If you’re just starting out with the ham radio, you might have difficulties figuring out what you should purchase as your first radio. We’re here to give you a hand in identifying the ham radio that suits you perfectly among the thousands of models available in the market.
Depending on your selection, you could be able to communicate with people not just in your neighborhood but around the world as well.
When you set out looking for the best ham radio, there are certain factors you should look out for, like the frequency and the power output. We have carefully considered these and other factors to create a list of the 15 high-quality ham radios for the money.
If you’re a total beginner, we have your interests in mind and that’s why, apart from the list of the greatest ham radios, we have included lots of other info that will help you greatly in operating a ham radio. We have answered questions like – how to use a ham radio, how to take care of it, and more.
So, are you ready? Let’s find out all there is to know about ham radios, starting with –
What Is a Ham Radio?
Before anything else, let’s define this item. Also known as an amateur radio, a ham radio is a device that uses a spectrum of radio frequencies to exchange messages non-commercially. Folks often use this device for:
- Wireless experimentation
- Private recreation
- Contesting and radio sport
- Emergency communication
In the term amateur radio, amateur refers to a person that is duly authorized to engage in radioelectric practice without any commercial interests. For that reason, amateur radios are typically used for personal needs.
According to the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), there were approximately 2 million people worldwide using the ham radio regularly in 2012. By now, we expect this figure to have increased tremendously.
|BaoFeng BF-F8HP (UV-5R 3rd Gen) 8-Watt Dual Band Two-Way Radio (136-174MHz VHF & 400-520MHz UHF)||
5 out of 5
|TYT TH-9800 Quad Band 50W Cross-Band Mobile Car Ham Radio||
5 out of 5
|Baofeng UV5RA Ham Two Way Radio||
4 out of 5
|LEIXEN LX VV-898 Dual Band Transceiver Amateur Ham Radio||
4.5 out of 5
|Baofeng Black UV-5R V2+||
5 out of 5
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Why Have a HAM Radio?
Ham radios are meant for any person who loves to communicate wirelessly. They’re also ideal for those who love to experiment. With a ham radio and a license for operating it, you have the ability to communicate not just with those around you but other ham radio users around the world, even those in outer space.
Here’s a summary of the reasons for getting a ham radio:
- Communication – it’s limitless, as you can communicate even with people who are in space.
- Fun – like CB radios, amateur radios are often used for fun and playing with them is a hobby to many people.
- Emergency communication – natural disasters like tornadoes and hurricanes normally disrupt mobile phone and telephone communications but hams remain unaffected.
- Kid’s Day – this yearly event encourages kids to get on air and a ham radio will definitely come in handy.
Now, here’s the ultimate list of the 15 outstanding ham radios for 2020. Go through the features to see which product suits you perfectly.
In Depth Reviews Of The Top 10 Best Ham Radio 2020
1. BaoFeng BF-F8HP (UV-5R 3rd Gen) 8-Watt Dual Band Two-Way Radio (136-174MHz VHF & 400-520MHz UHF)
We thought we’d kick off our list with the best handheld ham radio, the BaoFeng BF-F8HP. This radio is a dual band, meaning you have increased frequency and range. The installation of a dual band radio is also normally easier than that of single band radios. And, with the in-depth user guide that accompanies this device, operation is a breeze.
As an improvement on the UV-5R, the radio is installed with a new generation chipset and a new concierge service, which enable it to transmit more power.
With the BaoFeng BF-F8HP Two-Way Radio, you don’t have to worry about getting a separate antenna. The radio comes with a V-85 high-gain antenna that receives signals quickly and without problems. Also, you don’t need to worry about power, as the package includes a powerful 2000mAh battery. This battery is 30 percent larger than that of the UV-5R, and it’s able to provide lasting experience even when the radio uses high power.
While the battery life of the UV-5R is 18 hours, that of the BF-F8HP is 20 hours while using high power ranging around 8 watts and 24 hours while using low power ranging around 5 watts.
Want a ham radio that enables you to listen to your favorite radio shows? This one has FM radio built into it.
