Becoming a HAM radio operator is a prepper side hustle that can pay off substantially as a bartering skill during a SHTF event.
While it will be difficult to make money as a HAM radio technician now (unless you become a trainer or equipment dealer), being one of the few survivors who can communicate with the outside world will be quite a valuable skill during a long-term disaster.
Preppers who are interested in becoming a HAM operator as a survival side hustle need to spend the time and effort getting trained and practicing this communication skill now.
It takes time to not only undergo the licensing requirements to become a basic HAM radio operator but also to learn the frequencies used for various types of information gathering, connecting with like-minded folks, and to memorize the lingo that HAM operators use – which can seem like learning a second language for newbies.
Types of Info You Can Share During A Disaster
- Pandemic or epidemic that is spreading in your state, country, or elsewhere in the world.
- Dangers unfolding related to nuclear plants or domino effect disasters.
- Natural weather issues that are developing such as: tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, severe storms, drought, etc.
- Marauding hordes of the unprepared desperate for survival in an area near you.
- Violent gangs that are attacking and looting towns around your own.
- Medical aid shortages, services still intact, etc.
- Bartering opportunities and marketplaces that are established as the recovery from the disaster and rebuilding begins.
- News from any governmental entity left intact – or emerging with or without any real legal power.
During any type of a major power outage or disaster, HAM radios still get signal. Variety of frequencies and radio bands used in their service is what makes HAM radio such a flexible, durable, and highly responsive mode of communication during a disaster.
How Not To Make Money With HAM Radio
Amateur radio as it pertains to HAM radio does not mean a broadcast type of radio used by civilians in any nation. Instead, amateur means simply “non-commercial.”
You cannot run a broadcast on HAM radio for profit, or that would be a commercial enterprise which is not allowed.
While there are several ways of making money around the topic, it’s worth pointing out that broadcasting advertisements via HAM radio is strictly prohibited in the U.S. More specifically:
(a) No amateur station shall transmit:
(1) Communications specifically prohibited elsewhere in this part;
(2) Communications for hire or for material compensation, direct or indirect, paid or promised, except as otherwise provided in these rules;
(3) Communications in which the station licensee or control operator has a pecuniary interest, including communications on behalf of an employer, with the following exceptions:47 CFR § 97.113 – Prohibited transmissions.
Fortunately, there are other ways to profit from HAM radio.
How To Make Money With HAM Radio
During a SHTF disaster a HAM radio operator can barter his or her communication services to transfer messages between friends and families, local officials, and medical professionals.
They can also serve as the “news guy or gal” and barter with the community as a whole to share news from the outside world that could greatly impact the safety of the community.
But even now, before disaster strikes, there are still ways to legally make money with your HAM radio skills and equipment:
- Teach one or multiple day HAM radio classes in your home or at a community building. Getting as few as 10 students to sign up for just a 1-day class on a topic like HamCation or SEAPAC, could easily net you $50 to $75 per student.
- Teach HAM radio courses online in a webinar-style format, vastly increasing your potential student base. Teaching tech prep classes would be quite popular.
- Learn how to repair radios, antennas, and other HAM accessories, and open up a home shop to serve HAM operators both locally and customers you attract through a website launched to market the service.
- Become a HAM radio and equipment dealer – again, this can be done out of your home.
- Host a HAM radio field day tournament and charge a fee to participate, sell gear, cool t-shirts, etc. to turn the event into a solid money maker.
- Open an Amazon Associates account so you can earn a small commission via the links posted on your HAM radio website and your social media pages.
- Write ebooks, manuals, and printed books about HAM radio to train others and to extol the virtues of HAM communications for preppers in particular.
- Launch a YouTube channel,and build a following so you can monetize your HAM radio content – using the channel as a way to also market your other money making HAM radio projects.
- Become a HAM radio test provider, and earn money by giving the test to other folks in your area.
Should A Prepper Even Bother To Get A HAM Radio License?
The short and definitive answer is … YES. In a world without rule of law, there will likely no longer be any FCC to look over your shoulder when engaging in a HAM radio.
You can listen in to HAM radio frequencies without a license now, but you cannot interact without a license for the most part.
Preppers with a HAM radio license are highly active participants in training exercises, “field day” exercises, and on-air networks that will help them excel at emergency communications during a long-term disaster.
