It should not be this hard.
Off Grid Ham reader Jim from Oregon, USA recently emailed to comment about the lack of on air radio nets specifically for preppers/survivalists and off grid hams. That sent me straight to my computer, where a cursory search suggested that he’s onto something. I decided to dig into this further and confirmed he was right. There are very few on air ham radio nets devoted solely to off grid amateur radio or preppers/survivalists.
Preppers, survivalists, and off grid hams are certainly out there. How do I know? They’re all over the internet. The rapidly growing number of monthly visitors to this website affirm that there is a lot of interest. So Jim’s observation got me wondering: Why are there so few organized on air ham radio nets for off gridders? Where are you folks? We are, after all, radio operators, right? It seems to be a no-brainer that the airwaves would be buzzing with ham radio nets just for the likes of us. But there aren’t.
For OPSEC reasons very few off grid amateurs are inclined to “out” themselves on ham radio nets. They often freely talk about their activities on the relatively anonymous internet. On the radio where anyone can look up the identity of any operator is another matter.
Amateur radio is not a spectator sport.
I have two theories as to why there are so few specialized off grid ham radio nets. First, operational security (OPSEC) concerns. Second, there are too many folks who like to read about off grid amateur radio on the internet but do it barely if at all in the real world.
I have little to offer those in the latter group. Researching on the internet, watching YouTube, reading blogs…it’s all really swell. Obviously I believe in it or I would not be running this website. However, there is a point of diminishing returns. If you’re not putting that learning to practical real-world use, you’re merely engaging in some vain intellectual exercise.
It’s the thought that counts?
There have been numerous good faith attempts to organize ham radio nets for off gridders but I’m not aware of any that have gained any critical mass. It seems every survival-related website and blog has a list of would-be “prepper & off grid frequencies” where hams can gather. I’m sure all of them were conceived with the very best intentions. The problem with these schemes is they’re compilations of random frequencies someone just made up and often include frequencies that are either outright illegal to use or require special licensing. It’s pointless if everyone is using their own reference.
Without coordination or standardization, it’s a glorified version of picking numbers out of a hat.
Who are these guys?
One high profile effort to organize & promote ham radio nets for off gridders and survivalists is the American Redoubt Radio Operators Network (AmRRON). The group claims nearly 4000 members from every US state and Canada. It has a strong internet presence and a substantial social media following.
I wanted to see what they’re all about so I signed up and included the suggested-not-required $5.00 donation. They said it would take 5-7 days to process my application. We’re very far past that and I haven’t heard back from them. They also offer an “AmRRON Corps” level membership for $40.00/year.
I don’t know what to make of AmRRON. At the very least, I was not able to dig up anything negative about them. Their stated purpose is commendable yet they don’t seem to be anything beyond a website & Facebook page. I’m deferring judgement on them, for now. If any Off Grid Ham readers have any experience with or detailed knowledge of AmRRON, please let me know.
Back to where we started.
What it all comes down to is that there are a lot of well intentioned hams with a lot of great ideas, but the “holy grail” of large, nationwide HF ham radio nets for off grid amateurs and survivalists is yet to be realized. The best and only option may be to organize amongst yourselves in small local groups.
Solutions & alternatives.
Having a large selection of organized radio nets specific to off grid amateur radio and survivalism would be a perfect forum for hams to practice their skills and exchange ideas, but that’s not a realistic option. We must expand our expectations and work with what is available.
So what to do? The obvious path is for off grid hams to conduct normal communications without the formality of ham radio nets. Or, participate in contests and nets that are open to everyone. In both these scenarios there may not be many (or any) other off gird hams to trade ideas with, but you’ll still get a lot of operating experience.
Consider meeting up with local hams for a “radio in the park” outing. Some clubs are very active in this area and sponsor regular events. If there are no organized events near you, do it on your own. Every now and then I’ll take my portable station to a local park and enjoy radio in the great outdoors. I think of it as my own personal Field Day. Keep in mind that some parks have rules regarding amateur radio stations on the property. Always be a respectful ambassador and protect natural resources. Don’t assume anything. Make it your business to know what is allowed before you set up.
The internet is a resource, not a substitute.