- check Built-in flashlight
- check FM radio
- check In-depth user manual
- check Concierge support
- check Large, 2000mAh battery
- check V-85 antenna
- check Power adapter and charger
- check Hand strap
2. TYT TH-9800 Quad Band Mobile Car Ham Radio Black
There are many reasons why we feel the TYT TH-9800 is the best ham radio for car. First, it has more than 800 memory channels. That means you don’t need to search for frequencies every time you turn on the radio. All you need to do is scan and access your favorite channel quickly and conveniently.
Again, rather than a single band, or a dual one, the TYT TH-9800 operates on four bands. That means exceptional range and clarity.
If you’re looking for a transceiver that’s able to get rid of the annoying noise, the TYT TH-9800 will be very valuable. It has a squelch function, which is separate from the volume controls.
This radio has multiple tuning steps, and with a full keypad microphone, you can be certain that communication will happen smoothly and effectively.
One problem with electronic devices, especially radios, is that they tend to get hot. If you’re not comfortable in the presence of high temperatures, get the TYT TH-9800; it is fitted with an internal cooling fan.
- check The faceplate is remote-mountable
- check Built-in cooling fan
- check Commercial quality and performance
- check Squelch function that’s separate from volume control
- check Digital FM radio
- check Reverse frequency selection
- check Multi-function scanning
- check Channel name can be edited
- check Keypad can be locked
- check Included in the package: user manual, power cable, microphone & its hanger
3. Baofeng UV5RA Ham Two Way Radio
The Baofeng UV5RA is the best portable ham radio, providing you with a power output of 4W in the frequency ranges of 136 to 174 and 400 to 480 MHz.
This radio has an economical HT that incorporates a special VHF band (65 to 108 MHz), which enables you to enjoy FM radio.
With the radio, you have access to 128 memory channels.
Other interesting features of this radio include the battery saving function that enables you to enjoy battery power for longer than ordinary. Apart from that, the radio has a flashlight and by the way, you can lock the keypad.
You can select your preferred frequency steps; these range from 2.5 to 25 kHz. Also, you may select the RF power; it ranges from 1 to 4 watts.
Handy items that are part of the package include the antenna (a flexible one), the BL-5 Li-ion 1500 mAh battery, and the drop-in battery charging tray. There’s aslo a wrist strap and a belt clip.
- check Computer-programmable – use a PC03 FTDI cable for this
- check 128 memory channels
- check A frequency stability of 2.5ppm
- check An antenna impedance of 50 Ohm
- check A power output of 4 watts
- check FM radio incorporated
- check Items included: power adapter, speaker, Li-ion battery, user manual, belt strap
4. LEIXEN LX VV-898 Dual Band Transceiver Amateur Ham Radio
If you’re looking for a compact amateur radio for your vehicle that offers you lots of flexibility while giving you enough power, then the LEIXEN LX VV-898 will do. This dual display radio features selectable power outputs, ranging from 4 to 10 watts.
One of the best aspects of the radio is that you can make either selective or group calls. There’s an RXTX inhibit, an RX inhibit, and an emergency alarm in case you’re in need of quick help or you’re needed to offer help.
The microphone has its own keypad which you can use to set up calls. This keypad has numbers 0 to 9 and letters A to D.
The keyboard is lockable. You can lock it either manually or set it to happen automatically.
A cool feature is that you can set a password for the menu functions.
The LEIXEN LX VV-898 uses a 13.8V DC power source.
- check PC programmable
- check You can set passwords for menu functions
- check Reverse frequency function199 memory channe
- check lsLightweight – less than a pound
- check User manual
- check Standby mode for power-saving purposes
5. Baofeng Black UV-5R V2+
If you’re looking for true quality, we’d advise you to get this ham radio, which is distributed by Amcrest Direct in the US. If you want to be covered by their awesome warranty, be sure to select Amcrest Direct (FirstVision) as your buying option.
The LEIXEN LX VV-898 is one of the most robust ham radios out there, with a metallic housing that is very durable. It is also very easy to use, with a comprehensive user manual. If you need additional help programming the radio, go to Baofengradio.us. You will find lots of helpful info there.
Another feature that makes this unit very easy to use is its LED display. This enables you to operate the radio even during the night.
