Snake oil The promise of License free Off-Grid Comms

As the world is twisted into deeper divisions, many are searching for shortcuts to the traditionally difficult to come-by communications skillset.

Ham Radio isn’t the only option for emergency communications, survival radio, or preparedness. That said, Ham Radio offers a greater number of options, and the widest possibility of success versus license free radio services. Ham Radio provides us with multiple band & mode options for varying times of day and propagation. These are options we don’t have access to, in other radio services. These options along with a higher potential for success, also have the highest hurdle to getting started. That hurdle is the ham radio exam.

Setting yourself up for failure

Some people say “The ham Radio exam is not required, since nobody will check if you have a license after SHTF”. These people are missing the point of the Ham Radio ticket. The reason for the Ham Radio license is ensuring one is able to safety utilize the equipment before SHTF, on the frequencies and bands allocated to the Ham Radio service. It helps ensure you know what you’re doing, and don’t hurt anyone or yourself while doing it!


The Ham Radio exam also gives us something else. We can certainly buy the equipment, then bury it in an ammo can in the backyard for a rainy day. That plan will almost always fail! The reason is TRAINING. The Ham Radio exams and ultimately license, give us an opportunity to train on-air, without someone calling us out for being pirates. “But CB Radio Julian!”? Indeed, SSB/AM/FM CB provides one solution for close quarters communications where ground wave is possible day or night, to your intended target. However, It can’t provide us with NVIS training, for wider regional communications. It also doesn’t have the level of quality gear, found in the ham radio community. It is a valid option for some scenarios (just saying).

Because of my Ham Radio license, I can and do train each and every day. On most days, data communications. Other days, Voice modes to keep my phone skills fresh. In fact, I regularly chit-chat on 17 meters during gray line. It’s fun and keeps my skills solid. My Winlink gateway provides off-grid comms to my group and the coastal community. Man-portable ops improve my field radio skills, and keep me fresh using my comms gear and kits. Writing about all the things I do with research and training ops in this blog, and on my YouTube channel, also helps. All of this contributes to a better understanding of off-grid comms, off-grid power, group communications, and survival radio in the event of SHTF.

The Grift

Content creators are always looking for a popular angle to peddle our posts. By far, the most popular search-term according to analytics, is people searching for off-grid communications, without the need for a Ham Radio license. Content creators are not the only ones meticulously researching analytics. Sellers and manufacturers are also trying to get in on the angle, by promising effective license-free off-grid communications using MESH networks like the goTenna or MESHtastic. All this with a simple setup, and of course without a ham radio license. The grift is getting you to click on the post, video or ad, thinking you will actually find the solution (more on this later).
There is nothing wrong with these solutions! Moreover, they work as designed. In fact, when deployed in combination with other Ham Radio solutions, they can become highly effective. Then why aren’t you showing them on your channel Julian? This is easily answered by looking at the focus and strategies presented on my blog and YouTube channel. You see, my goal is not necessarily becoming a YouTube sensation or popular blogger. My goal is a little more complicated. My goal is planting seeds! Seeds which will eventually grow into excellent Radio Operators. Radio Operators with skills, experience and the communications know-how to support their groups and communities. My strategy is optimizing traditional ham radio emcomm methods, for man-portable survival radio and preparedness. You’ve already seen these strategies on the channel and blog. Portable power, reducing current consumption, simplifying gear, asynchronous communications, … So, exploring these strategies helps me provide the tools many of you will use, to become the best communications resources you can be, for your families, groups, and communities.

MESH Network example

A MESH network setup by someone who copies an install image from a website, to a piece of pre-configured gear, is not a reliable strategy! If we don’t understand the technology, how it works, what we can do with it, or how to bring it all back online after a failure, the owner of that gear becomes useless as a “radio resource”. Do you follow me?

What the community needs

What we need is skilled and experienced Radio Operators! Certainly there is a desire for license free off-grid communications technology. However, disconnecting the technology from a skilled Radio Operator is a mistake almost always leading to a dire failure. Why doesn’t my MESH network work? Perhaps because the required network density of MESH nodes , wasn’t sufficient to make that network reliable and redundant! What is network density? “Exactly!”.

It is the “Radio Operator” (not the technology) which will provide the skills and experience necessary to restore communications in a grid down scenario. What technology we use to solve that problem, depends on the scenario. Neither communications skill or experience can be replaced with “easy” to deploy technology.

Your group and community, requires a skilled and experienced Radio Operator!

Back to content creators

Ultimately content creators are trying to get your attention. If our research of analytics determine “License free Off-Grid Comms” is a popular search term, content creators will do whatever they can to trick you into clicking on a post they specifically designed for that search-term. Naturally the ultimate goal is to get you to stay long enough to watch ads, or click on an Amazon affiliate link. Although this practice is acceptable, most viewers/readers don’t know how they arrived at a particular video or blog post. In the best case, the content creator actually provides you with a useable solution. That solution comes in the form of a video, a blog post, or an ad (if it is a seller). The thing is, sometimes a content creator or seller will design an ad or content you want to see, knowing full well the solution may only partially answer the “off grid comms without a ham radio license” question, or being an utter failure if S***t actually ever hit that fan. Because the person watching, reading or clicking has less knowledge than the content creator, the viewer (aka the Mark) trusts the content creator to provide an effective solution. The problem is the “the Mark”, won’t know the “solution” is a failure, until it’s too late.

The point!

Forgive me for saying it again, but here it is. There is no substitute for skills and experience. We can’t all invest the time or energy to become well-rounded Radio Operators, that is understood. Still, we must accept the fact that at the very least, we need to be supported by a well-rounded Radio Operator. We need to have one or more in our groups and/or local communities. A skilled and well-rounded Radio Operator will support you with your own off-grid or grid down communications goals. Moreover, a skilled and well-rounded Radio Operator will filter the grift for you, before you waste much of your time, believing in content designed to satisfy your appetite, while not necessarily providing a usable solution.

We can all agree Race car drivers can’t win races, without training. We can also agree competitive PRS (Precision Rifle Shooting) shooters can’t hit center-mass consistently, without training! Therefore, we can also conclude, off-grid and grid down communications can’t be effective or reliable, without training! There are no shortcuts.

Julian oh8stn

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  1. Yes, yes, yes… There are no shortcuts. Train, train, train, then train some more. When you are sick and tired of it, train some more. Learn to run whatever it is you’ve brung (blindfolded). It’s not what you have, it’s what you know. The more you train, the more you realize that *you* are the wink link in the chain (I know I am…). Digital is my bane! — but I keep at it. Those not licensed and of the “Don’t worry, bro, I’ll figure it out when the SHTF” mentality are low-lying fruit and will be easily picked off. Meanwhile, thanks to your training, you and your group will survive. Keep at it. 73 Garu

  2. Very good point. The best equipment is worth nothing without someone who really knows how to use it. I regularly do simple man-portable field operations and have stumbled into a multitude of problems I hadn’t anticipated. Most of these resulted in my failure to make a single contact that day.

    Today, just when I thought I had all the failure modes covered that prevented my rig from transmitting, I ran into a new one. This time, it was an error in the Winlink RMS gateway directory, and the frequency of the station I had picked was well outside the frequency range of the 20m band. The TX remained silent, as it should. Luckily, I worked this one out on the spot, the ability to which I attribute to (some) experience and confidence.



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