Lastly, you can always connect with other off grid hams on line and then QSY to the radio for further discussion. I am very measured when endorsing this idea because it erodes the purpose of amateur radio and is the equivalent of “calling CQ” on the internet. Still, the internet is a legitimate communications medium so if it can be used as starting point then so be it. Just don’t let yourself become the person who spends more time on line talking about amateur radio than actually operating a real radio.
What we learned today.
Ham radio nets provide a handy infrastructure for communicating, but a lack of them should not stop anyone from creating their own opportunities. If all else fails, wing it on your own. I realize that’s not always easy to do, and the internet is a convenient and compelling resource. Keep in mind that we are radio operators not “internet operators”, so finding ways to make the most of our radio capabilities -and then going out and doing it- should be a top priority.
Excellent overview of the situation. I had not thought about people being concerned for their OPSEC when I started the https://groups.io/g/OffGridComms group and asked that people put their Callsign in their name for easy identification.
I’m going to remove that request right now, thanks!
Hi Jim, I’ve briefly touched on Operational security (OPSEC) a few times but it’s is such a big deal that I’m considering doing an entire article dedicated solely to this topic.
Omitting my call sign is not an oversight. For OPSEC reasons it purposely does not appear anywhere on this website. I also do not disclose my exact QTH, not even the state. When I must disclose my callsign (such as on QRZ.com), I make no mention of my blog. The two will never be connected if I have anything to say about it.
I think you did the right thing by removing the request from your google group. Asking for this information would certainly scare some potential members away.
Being at the bottom of the sun spot cycle has a great deal to do with it.
Sun cycle probably does have some effect, but I’ve been a ham long enough to know that nets are hard to come by even in the good times.
I agree. Meet up in person and on the radio. As with any skill, train and exercise.
There are people who talk about it, and there are people who do it.
We all have to choose our own path.
Great point. I am involved in nets, both preparedness specific and otherwise, all week. Some clubs in my area even have topics on their nets for preparedness as well as in specific ham nets. Radios in the park is also great for getting out into a field type of situation to test your gear besides at home. I hiked miles only to realize that i had forgotten a key component to be able to use my mobile unit, i had brought some hts with me as a backup.
You’re doing it right! Get out there and try out your gear, and of course, check and re-check before you set out.
There are emergency communications nets, but they’re run by organizations like ARES, REACT, RACES, etc. The ARES groups at the county level generally run regular nets on local repeater systems. And here in Wisconsin ARES at the state level runs a net on 75 meters down on 3967 SSB every Sunday morning at 8AM local time, plus I believe they also have one or two others at other times and frequencies. I should point out that even if you just listen to the ARES HF net here in the state it can be educational. They’re a professional bunch and listening to how they deal with messages being passed, how they handle bad communications conditions, etc. can be helpful. And you don’t need to join ARES just to listen in or even join the net. Almost all of the nets welcome non ARES members.
But like Chris said, don’t worry about the lack of nets for the off-grid community, just use your equipment and have fun with it. The skills you gain when you’re just playing around, calling CQ or contesting if that’s appealing to you, joining a QSO party, any of it, well, it may seem like just goofing around, but you are still learning how to use your equipment, how to deal with propagation conditions, etc. and those skills will come in handy if you ever do need to deal with an emergency.
Those of you who enjoy playing with the digital modes at QRP levels might be interested in JS8Call, which is based on the FT8 mode. Where FT8 is only good for making brief contacts to chalk up DX scores, JS8Call permits actual communications and has a lot of neat features including message relaying, group specific communications and other goodies, and is well suited for low power levels and less than optimal antennas. Most days I haunt 40 meters on 7078 running JS8, so if you try it and see KC9YGN pop up give me a call.
Thanks for the input. You got the key theme, which is to find ways to operate radio even if it’s not the perfect or desired situation. Operating radio beats reading about operating radio any day.
As Chris pointed out just because there don’t seem to be any nets specifically for the community there is no reason why you can’t participate in other nets, contests, or just rag chewing on the air. The only way you really learn how to get the most out of your equipment is to actually use it. When I was still with ARES it was easy to see which people were active and which ones only turned up when they had to. When volunteering for events like marathons and races we’d always end up with people who barely knew how to turn their transceivers on, much less knew how to actually operate them. A lot of us kept PDFs of manuals for the more frequently seen handhelds and mobile transceivers on our phones because sure as heck we’d end up having to help numerous people program and learn how to use equipment they hadn’t touched since the last event.