If you have an eye for aesthetics, then go for this model. There are a couple of colors to choose from.
Another advantage is that the radio is compatible with Expert Power 3800mAh batteries, and with that, you can enjoy uninterrupted battery-powered communication for four days.
You can program the radio with your PC but be sure to get a good programming cable. The free Chirp software will be very handy too.
- check Computer programmable
- check Easy to use and beginner-friendly
- check Built with sturdy materials
- check LED display
- check Features an attractive warranty
6. ICOM 2300H 05 Amateur Radio
If you’re looking for the most powerful handled ham radio that will give you crystal-clear, loud audio output, you can never go wrong with the ICOM 2300H 05. It gives you a stable power output of 65 watts.
A unique aspect about this unit is that its durability is tested and proven to comply with the latest mil-std-810 g specs. Therefore, if longevity is very important to you, this radio is a perfect choice.
Want a radio that makes it possible for you to access your favorite channels? The ICOM 2300H 05 will do. With it, you can save up to 207 channels and access them quickly whenever you want.
Now, we know that at particular times you will operate your amateur radio in the dark. You know what will come in handy? LCD display. This radio’s LCD display is a 3-inch, making operation very convenient.
There are also multiple scan functions.
Apart from these features that make the radio easy to use, there’s also the fact that the radio is very easy to program. If you went through good study guides and took it seriously, you will be able to make your first contact in 5 minutes.
This amateur will work just fine for you as a mobile unit or a base station.
- check Loud, crystal-clear audio
- check Stable power output of 65 watts
- check Built with long-lasting materials
- check Easy to programLCD display
- check Multiple scan functions
7. BaoFeng UV-82HP High Power Dual Band Radio: 136-174mhz (VHF) 400-520mhz (UHF) Amateur (Ham) Portable Two-Way
The main advantage of the BaoFeng UV-82HP is that it is very flexible in so many ways. Most notably, it is single or dual push-to-talk selectable. This function allows transmission on 2 different frequencies using the PTT switch.
Let’s say you’re transmitting on frequencies A and B. By pushing the up button, you’re able to transmit on A, and by pushing the down button, you’re able to transmit on B.
This handheld ham radio is a dual-band, meaning there’s better transmission, reception, and range. The LCD feature displays the menu clearly, so you’re able to operate the transceiver even in the dark.
Another versatility feature of this radio is that it has a busy channel lock function.
We know warranty is important to you, and that is why we recommend getting this product; its warranty policy is transparent and fair for buyers.
As we mentioned before, the BaoFeng UV-82HP is easy to use. And, should you have any problems, you can always get lots of tips and help with programming at BaoFengTech.com.
- check Single or dual push-to-talk selectable
- check A revolutionary chipset that supports high power
- check FM radio
- check Flashlight
- check Emergency alarm
8. Yaesu FT-60R Dual Band Handheld 5W VHF / UHF Amateur Radio Transceiver
The Yaesu FT-60R is a dual-band that enables you to operate on either UHF or VHF. Remember what that means? Increased range and clarity.
This transceiver is very easy to use, with an alphanumeric display and an illuminated keypad. Also, the radio features scan modes, meaning you’re able to quickly choose your channels or adjust the settings.
The Yaesu FT-60R transmits on frequencies ranging at 144 to 148 and 430 to 470 MHz and receives at 108 to 520 and 700 to 999.9 MHz. If you are using a certain frequency, you can prevent it from being changed accidentally through the radio’s lock mode.
So, we have talked of memory channels, and we’ve seen how impressive some radios are with over 100 channels. But, you’re just about to discover true memory channel power. Tell you what? The Yaesu FT-60R enables you to save up to 1000 memory channels! Huge, isn’t it?
With this radio, you have access to NOAA weather alerts, and emergency reports.
Handy additions include an antenna, a belt chip, and of course, there’s the 1400mAh battery.
- check Dual band radio
- check 1000 alphanumeric memory channels
- check Compatible with many accessories, including MH-34B4B, CT-44, and MH-37A4B
- check 1400mAh battery
- check Channel lock
9. Tri-Band Yaesu VX-6R Submersible Amateur Ham Radio Transceiver
Apart from being a ham radio, the Yaesu VX-6R offers you AM and FM functions. This radio features wideband reception of 504 kHz-998.9 MHz.
