There are often misconceptions about Communications off grid or what off grid actually means. That’s what we’re talking about today.
There’s a lot of people or even other operators who believe Off Grid is nothing less than polar bear dodging in the Northern Territories of Canada. That certainly is off-grid but it’s not the only example. Off grid can be any place else where we can’t easily get grid power or basic telephone communications. It can be on a camping trip in your tipi tent with a wood stove, or right smack in the middle of a grid down disaster. Heck, it might even be a homestead in the backcountry, or a campsite right off of a main Highway. The harsh truth is, one can find themselves off grid in the middle of a city during a grid down scenario after a hurricane, tornado, ice strom, flood, earthquake, tsunami or any number of natural disasters we face in the world today. Know what’s even more incredible? It’s easier than ever to find ourselves off-grid or in a grid down scenario in the western world! So let’s not allow the Mr. Tacticool tell us what off grid is or isn’t, since we are here to learn how to communicate with amateur radio, off grid, no matter where that might be.
Another misconception we have about off grid Communications is the belief that a single Baofeng radio will provide all the capabilities we need, to replace communications infrastructure in an off grid environment. Yes I am kind of a Baofeng hater, but no, I’m not lying to you. Let’s break down off grid & grid down communications, into a couple of different categories.
- Tactical communications – in this example we’re talking about VHF/UHF Communications within a neighborhood, Communications on the Block, Communications on the farm, Communications at your cabin or retreat. We’re never talking about more than couple of miles or few kilometers. This is normally done between handheld radios, handheld to a mobile, handheld or mobile to a repeater, … In this example the handheld radio is King.
- Regional communications – in this example we’re talking about City, County, or State wide coverage. Mr. Tacticool tells us repeaters are the regional comms primary domain, and he would be right if it weren’t for the grid down scenario. For regional Communications, we typically use principles for over the horizon Communications. Of course that could be a couple of VHF stations (6m-2m) with big towers and big yagi antennas pointed at one another. It can also be the upper end of HF (10m), but if we want reliable Regional Communications, we’re probably going to use HF on 40, 60 & 80m with an NVIS capable antenna configuration.
- National & International communications – in this example we’re talking about coverage of an entire country or from one country to another. The only reliable means of national or International Communications using Ham Radio is HF Radio. HF radio is what you primarily see in my videos. Theoretically there is no limit on range of communications with HF radio, but there is the need for understanding bands, time of day they are useful, and antenna configuration for it to be reliable.
Off grid and Grid down go hand-in-hand with one another, so I talk about them one in the same. Ham radio off grid presents its own unique set of challenges. That’s why we need to get outside away from grid power, away from cell phone coverage, and routinely spend some hours or days testing the capabilities of our ham radio stations in the field. It doesn’t even matter what type of station you have, as long as we get outside to test and understand its capabilities. A few of the common challenges of off grid Communications using amateur radio are:
- Powering our HF or VHF radios.
- Hanging an efficient antenna.
- Charging or Recharging our HF or VHF radios once batteries are depleted.
- Providing enough amperage from a battery pack for a high power HF or VHF radio.
- Storing power for our communications gear.
- Making our kits small and light enough that we won’t leave the gear behind when things get tough.
Now to be fair, I have a lot of off-grid communications content on the channel, covering the challenges of ham radio off grid. Unfortunately, I’m really bad at packaging all of that content together and presenting it in a way that’s not too abstract. That’s why I’m writing this blog post. I’ve created a playlist a videos which aren’t necessarily presenting their off-grid merits on their own, but when watched as a collective series, you begin to understand how they all fit together from the perspective of ham radio communications off grid.