There are ARES emergency communications nets that welcome check ins even from non ARES members on both HF and VHF/UHF. The Wisconsin ARES group runs an HF net on 3967 LSB every Sunday morning at 8 AM local time and can be heard throughout Wisconsin and most of the adjacent states. They’re a very professional bunch and if you want to learn how to deal with formal messages, cope with poor propagation conditions and high noise levels and operate under less than excellent conditions, that net and others like it are highly recommended.
If you dabble with the digital modes and haven’t already done so, take a look at JS8Call. It is based on the FT8 mode so it yields remarkable results even with less than ideal equipment and works very well indeed if you run QRP. And unlike FT8 which is largely for nothing but making contacts to stick in your log book, you can actually have conversations with people using JS8Call. Granted, it isn’t fast, I think it maxes out at about 15-20 words per minute, but because it works so well with poor antennas, low power levels, etc. it’s worth the effort. Versions are available for Windows, Linux, the RaspberryPI and OSX. It has a lot of features that you might find appealing, including message relaying. It is still in beta testing and is not available for general use yet. But you can get it by joining the JS8Call group at https://groups.io/g/js8call. The RaspberryPI version would seem to be especially appealing to off-grid people because of its small size and low power consumption. Pair it with an SSB capable QRP transceiver and a wire antenna and you’d have a complete system small enough to fit into a fanny pack. Once I finally get all my gear moved into the new location and find everything I plan on giving that a try.
If you decide to give JS8 a try look for KC9YGN on 7078 on 40 meters. That’s where I’ve been hanging out of late
Randall reinforces my main point: There are plenty of opportunities to participate even though they may not be specifically for off grid operators.
Thought I’d pass on this information, I’ve enjoyed this blog and have learned things along the way. The Net in my area, is on GMRS ( no call sign, though I am licensed for GMRS and a licensed Tech you’ll use your assigned AmRRON call sign.
Thanks, for at times enlightening me
HOW TO GET STARTED AS AN AMRRON OPERATOR
AmRRON (American Redoubt Radio Operators Network) is a network of Preppers, Patriots and Redoubters who have volunteered to keep each other connected when other means of communications are unavailable or unreliable.
It is not always easy to know where to get started. To help you get on the right track, we put together a checklist showing how to get started as an active AmRRON member.
CHECKLIST for new AmRRON Operators:
Visit the ‘about’ page and watch the video “Introduction to AmRRON” video!
Watch “Introduction to the CH3 Project” video
Join AmRRON (if you are not already a member) and you will be assigned an AmRRON Call Sign and will have access to the Member Directory.
Print the Communications S.O.I. your communications binder so you know what frequency and/or channel to meet up on during an emergency or during practice nets.
Check your comms equipment and update/purchase equipment if necessary If possible, study to obtain your Ham Technician License. Getting your Ham License will expand your communications options and network. Join or Start a Scheduled Net in your City/State to connect with other AmRRON operators and practice using your equipment.
Getting your “Comms Up” now and learning how to use your equipment and building a network will prepare you and your family to be connected in an event where standard communications fail. There are several helpful tools and articles on the AmRRON website. Welcome to AmRRON!
*If you are viewing this document hard copy, it is available at http://www.AmRRON.com under the “communications resources” tab with links to the items in the check list above.
Thanks for passing the information along!
Excellent discussion. I’ve earned a lot just reading through the material. I have ready access to at least three local radio clubs, all of which have multiple repeaters. Some operate nets at a fixed day/time, others have drive-time nets each morning/evening, etc. -the point being it’s easy to get on the air w/ UHF/VHF, and communicate/learn operations/deal w/ issues as they arise (yours or others), and become proficient/or not, in communicating. Yet I seem to get on-the-air too infrequently. I’ve missed my goal of upgrading my license twice. If I could only get on the air each week, as often as I’ve been out shoveling/snow blowing, I’d be sooo happy. The other day, I remarked to several folks that I hadn’t held a snow shovel all day! SAD! I look forward to sunny days in the park, using my (as yet unused) photovoltaic-fueled batteries to communicate on repeaters or not, with other operators and club members. And upgrading my license within the next 4 months! June 1 !! Alas, this week’s forecast is for more COLD weather. Thanks everyone for your comments!
Keep trying for that upgrade, Mike. I know personal and family commitments can slow things down, but if you can find even just a little time the results will be very worthwhile.