If you’re looking to save numerous channels, the Yaesu VX-6R is another radio you can get; it offers you up to 900 memories.
Got a taste for beauty? Well, you will find this radio pretty appealing. First, it has a beautiful, black magnesium case. Again, it features LED display, with a multicolor function.
Maybe you want an amateur radio that gives you lots of functionalities apart from AM/FM or the ham radio functionality itself. This radio incorporates a weather channel and also includes bands for CB, aircraft, marine, and the police.
In case you will be operating your ham radio in an area where it can get into contact with water, and you’re worried about the electronic parts getting damaged, don’t hesitate to go for the Yaesu VX-6R. It’s waterproof and submersible. This unit is, without doubt, the ideal choice for someone who wants to operate a ham radio out in the sea.
- check Beautiful with a black magnesium case and a multicolor LED display
- check Waterproof and submersible
- check Includes an antenna, a battery, and a charger
- check Includes bands for FM, AM, CB, weather, police, and more
- check 900 memory channels
10. BTECH UV-5X3 Tri-Band Radio
The BTECH UV-5X3 is yet another computer programmable ham radio. All you need for that is a programming cable and the Chirp software. We recommend you use the PC03 FTDI Cable as it won’t give you any problems.
With computer programming, you can monitor the radio remotely. This includes functions like stunning and reviving the radio without having to touch it.
The BTECH UV-5X3 uses a tri-band frequency, which is also very helpful for increasing clarity and range.
It features selectable frequency range scanning. Also, you can add or remove channels using the scan function on the menu.
Other cool features include the busy channel lock mode, which enables you to prevent the accidental changing of channels.
The squelch tail feature helps you eliminate the noise.
- check Busy-channel lockable
- check Squelch function
- check Computer programmable
- check Includes a user manual
- check Dual display shows both name and frequency
11. BaoFeng BF-888S Portable 2-way Ham Radio
The BaoFeng BF-888S is a portable handheld amateur radio that comes with lots of benefits. The most obvious one is that it’s lightweight, and therefore you can take it with you wherever you like.
Apart from that, this ham radio comes with a flashlight, which can come in handy when you’re in the dark.
It is computer programmable, and thus you can operate it remotely. You can change channels and do a dozen more things from a distance.
Note though, that the BaoFeng BF-888S does not give you very many memory channels; you get just 16 of them.
Here’s a cool feature – this ham has intelligent charging. When the voltage is too low, an alert goes off. The battery is a 1500mAh Li-ion, with a battery life of 8 hours. And by the way, the radio is installed with battery saving features.
With the BaoFeng BF-888S, you can communicate over a range of 2 to 4 km.
- check Computer programming
- check Intelligent charging with an alert when the voltage is too low
- check Battery saving features
- check Flashlight
- check Voice prompt
12. Retevis RT5 Walkie Talkies Rechargeable 7W Dual Band Radio 136-174/400-520MHz FM Scan VOX Car Charging Function Ham Radio(Back,2 Pack)with Programming Cable
The Retevis RT5 is one of the few computer programmable radios that come with a programming cable. With most other models, the buyer normally has to purchase a separate programming cable to be able to do the computer programming.
This ham comes in the form of walkie talkies. You can select low, medium or high-power output. The respective figures are 1, 5, and 7 watts, from low to high. The high power is very helpful when you’re in mountainous areas where reception is generally not very good.
The charging system of this radio is what makes it so convenient and easy to use. It comes with a support feature, so that you just plug the walkie talkie into it, and the walkie talkie is charged while being protected.
The charging system is designed in a way that you can connect it to your car’s power system. That means you’re able to use the radio even while on long road trips.
With a 4-color LCD and a built-in flashlight, you have no worries while in the dark.
The radio also comes with an extensible Retevis RT-773 antenna, which gives you greater range.
