to their local situation.

  4. I’ve stockpiled some of those bubble-pack radios along with several SSB CB radios with mobile antennas. Also laid back a few older HF rigs, scanners, coax and antenna wire. Now just need to get the power sorted…

  5. Thanks so much, George, for writing ham articles that new-to-electronics hams can understand. It really helps when you give links to what you talk about on Amazon, too. How you know all this stuff amazes me.

  6. Got the ham radios covered, but power was the problem. I built a ‘Ham Can’ battery pack out of an old ammo can. Powerwerx connectors for Cig. lighter, dual USB charger, and powerpole connectors. Also a dual banana jack fused at 30A to the battery. Battery is two 20ah Lithium IRON phosphate batteries (40ah total). Expensive batteries, but will cycle 12,000 times if only taken down to 50% charge. I expect to will them to my heirs. The ham can is lighter than lead-acid batteries at only 20 lbs total gross weight… 8lbs is the can itself. I can take it portable for field day, or plug it into the shack 12v distribution to work at home. Now… how to charge it?

    Looked for ‘transportable’ solar panels for field day and found the best deal was to ‘fold my own’. Found a couple of half-size 50-watt panels for under a dollar a watt. Connected them with a long hinge, added wire, hardware, and small MPPT charge controller and now have a fold-up 100-watt solar panel charging system that is easily transportable to field day and will plug directly into my ‘DiLithium half-kilowatt-hour” battery can. Now all I need is sunshine. (It is cloudy rainy a lot here on the windward side of the Big Island)

  7. Strongly suggest an Icom IC-718 for a beginner’s radio that has full capability and is easy to master. One very common error is to buy a boat-load of “features,” which will mostly drive you crazy and require you keep the damn manual right at your elbow forever. Simple is good. Circa $500 plus or minus for a 718. It’s plenty good enough that you’ll keep it forever as a backup rig if you get something “better” later. Runs on 12 volts.

    I had a Fine Fellow and a retired guy — a physician — recently bring me an overly complex, hyper-expensive radio he bought, to help him figure out how to get it work at all. After struggling along with him for a while I suggested he just sell it to somebody in the club that’s hot for one of these Big Deal Status Symbol radios, and get a ‘718.

    You don’t need to “open up” any radio for ham radio use. You can LISTEN to ANYTHING with most of today’s rigs. And if you DO try to transmit to military, or to airliners out over the dark Atlantic on an “opened up” rig, they won’t know how to deal with you. You don’t speak their jargon. Your fellow hams can do anything you might need that is possible to do, and they ARE adaptable and cooperative. And ubiquitous.

    Be sure to get a decent MANUAL antenna tuner as well. An MFJ-944E is a pretty good all-purpose inexpensive choice. Auto-Tuners frequently are constrained in range, and a MANUAL tuner can be made to do almost anything. Auto-Tuners that are intrinsically built-in to the radio are usually constrained in range capability.

    (I like four-speed floor shifts, too…)


    • I love the 718 and a g5RV – not the most efficient rig if you’re trying to knock of DX (distance) in a Euro-zone Sweepstakes – but Wm. speaks the great Truth about 6-mnues deep in a high end DSP rig.
      Even 2 or 3 menus.,,,few every master their VHF radios when comes to scanning, come to think of another example.

  8. If you decide to use Family Radios for survival applications to comm with neighbors, be sure to use NO “codes,” or “Private Line,” or “Quiet Channel,” or anything similar. Go fully OPEN.

    You want to HEAR and be AWARE of other users nearby. AND if they DO NOT have their “Privacy” codes on, they will still hear YOU, even if you THINK you’re going all stealthy. Situational Awareness is paramount when everything goes silly.

    Stay OFF the air as much as is possible (Radio Silence), and keep The Opposition guessing. Don’t blabber and fill the air with trivialities. Go strictly Periscope Depth — or deeper.

    • Ah, point I forgot. Use “rolling time” on your net.
      IOW: If your first net is at 12 Noon, make next round of c hecks at 1:15;.

      The next at 2:30…and old Wm at the Radiator Ranch says, keep ’em guessing.

    • Sure – mail a check for $40-bucks and be sure to include your email addy – legible enough so I can make sure to mat5ch it up to the right account. 26 point font, bold…you know…old man typeface

  9. May I add….

    Going through the motions with the solar panel route here for back up power.

    From what I understand , you would want to run your inverter up to 80% of its rated wattage. 1200 watt microwave would need a 1500 watt inverter if that percentage is correct.

    Also to note is that the inverter runs at 100% when its powered up.

    Larger inverters will drain the battery bank quicker. So….

    I chose to get a 600W inverter to run a 460W freezer in SHTF. Living in California with PG&E’s new policy of windy day power outages has me needing to protect my frozen crapola. I will purchase a separate inverter to run things like microwaves.

    Don’t forget to get a good battery charger to keep your batteries topped off properly unless you plan on making your solar set-up permanent. I spent the bucks on a C-Tek 8 stage charger. Read the promises.

    Spent the money also on some V-Max Tanks AGM deep cycle 125ah batteries. Three to go with three panels I bought through Costco. Sorry , not a Harbor Freight guy when my well being is on the line !

    Oh , I keep reading that you don’t want to go skimpy with the cables hooking it all together. Double-ought wire , heavy industrial terminal block connections and the like have made several people’s systems actually work correctly from what I’ve learned.

    Way off to the side , I understand the plus see and minuses of generators , but have any of you considered getting Tri-fuel generators ? I have two 2000w gens from Honda. They can be linked together to make 4000w and they can run off of gasoline , propane tanks and your household gas line. It isn’t always sunny !

    George , I will very much enjoy these posts. Thank you.

  10. et tu George .. whats wrong with frogs? you joining in this scam as well ? George is at least the last guru to go down on the dump

    • LOL – good-o len. No, as I mentioned long ago, we are “cowards in cash” at this stage of things. As a result5, didn’t lose a dime last week and made a (cheap) cheeseburger’s worth Friday.

  11. brand new day of evil every day .. the new norm , market evil .. stay solvent god damn stay strong truthful and short .. more and more on the other side every day .. great song , ship of fools .. my frog calls .. minnup .. truly unbelievable behavior ..

  12. well even better George , guru kern, who has a history of gold trading back to his dad .. now tells us a sell can be interpreted as a buy ..92/96 sell master index and further we are overbought and cots don’t matter so its good .. nah you can all keep it . minnup

  13. yep no curtain calls leave it to all the rich folk buying gold and anything else .. yep great capitalists in USSA and its worldwide empire

  14. A little late in the thread, but Years ago (more then ten), I sent my niece two pairs of fairly good hand held she requested from me. I added Head [hands-off] gears that went with them and full double sets of rechargeable batteries and stations for all of them to use ‘at church’. But always, real intentions of mine were rather to come handy to them when shtf in Europe, even though they had no idea what’s about to happen. The radios more or less panned out like this: one for the dad, one for the mom, one for the niece and one for the niece’s boyfriend. Later realized I had a winning formula here. So since then, it’s quite made the subroutine {hand.held}..{end loop; repeat;} . Been giving sets like this as much as i can afford to more family and friends. Thought to share the concept here to the good friends, and many thanks to George.

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