Main benefits of being a HAM radio operator:
- ✅ Ability to communicate in any type of emergency.
- ✅ The signal range is practical in any type of environment, even heavily wooded areas and urban areas with tall buildings.
- ✅ Start up costs are not excessive.
- ✅ Radios are not difficult to modify or repair if necessary.
- ✅ HAM radio is the only radio service option that permits you to both listen to and talk to local emergency services.
- ✅ There is a wider range of frequencies on HAM that other radio services, making them far less crowded to communicate upon.
- ✅ HAM has more power than other radio services that are limited to0.5 to 4 watts. Handheld HAM radios offer 5 to 8 watt power and desk versions – or base stations, can reach up to 1,500 watt power.
It will be at least extremely difficult to impossible to learn all of the ins and outs of operating a HAM radio and perfect those skills so that they become second nature, if you cannot actually operate a HAM radio now, before the SHTF… so you are fully prepared when it does.
Self-reliant folks who take the time to study for and pass the FCC HAM radio operators test now are far better positioned to have a successful side hustle and provide a valuable service for their community throughout a TEOTWAWKI event.
HAM radio preppers often use what has been dubbed the “3-3-3” radio plan when communicating – this is a play upon the traditional survival rule of threes.
Every three hours the prepper HAM radio operator turns on their radio to both monitor chatter and to communicate any important news, if necessary. The preppers follow the check-in hours of noon, 3 p.m., 6 p.m., 9 p.m., midnight, 3 a.m., 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. based upon their local time zone.
The prepper HAM radio operator also often uses the “Channel 3” as a channelized frequency to connect with other preppers.
What About The Other Radio Service Options? Are They Better Than HAM?
Family Radio Service (FRS) or General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) and not the same thing as HAM radio. There are 22 channels on FRS and GMRS and they overlap on nearly all of the same frequencies.
This type of radio service was proposed by Radio Shack in the 1990s so families could purchase walkie talkies and communicate with one another in a portable way instead of just using a CB radio – without the need to earn a license.
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GMRS radios are often used by businesses and farmers with employees that are spread out in too far of an area to be reached using a FRS radio. A license is needed to operate a GMRS radio, but the price for the license is nominal and no test is required.
GMRS is kinda-sorta the business equivalent of FRS. For example, farmers, emergency responders, and businesses with employees spread around a small area would use GMRS. The GMRS radios are the only system other than a HAM radio that allows radio repeaters to generate a signal.
In 2000, MURS was created as yet another radio communications option. It remains relatively unpopular with preppers because of the limited 2 watts power associated with its use and the high cost of radios.
Types Of HAM Licenses
This is the entry level license for HAM operators. You must acquire this type of license before you can earn either of the other two.
A holder of a license of this type will have all amateur HAM radio privileges above the 50 MHz frequency level, limited CW, phone, and data privileges below the 30 MHz frequency or shortwave level for communications over broad distances.
A Technician HAM operator may also voice transmit on part of the 10 meter band and use Morse code on some of the high frequency bands below 30 MHz. This type of HAM license permits the holder to use some regional VHF and UHF networks, as well.
The operator’s license for the technician level test for this license consists of 35 multiple-choice questions that are focused upon the participant’s knowledge of HAM radio rules, regulations, and technical skills. Participants must answer at least 26 questions accurately to pass and receive licensure.
A holder of this type of HAM operator’s license possesses all of the technician level privileges and access to most amateur radio (non-governmental entity) high frequency privileges.
The examination for this type of HAM radio license includes 35 questions. Participants must get a minimum of 26 questions right in order to pass the test.
You should expect the test to also touch upon some new topics that were not introduced in the first test to prove you deeper understanding of the HAM radio operations process and rules.
This advanced amateur HAM radio operator’s license allows the user to have all of the privileges for the lower level license in addition to access to small exclusive sub-bands on 80, 40, 20, and 15 meters.
The lowest portions of multiple high frequency bands are reserved for holders of the Amateur Extra class license only. It is on these bands that expert Morse Code operators spend most of their time, and often consider the bands their prime turf.
Some rare foreign HAM radio stations are located on these frequencies – DXing, and you must have this type of advanced license to interact on them.