- check PC-programmable with a free programming cable
- check Flashlight
- check 4-color LCD display
- check 3 power outputs (1, 5, and 7)
- check Good charging system with support features
- check Hand strap
13. TYT MD-380 TRBO Ham Radio
If you’re looking for a computer programmable ham radio that comes with a free programming cable, you can get the TYT MD-380. Apart from the cable, you have a free software for the programming.
Who doesn’t love FREE? Other free items include a belt clip and an antenna.
The TYT MD-380 is easy to use, and in the event that you have problems operating it, or programming it, you can always refer to the free user manual.
This ham is digital, and it uses TDMA technology. TDMA stands for Time-Division Multi-Access, which comes with lots of handy features like LCD display and the encoding and decoding of text messages. This feature also enables the radio to make either private or group calls, with a frequency range of 400 to 470 MHz.
The TYT MD-380 is another ham that’s meant for those who love storing channels; it gives you up to 1000 memories.
The operating voltage is 7.5V (DC), and so you can see your home’s or car’s power is sufficient for it.
- check Free cable and software for PC programming
- check Comes with a free antennaBelt clipLCD display
- check Encoding and decoding of text messages
- check Private or group calls
14. Radioddity GD-55 Plus DMR Digital Two Way Ham Radio
The Radioddity GD-55 Plus is an upgrade of the GD-55, with various handy improvements. Among these improvements, is the dual time slot – Tier I and II.
This ham is one of the few that provide you with a free programming cable, which is designed for better, more efficient programming experience. If you want to save time when programming your ham radio on the computer, then go for the Radioddity GD-55 Plus. Its cable is very efficient. By the by, the programming software is free and easy to use, and should you have any problems, the Radioddity team is always there to help.
Because of its high power, of 10 watts, and the large battery capacity, the radio has a big range, of around 4 to 5 km or rather 2.5 to 3 miles. The battery is a lithium polymer type with an energy storage capacity of 2800mAh.
If you need a ham you can use in the sea, this one will be very useful for you, as it is waterproof. Even if it gets submerged in water for an hour, it will still work just fine.
- check High power output of 10 watts
- check Big range of up to 5 km
- check Waterproof and submersible
- check Dual time slots
- check Computer programmable
15. BaoFeng Walkei Talkie UV-5R Ham Radio
A most unique feature of the BaoFeng Walkei Talkie UV-5R is that it comes with 2 batteries. When you’re using one battery, the other can be charging, so that you’re never out of power.
As a matter of fact, this ham is the comprehensive deal for you. That’s due to the fact that all the necessary accessories are included so that you don’t need to purchase anything else to get started. Some of the items in the package are: antenna and microphone. The antenna is long, giving you a large tracking range.
This handheld radio operates on a dual band – UHF and VHF. That gives you communication flexibility and increases range.
It also has a LCD display, making it easy for you to define your settings. And by the way, you can program the radio using your computer.
So, you’re on a budget? This is the right ham radio for a tight budget. Its reasonable price makes it a top choice for those who need some inexpensive yet of great quality.
- check 128 memory channels
- check Dual bandEmergency alarm
- check Selectable tri-color background light
- check Battery saving features with a low-battery alert
- check 2 batteriesKeypad lockLED display
Things to Consider Before Buying a Ham Radio
Where you will use the radio and what you will be using it for
There are 3 main types of amateur radios: mobile, base, and handheld. To select the right type, it’s crucial to consider the place of installation and your intention with the radio. If you’re looking for something that you can take from place to place without any problems, then a handheld model is the best for you. On the other hand, if you intend to communicate with people that are very far away from you, then a base unit would be the right selection, as it is pretty powerful.
And, don’t forget there are models that you can use as either mobile or base units.
What kinds of communication are you interested in? By thinking about this, you’re able to determine the bands you need. Depending on whether you want to communicate locally or globally, there are VHF, UHF, and HF bands. Use these guidelines:
- Short-range emergency communication – go for a portable UHF/VHF ham radio with a power output of 3 to 5 watts.
- Local/regional use – a UHF/VHF radio with a power output of at least 25 watts.
- Home use – a HF ham radio with a VHF and UHF coverage.
