In an emergency, everything changes quickly — including how we communicate. It’s important to prepare for the possibility of disruption of cellular communication and traditional methods of receiving news updates. In a survival situation, your preparedness will enable you to help your family and others too. A survival radio is an essential tool that should have these key life-saving features.
What are the most common types of radios for survival situations?
You’re preparing in advance for the possibility of an emergency situation — let’s start by covering what kinds of radios are possible choices.
This is the simplest option as it’s just a standard radio. It’s priced inexpensively and can be packaged with other options. One popular type of AM/FM survival radio is a weather alert radio.
FRS (Family Radio Service)
The FRS radio provides private, short-range, two-way communication that works best outside where line-of-sight obstructions are minimal. No license is required, so they are popular with groups in the outdoors. These low-power devices usually run on AA or AAA batteries and have a max range of 1-2 miles.
GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service)
GMRS also provides short-range, two-way communication, but offers enhanced range (5-10 miles in the best conditions) and power. A license is required for at least one member of the group.
CB Radios (Citizen’s Band)
CB radios are the traditional go-to for truck drivers because they transmit over a longer distance and include 40 channels, however, they are limited to 4 watts. A multi-band CB radio merges VHF, UHF, CB, HAM, AM, and FM all into one unit for a versatile communication system that picks up shortwave, emergency, aviation, and marine bands. You can receive, but not transmit on the HAM channels.
Ham Radio (Amateur Radio Service)
Ham radio offers the most versatility in design and range and can access most bands. Ham radio models include handheld transceivers, mobile, and base stations. Handheld models have a longer range and battery life than walkie-talkies, but less range than other ham radios. Mobile, or 10-meter, radios transmit up to 200 watts of power, use a variety of antennas, and have excellent range extending long distances. Base station radios aren’t easily portable but provide the best range and transmission.
Survival Radio Features
Ability to Access Emergency Frequencies
The starting point for a survival radio is the ability to receive information about the current situation. Be sure your radio has AM/FM as well as emergency weather radio. People often rely on FM radio during the day, and AM radio stations overnight. The NOAA weather radio bands cover all 50 states, US territories, and adjacent coastal waters with seven radio stations. These weather bands provide weather alerts and updates on weather conditions which will help you anticipate and respond as the situation evolves. Be sure to select a model that offers excellent reception.
It’s essential to assess what type of scenario you are anticipating. Walkie-talkies (FRS) are a good option for staying in touch with people in your group, but a serious limitation is that FRS radios can’t access emergency frequencies. CB radios are also unable to access most ham bands, and communication on ham bands with a CB radio is against FCC regulations. Ham radios can access virtually every band which means you can receive vital information and communicate long distances — which makes them a great choice in emergency situations.
Transmission and Range Capability
Perhaps the most important consideration when choosing a survival radio is the type of transmission you need and the range it will provide. The least expensive option is a receive-only emergency radio which will give you the ability to listen but not respond. These radios are an important part of emergency preparedness, but you may want greater capability.
Two-way radios allow you to receive and transmit information. A marine radio is required on a boat and will auto tune to Channel 16, the national distress, safety, and calling frequency. This is a necessity because anyone on a boat needs to be able to send a distress call. A walkie-talkie (FRS) provides two-way communication between specific people which is essential for families or groups in outdoor settings. A CB radio is a great way to connect person-to-person over relatively short distances. During an emergency, CB radios are invaluable for traffic updates and weather alerts.
Amateur radio goes a step beyond shortwave radio and offers the ability to communicate worldwide. Ham radio operators are known for their emergency response training and service. The 10-meter radio is well-suited to survival situations because it’s mobile yet powerful. You can mount the radio in your vehicle and take it on the go during an emergency. Paired with a portable radio, you will be ready for the situation at hand.
During an emergency situation, you may have to leave your home, so make certain your survival radio can go wherever you go. Features like weight and size are important for both mobile and handheld devices. Consider the space available in your vehicle for installation of a 10-meter radio or a CB. If it’s a handheld device, choose how to carry the radio. Some devices have handles and others have straps.
Tuner Design that Works Best for You
In an emergency, tuning quickly and accurately is of the essence. Some prefer an analog tuner because the concentric knob is simple and easy to operate under duress. A digital tuner takes the guesswork out of finding the needed frequency and also offers presets including auto-tuning to an emergency frequency.
Important Steps Once You Buy a Survival Radio:
- Develop the technical skill needed to effectively use your radio during emergencies
- Practice using your radio in a simulated situation
- Test the tech periodically to be sure it’s working properly
Multiple Charging Methods
Without a power source, even the best emergency radio is nothing but a paperweight. Your radio must have multiple charging methods. Hand crank radios are often coupled with battery packs. For battery-powered radios, you can choose between AA batteries, AAA batteries, and lithium rechargeable batteries. AA is popular because it’s so readily available. Solar panels are also available on some models, but it’s important to assess whether you live in an area where solar power is a viable option. Keep in mind that your vehicle battery is an important power source, especially for CBs and 10-meter ham radios. Many people already have a generator for emergencies, so that can be a power source for charging your radio too. Ham operators are able to operate for extended periods using a generator.
Long Battery Life
In addition to the type of charging method, you must evaluate the battery life of the power bank in your radio. How many hours of reception can the radio provide? How long do you have to crank the radio per minute of usage? Be sure to compare brands regarding this important feature.
Ability to Charge other Devices
A USB adapter that provides USB charging for your cell phone/smartphone, tablet, or watch is essential during an emergency when the electric grid may be down. As you evaluate radios, check out the cover on the USB port to be sure the seal will keep out moisture. When you pack your radio, make certain you include the USB charger also.
In addition to portability, a strong, durable design is a high priority. Some models have rubberized edges for protection. Consider whether water resistance is important for your needs. If you are using the emergency radio on a boat or when camping, prioritize this feature.
Your emergency radio must also have flashlight features. Most models include an LED flashlight. Some models have a glow-in-the-dark indicator so you can find the radio in the dark. Signaling is another important consideration; beacons can be precoded into the flashlight to call for help. A reading lamp is offered on many models which can be a big help.
Clearly, we are talking about stressful, unusual situations, so your radio should be easy to operate in these difficult circumstances. Although it’s tempting to buy the radio with the most bells and whistles, it’s really important that you choose a device that you will be able to operate in an emergency. Popular features include a simple interface that is backlit for dark environments.
Be Ready with Your Survival Radio
We can’t predict when the next emergency will happen, but you can be ready. Do your research, consider where you live, decide which features are most important for your situation, and then choose the model that fits your most likely scenario.
Our Favorite Mobile Ham Radio: The Stryker SR-955HPC
If you’ve decided on finding a high-quality 10-meter radio you can trust, look no further than the Stryker SR-955HPC 10 Meter Radio. The newest version stands out for its receive audio clarity, a robustness that increases long-range transmission, and a user-friendly, backlit faceplate. With Stryker’s unwavering dedication to quality, the SR-955HPC is built to last and provides the reliability and performance you’ll need in an emergency.
Stryker Radios offers other models, including the 655HPC and the SR-447HPC2, which sport a sleek design to fit perfectly inside your vehicle. Other popular manufacturers include Anytone, Kenwood, Baofeng, IcomIC, and Yaesu FT.