The Amateur Extra Ham Radio test consists of 50 multiple-choice questions. Participants must answer 37 questions correctly to pass. This HAM radio test covers rules and regulations pertaining to a higher level of operator sophistication and advanced technical topics.
HAM radio operator licenses have changed over the years – by both the rules and names associated with each license.
The number of HAM licenses currently available have been reduced during the review and restructuring process. A HAM operator who holds a license in any of the old and now deleted license classes can still renew their licenses.
Holders of two of the old Novice and Advanced class HAM license types have been grandfathered into the system so they are still honored. The majority of folks spend roughly 10 hours studying for the entry level test in order to pass.
While it is completely permissible to sit for all the three tests at once, that is rarely done due to the complexity of the advanced test.
While it would be difficult to pass the advanced test without the working knowledge gained by spending many hours at your HAM radio, it is not entirely unusual for a new operator to study for and take the first to test levels at the same time.
After passing any test level (referred to as an ‘element’) you retain your HAM operator credentials forever as long as you renew them on time by paying a fee, no further training is required.
HAM Radio Test Prep
There are numerous HAM radio clubs both online and in your local area that can be joined to learn more about not only this type of communication, but also about both test availability and preparedness.
Visiting HAM radio websites and forums will also help you get more familiar with not only the test taking and test prep options but also to find a vibrant online community of HAM enthusiasts to share with and learn from during any stage along your HAM radio journey.
Why Do Preppers Like HAM Radio So Much?
As evidenced by previous even small scale disasters, relying upon a landline or cell phone will not be successful. Both of these types of communications, among others, are all reliant upon a functioning electrical or data grid – HAM radio (also commonly referred to as shortwave radio) is not.
Both the Red Cross and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) rely heavily on local or regional HAM radio operators during disasters.
When the entire island of Puereto Rico’s communications system was knocked out of commission due to a hurricane in 2017, it was the HAM radio operators that established vital contact with and between various rescue agencies.
CB (Citizen’s Band) radios that became so famous in cult classic trucker movies of the 70s like Convoy and Smokey and the Bandit are excellent for short distance use but cannot compare to the extended communications abilities of a shortwave radio – nor can standard handheld walkie talkie radios.
Handheld HAM radio offers the same long distance range of the larger desk model, but boasts vastly increased portability to help you and your loved ones reach out to others when away from home.
When all other forms of modern communications fail, HAM radio will be the primary answer for both short and long distance communications.
Storing the HAM radio in a Faraday cage or creating a communications hub that is effectively built inside of a Faraday cage (metal shed with lined walls to neither the HAM radio nor anything it touches, also touches the metal.) so it remains both open for communication and protected at all times.
The cost of taking any of the HAM radio license tests can vary by location and type of testing site. It is now possible to take a HAM license test entirely online.
A test typically costs between $15 to $35. The American Radio Relay League, who has volunteer examiners of the tests, was charging just $15 to sit for an exam – even if you took one or two more level tests at once.
OPSEC is a concern for any prepper both now when preparing for a SHTF event and during such an emergency. It is highly unlikely that other general HAM operators will be able to discover your location as you communicate. But, law enforcement or governmental agencies will be able to locate all legal operators – those with a license on file.
HAM radio might seem like a very technical, overly complicated, and pricey “hobby” but it really is not. Part of the reason for such a common misconception is that not a lot has been done within the HAM community itself to promote itself in an easy to understand way.
Shortwave radio has been around now for more than a century. There are over 750,000 licensed operators in America alone. The flexibility and sense of community that is formed among HAM operators is one of the reasons why it is so attractive to preppers from around the world.
Being able to connect with the outside world can be vital for the survival of folks in your neighborhood, community, or county. HAM radio operators can talk to others not just in your state but around the country and around the world.
Crucial life-saving information can be shared in a timely fashion so survivors can plan ahead for what they might have to battle (both figuratively and literally) next.
Tara Dodrill is a homesteading and survival journalist and author. She lives on a small ranch with her family in Appalachia. She has been both a host and frequent guest on preparedness radio shows. In addition to the publication of her first book, ‘Power Grid Down: How to Prepare, Survive, and Thrive after the Lights go Out’, Dodrill also travels to offer prepping tips and hands-on training and survival camps and expos.