- Portable operation – HF and VHF bands
There are ham radios with dual bands, meaning they are able to monitor two different frequencies simultaneously. There are others with general coverage, incorporating frequencies like FM, TV, and AM beside standard amateur radio bands.
If you want a ham radio that gives you power with regards to range, then go for a high power output. Various portable radios will give you a power output of as little as 5 watts but if you want something powerful, there are models that offer you more than 50 watts.
Don’t you want a ham radio you can operate with ease even in the dark? So, go for one with a high-grade LCD display. This feature can be very helpful in case of an emergency. An illuminated keypad would also be very useful.
Get a ham radio that allows you to store frequencies for easy access.
By going for a radio with the weather alerts feature, you will be able to get alerts from the local authorities and NOAA. If you’re a driver (even if it’s just your personal car), then you’re able to avoid routes that are affected with unfavorable weather. The bottom line is, no matter your situation, this feature helps you stay either prepared for what’s to come or avoid it.
With scan functions, you’re able to find the frequency you need fast and conveniently. There are various types of scan, including memory scan, programmed scan, skip scan, ban scan, full scan, and more.
CTCSS and DCS Encoder/Decoder
CTSS stands for Continuous Tone-Coded Squelch System while DCS stands for Digital-Coded Squelch. The two are very useful for keeping conversations that are happening on the same frequency separate.
Imagine if your radio was dropped accidentally or if it got hit by something hard. Its construction would make the difference between its life and its death. A rugged radio will be able to hold up pretty well even if it’s being used in harsh conditions and you will enjoy using it for a long time.
When communicating on radio, noise and interference are the biggest pain in the neck. A squelch feature is very handy for clearing them and reducing annoyance.
Most models out there are programmable but there’s a difference that beginners aren’t normally aware of. Ordinary ham radios only let you do the programming on them through their buttons. The best wireless ham radios, though, allow you to do it through a PC. For ease of use, we would advise you to go for the latter.
Common Uses of the Ham Radio?
We suppose that by now, some of the uses of the ham radio are obvious. Let’s list them, shall we?
- Communication – this is the most obvious one.
- Emergency service – when you’re in a remote area and are in need of quick help, and other methods of communication are unavailable, a ham radio can be very handy.
- Hobby – it’s a fun device. By the way, originally, it was intended for hobby use. The hobby itself is known as amateur radio.
Benefits of Using Ham Radios
The best parts of using a ham radio include:
1. Emergency Communication
When the regular communication methods, like phones and the internet, are not working properly, the authorities often turn to ham radio to step in. Hams are particularly helpful during emergency situations like flooding and storms.
2. Shortwave communication
This makes communication between ham radio operators around the world or even locally in the country. With a ham radio, you can search for other hams that share your interests and make new friends.
3. A closed community
As a ham radio operator, you’re able to join a community of like-minded folks. In this community, you can hold contests and discussions (referred to as nets). The contests are normally intended for finding out who’s skilled enough to be able to contact the most hams in a certain duration.
Types of Ham Radios
There are 3 main types of ham radios:
Handheld amateur radios are little and lightweight, allowing you to communicate on the go. The only issue is that their power output is normally low, with a maximum range of just 5 miles. But, you can boost the range through a ham radio repeater.
Mobile ham radios are built to be operated from a ham shack or from a vehicle. They have a bigger range than handheld hams, going up to 200 miles. This increased range is usually because the ham is able to derive more power either from the car’s battery or from the home wall outlet.
3. Base Station
This is the biggest type of home radio and usually involves a more complex setup than the rest. The upsides include the fact that you have a huge range of thousands of miles. Base stations normally derive their power from the household current or a special battery. Another benefit that comes with base station hams is that you have access to the entire spectrum of radio frequencies.
If you’re a beginner, we’d advice you to start with a handheld or a mobile model. But, if you’re experienced and need something more powerful, then go for a base station.
How to Get Your Ham Radio License Easily?
If you have obtained a driver’s license in the US, realize that getting a ham radio license is not much different; it’s that easy. Fortunately, the Morse Code is no longer a requirement. Follow the following steps to get yours without hassles:
Do some studying. The most common study materials for ham radio license include The Technician Class by Gordon West and ARRL’s Ham Radio License Manual.
