Setup for post-collapse communication with family?

Started by rg, September 01, 2012, 10:06:12 pm

Previous topic - Next topic


We recently moved to the country and are in the process of getting our retreat situated. Most of our extended family lives within 45 miles of our location and each other (suburbs of a larger city). While I am quite preparedness-minded, the rest of our relatives are not. If/when standard communications fail, I would like to have a backup system in place that I can use to reach them.

An obvious solution would be to get everyone licensed and we could all communicate via repeaters in the area. But we're talking about 5 separate families, 20 or so people. That just isn't going to happen. What I'd like to do is give each family a radio and say: "if something ever happens and you can't call us, turn this on..."

Getting to my question.. What would be a reasonable setup (both base station and end-users) that could a) span a distance of 45 miles and b) not require licensing/technical saavy?

I can't depend on repeaters in the area without knowing their energy source. I would be willing to invest in any amount of equipment on our own property to make this happen. But i'm just not sure if having the repeater here would make any difference to low-power transceivers in the city.

Thanks for the input. I appreciate this forum.



I am sure more experienced members will comment, but here are my thoughts... Had you mentioned 20 miles or 300, the choice would be easy. 45 miles, not so sure... If you used 2m radios, you would need some power and antennas up high. Yagi antennas would be best, but then you have to point them in the desired direction. SSB would undoubtedly work better than FM for that purpose. The problem here is that it gets a bit complex and costly for someone who isn't into Ham radio. A regular antenna at a good height might work. I would maybe get FT-2900Rs which output 75W. Not sure it would work though over that distance...
40m might be a better choice with an NVIS (Near Vertical Incidence Skywave) antenna. It might not work all the time, but mostly I think it would. A general class license is required though, but it isn't hard to get, and only one person per family needs it for the intended purpose. Of course, for real emergencies, a license wouldn't matter, but in the mean time you need to practice... For 40m on a budget, I would say MFJ-9440X.



My suggestion would be GMRS or possibly old school CB. Although I am partial to Ham radio, unless you can get everyone on board about getting a license (a daunting task, I know), then one of these may be your best chance of covering the distances.

CB is great, but you have the problem of atmospheric conditions. When the band is open and you have "skip" rolling in, local communication can be a challenge. Although 45 miles on CB is quite possible, beams are usually needed for that distance. With beams you have the problems of not hearing those off to the sides, a tower, rotator, etc. You can always power the radios via a deep cycle battery, but the rotator requires 120v, which may not be available during many emergencies, so an inverted will also be required. Terrain can also be a factor at those distance. If you decide to try CB, I would suggest marking everyone's location on a map, and determine which families may need a beam antenna, and which ones would be more central and be able to get by with a ground plane. Forget CB hand held radios. They are generally battery hogs, and the distance that they cover are only about as good as a FRS radio.

Now to GMRS. The first thing that you should know is to ignore the advertised claims of miles covered. While a GMRS radio that advertises 30 miles may actually cover that distance in open space with absolutely nothing between the two radios, in the real world it isn't going to happen. I've used "20 mile" versions that struggled to cover a mile in very lightly rolling hills and with trees. The flatter the terrain and the less trees and buildings, the better your distances will be. Also, I believe that repeaters are allowed to be used in the GMRS. You may be able to pick up a used commercial repeater, that can be programmed for GMRS, and place that at the home of a more centrally located family member. This may have to work simplex, as I have yet to come across a GMRS handheld that will operate duplex (transmit on one frequency and listen on another). Once again though, you run into the problem of powering it when power is down. Still they may be your best bet, but they too require a license for legal use (really just a fee, with no test is involved and it is good for 5 years and covers your entire immediate family). There are models that I've seen that claim a 40 mile range, and it would be interesting to put them through their paces and see what they can really do. Still, GMRS radios are fairly inexpensive and easy to use.

One last possibility, and I hesitate to mention it due to the legalities, are Marine band radios. They generally have more power, and away from the coasts, there would be a lot less people owning them to listen in or causing interference. The problem is that they are not legal for non-marine use. Of course in a true emergency, where the possible loss of life and property is involved, any radio is legal to use. Any other use, even testing them for distance, would be illegal. You still have the problem with terrain, so relying on these (untested) would be a gamble.

Which ever you decide to try, having a willing family member situated in a central location could be nice. They could act as "net control" and relay important information between family that can't contact each other directly. Having specific times for all family members to "check in" would  be a good idea.

These are just my thoughts. YMMV


For VHF/UHF, this might help:

We have FT-2900's, base and mobile.  Diamond F23 @ 45' for the base.  At 5w or 75w the range is the same, about 15 miles.   Most of my experience is with VHF, so I won't guess at the solution except to say VHF probably isn't it - unless some member of your group lives atop a hill with none between them and rest of you.


