Site icon Survival Dispatch

Why You Should Upgrade to a General License

If you have been involved with preparedness for any time and have been reading the Survival Dispatch Insider since we started, you know we have strongly suggested that you get a ham radio license, because without communications, you don’t have anything.

If you can’t communicate with your team that is doing perimeter searches, then you have no idea what they find until they get back. If members of your group are at work when the power and phones go out, for any reason, you have no idea whether they are staying in place or making their way to you.

As we have discussed in other articles, the Technician license will get you access to local repeaters and, with access to voice over internet connections such as IRLP and Echolink, you can talk across the country and the world.

So, why upgrade to General?

Access to HF Bands

A General license gives you access to all 18 of the ham bands. There are portions of those bands that are restricted to those with an Advanced and Amateur Extra license.

The HF bands allow you to send messages way past the line of sight limitations of VHF/UHF. With correct antenna selection, you can somewhat control how far the signals will travel. A near vertical incidence skywave (NVIS) antenna allows you to send a signal from about 300 to 3,000 miles. Other antenna selections allow you to bounce a signal multiple times around the world.

Atmospheric conditions can impact signals. However, by using digital signal modes, such as PSK31, Contesa 4/250, and others, text messages can be sent even when atmospheric conditions are bad. It’s even possible to send emails and images.

HF nets are held on a regular basis to practice communications skills and pass messages. A number of like-minded groups conduct regular nets on HF frequencies, such as the American Redoubt Radio Operators Network (AmRRON), a group of preparedness-minded ham operators. AmRRON conducts both voice and digital nets twice a month and the schedule and frequencies can be found on their web page at

One daily sequence of nets is conducted by the National Traffic System (NTS). The NTS is a “fall back” to the days of the telegraph. NTS operators practice passing radiograms, writing messages in a specific format. During a disaster, the ability to accurately pass a written message, without having to repeat it multiple times, is a very valuable skill. A list of nets can be found on the ARRL web site and AmRRON affiliated nets can be found on the AmRRON site.

During disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes, where the local communications infrastructure has been destroyed, having access to these nets would provide the means to pass information into and out of any impacted area.

Better Understanding

As a General license holder, you will learn more about antennas and RF for your license. After you pass, you will gain experience as you participate in HF nets, field day events, etc. You will see what antennas work for different bands and conditions and learn how to make your own. As you experiment with different digital modes, you will learn what ones work best on different bands and conditions.

You will have a better understanding of electronics, power, and circuits. This can help you build backup power supplies, solar backup, and other systems.

More Value to Your Mag – An Elmer

With more knowledge comes more responsibility. Any Mutual Assistance Group is going to want skilled people. As a ham radio operator with a General class license and the ability to send and received HF radio transmissions, you become a valuable resource. You will have knowledge about antennas, correct terminology, Q signals, frequencies, and times for HF nets and other information.

You will also be a resource for training. While ideally every member of your MAG will have obtained at least their Technician license, the reality is that not everyone will have. You will be a resource to train them in radio use and etiquette. Having been active with nets and with a better understanding of communications, you will be able to help develop communications plans, including the use of one-time-pads if appropriate. (See other articles on developing a communications plan in the February 2018 edition of SDI and this issue).

So, What is Involved?

The General exam is 35 questions, the same as the Technician exam. You need to answer 75% of the questions correctly to pass. Just like the Technician exam, there are numerous resources for learning, including books written in different styles, videos, flash cards, and apps with practice exams. I highly recommend that provides free materials as well as a program and support for VE teams to conduct computer-based grading and testing.

Once you are scoring 80-85% or better on the practice exams, you should be ready to take the test. The Laurel VEC affiliated teams offer free exams and will usually let you try again at the same session if you don’t pass first time. Their teams and test sessions can be found at

ARRL and some other teams list their tests on the ARRL site and you can search for them at

You are not allowed to use your cellphone for a calculator so make sure you bring one with you if needed.

Final Thoughts

The time to learn preparedness skills is now, before something bad happens. Like all skills, they require practice. As a General class license holder, you can help train others in your group, but more importantly, you can reach outside of your neighborhood to both receive news and get messages out. Practice makes perfect, so practicing with different antennas and finding out what works best for your area or in different conditions is important. Practicing with digital messaging and other modes is also a valuable learning experience.

Best of luck with your upgrade.

This article was originally published in Survival Dispatch Insider magazine Volume 3 Issue 2.

Become a Survival Dispatch Insider …

We bring together survival enthusiasts and preppers to share skills and knowledge, so you can enhance your preparedness for emergencies and ensure the safety of you and your community.

The Results You’ll Get …

Our community, courses, and memberships are pretty special. We’re focused on the ways it will make a huge difference in your life.

Here are a few of the things you’ll be able to do as a member of Survival Dispatch Insider …

1) Improve your emergency preparedness by learning survival skills and strategies from experienced preppers.

2) Build lasting connections with like-minded individuals that share your passion for safety and readiness.

3) Access a wealth of knowledge and resources to assist in protecting you and your community during unexpected situations.

Click HERE to get started.

Exit mobile version