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I mentioned in the blog post on The Can that (along with food) I keep a HAM radio and Family Comms Plan in the 50-Cal ammo can in each vehicle, as part of the “Get Home” gear. I had intended to publish the spreadsheet and word doc as part of the blog post, but in recent weeks I’ve had three different learning opportunities regarding HAM operations. Therefore, I have some updating to do to that, and it will have to wait a few months.

LESSON 1: Use your radio to at least monitor your local HAM club’s nets. If you have a HAM license, then check-in to those nets—they tend to welcome guests.

A few weeks back, they were having issues with their repeater. Net control kept telling everyone to switch to the repeater output and switch to simplex. Better than half kept trying to use the repeater’s input as part of the process. When I tried to punch in the output frequency, my radio (an ICOM 2730) kept switching it back to duplex automatically. I chose not to key-up for that night. As I dug into the manual, I learned that the radio has an “auto-repeater” feature which utilizes the most common (nationally to the U.S.) repeater band inputs and outputs as a guide to know what your offsets will be. I had to learn to disable this if I want to punch-in one of those freqs and use it.

Random photo of my home antenna, just for the eye candy in the article.

LESSON 2: Don’t trust your on-line references explicitly. Validate the things you learn for yourself.

As part of learning to program the Icom, I was using a spreadsheet for my Baofengs as a reference. (I used the “Chirp” software/website to program those over a year ago. Chirp does not support my model of Icom, so I’m programming channels manually.) When I built the spreadsheet to then program the Baofengs with, I literally copied and pasted some repeaters from an online website called “Repeater Directory.” To be clear, it is very good; it just isn’t 100% reliable. Several of the repeaters in that directory are no longer operational, and a couple ended in an odd digit, like “7”, which should have been a clue.

LESSON 3: Don’t be afraid to have different programs for different functions.

I recently traveled from Western Washington to Idaho and back in the span of a week. While up in the northeast corner of the state, we camped at a remote location that had no cell-phone service. I busted out the truck’s Baofeng and tried keying up on 146.52 a couple of times but got nothing. My scan feature was still set to the police/fire back in my home area. Then, when I got to the campground in Idaho, I found out a friend had been striking out on the radio, too. If I had used a little foresight, I would’ve programmed a radio to the repeaters along the highway and campgrounds and had them all set to scan. I would’ve also pre-arranged with my friend to try some contacts, if for no other reason than to practice.

I’ve said it several times: comms is the most over-looked prepping skill. You cannot afford to wait until TSHTF to practice it.

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Remember: Our DUTY is to Be READY.