Thanks Frosty for that great link!

About CB, the problem is that a beam antenna is huge, and not everyone can or wants to set-up such a monster on their roof... A beam antenna for a 2m SSB radio is much, much smaller...



Well... yes and no. I offer this only as a matter of perspective, and not to be argumentative.

My Maco three element CB antenna is 11'6" long. My M2 2M18XXX 2m beam is (was) 36' 6" long. It just depends on what one is looking for in an antenna. A three element CB beam can usually cover the 45 mile distance without much of a strain in most terrains.

Added later: I also forget that a lot of people these days live with HOA restrictions. Having never done so, I tend to forget that almost any type of antennas are forbidden.


 A clearer statement of your specific needs would probably help others advise on this. Is that 45 miles line of sight, or highway miles? Seems like a stupid question, but those of us not used to it don't imediately think about the difference. What kind of terrain must you cover? Where I live 45Mi on the highway is usually only 15mi LOS, and accross hilltops CB will usally do that. Some years back a group of coon hunters got busted for using marine radios in this area, story goes that they worked alot better than CBs. There again is the legal issue.

Jonas Parker

In a SHTF situation, those repeaters that you want to rely on may not be functioning. You might want to rethink youir plans.


I have attached a geographically accurate depiction of our family's spread. Turns out the maximum distance is only 26 miles, as the crow flies.

Placing a central repeater (ie, at Family 3) is a good idea, however likely not a permanent one. I would not have access to the equipment, and therefore wouldn't be able to install backup power systems such as solar or diesel.


Quote from: MIA on September 02, 2012, 10:41:12 am
Although 45 miles on CB is quite possible, beams are usually needed for that distance.

What would you recommend for CB equipment & antenna (both beam and general purpose). Ditto for GMRS.

Thanks for the advice!


September 04, 2012, 11:23:46 pm #10 Last Edit: September 04, 2012, 11:27:31 pm by gil
Hello RG,

If the maximum distance is 26 miles, then CB will work, assuming it has SSB. Look at the Galaxy DX 979:,5.0.html. I like my Solarcon I-Max2000 antenna, it works really well.
Since most everyone is North of you, you could use a directional antenna... Depending on how much space you have.. Yagi or quad, even a dipole.
Me, I would probably make a Moxon and set it up vertically...
Everyone would have to be polarized in the same manner however, vertical or horizontal (referring to antenna polarization).



I believe that Gil is spot on for CB. His recommendations will probably cover the distances nicely and CB could be cheaper to set up as 12v powered base stations. The DX979 is a great radio, but don't discount some of the older SSB mobiles.

For GMRS, converted mobile business band radios would work nicely, and repeaters can be found fairly cheaply (There's a couple of Motorola's with free programming on eBay for under $200 at the time I write this). There's also the advantage of using hand held GMRS radios to communicate with the base radios at each location. But there's the problem of re-programming the repeater and radios should they loose their memory. Most require a PC, a specialized cable and program to program. So unless you purchase the programming equipment and software, it looks as though CB may be your best bet.


Quote from: MIA on September 05, 2012, 01:17:17 am
... it looks as though CB may be your best bet.

Great! Would each family require a special antenna or would the directional antenna(s) at my location pick up standard transmissions?

Would you recommend the same radio models for all family?


September 05, 2012, 10:40:37 am #13 Last Edit: September 05, 2012, 10:42:09 am by gil

They wouldn't need a special antenna, but antennas need to be polarized the same way at both ends. A dipole for example, is usually strung up horizontally, and that is horizontal polarization. You could have a vertical dipole of course, likely an end-fed dipole.. Vertical antennas are of course vertically polarized. If you tried to contact someone who has a vertical antenna with your horizontal dipole, you'd have trouble (in line-of-sight, via skip doesn't matter). A beam antenna like a quad or Yagi can be polarized either way, depending on how you orient them. Same for a Moxon, which in my opinion is easier to build. Beam antenna are BIG. I would suggest that you equip everyone with simple vertical antennas at a good height. Later you can experiment with different one if you have difficulty contacting distant stations. When choosing your antennas (all the same model would simplify things), look at their angle of radiation. Get one that radiates as close as possible to horizontal (nothing to do with polarization here). Most manufacturers have graphs of their antenna's radiation pattern. Though for CB antennas, not always. The Solarcon IMax 2000 works great, but I think it radiates at a high angle, not sure...



Quote from: gil on September 04, 2012, 11:23:46 pmLook at the Galaxy DX 979:,5.0.html.

Hi Gil, I read your review. It doesn't sound like DX979 is all that great. I prefer to buy quality, obviously i want these machines to last. What would you recommend for a budget of say $200-300?