Search for upcoming exams:
ARRL’s website has a search function that allows you to identify and locate forthcoming exams. More often than not, the exam fee is just 15 dollars. And, by the way, in some locations, it’s absolutely free. While checking for information on the ARRL site and booking the exam, you’ll need to provide your social security number.
Sit the exam:
Hoping you studied properly, you will pass the exam. If, unfortunately, you don’t pass, don’t fret; you can give it another shot soon.
If you passed the exams, you will receive a license from the government. The license is normally free but sometimes you might have to pay $5 for it.
By the by, you might wonder where to find the syllabus of the exam. qrz.com can help you a lot. After registering with the site, you will get access to practice questions and get advice on what areas you need to focus on more.
Remember, transmitting signals on designated ham radio frequencies without a license is a federal offense. So, get a good study guide and take the exams to get the license first.
Types of Ham Operator Licenses-Which Is Best Fit for You?
As stated before, you need a license to operate a ham radio lawfully. Of course, you can still purchase and listen to a ham radio but to actually communicate using it, you need to pass an exam and get at least a technician class license.
The class of license you get establishes the frequencies you should be working with. There are 3 main types of licenses:
The technician license is the most basic one and if you’re just getting started, it fits you best.
Refer to the part “How to Use a Ham Radio Properly” below to get an idea of what each of these classes of licenses entails.
Top Ham Radio Brands in The Market
This is a Japanese amateur radio brand that was founded in 1959. It’s one of the biggest players in the ham radio market, and therefore it’s a well-known name among hams around the world. If you’re looking for high quality, ease of use, and a fair warranty policy, then get a Yaesu brand ham radio.
If affordability is your biggest concern, a BaoFeng ham radio should work for you. This brand focuses on offering its customers the great ham radio for the money. And by the way, the brand is not just about affordability. It’s also about quality.
For instance, most BaoFeng hams are dual band, giving you high range and flexibility. Again, their hams are normally computer-programmable and their power outputs are high, with some handheld models ranging up to 8 watts.
Leixen amateur radio equipment are distributed by Leixen Electronics Co. Ltd, a Quanzhou-based company that specializes in the development of two-way ham radios.
The brand is known to produce and sell high-quality ham radio equipment, and to offer excellent after-sales services. Therefore, if you’re a little worried about being able to operate a ham efficiently and you need access to a good support team, don’t hesitate to get a Leixen ham.
Remember, these are just examples of the high-grade ham radio brands in the market. If a ham radio model is on our list of the 15 best hams for 2020, then you can rest assured it’s from a pretty good ham radio brand.
How Ham Radio Works: How to Use a Ham Radio Properly – Beginner’s Guide
Using the ham radio is cool but it can seem a bit complicated for a beginner. When you talk to someone on the ham radio, that is called a ‘contact’ or a ‘QSO’. Although you might be hesitant to get started due to the supposedly complex processes involved, we assure you that after your first few contacts, you’ll realize that it’s not very difficult and you will enjoy every moment.
A QSO can be made in many ways, with the most common ways being via:
- Morse code (CW)
- Data (teletype, RTTY)
- Phone (voice communication)
But how does making a QSO actually work? Well, the first thing you want to do is pass the exam and get licensed.
In this guide, we shall look at structures involving the US licensing process. If you’re not in the US, consult your country’s communications ministry about licensing.
1. Get a license
The first step is to get sit an exam and get a license, which is issued by the government. Hams call this license their ticket. Of course, you need to do some studying and gain knowledge in how the ham radio works but that’s a piece of cake. Kids as young as 8 are passing these exams and getting the license.
To get started, just purchase study materials and perhaps subscribe to an online class on ham radios. When you’re on the internet, just type something like “ham radio online classes” or “amateur radio study materials”.
There are various kinds of licenses, with every kind giving you a specific degree of privileges. Here are the main types:
Lets you operate a large range of frequencies, with a power output of up to 1500 watts
This one lets you operate a more limited frequency range, with a maximum power output of 100 watts.
This one gives you more privileges, as you can operate on all the frequencies and bands. The maximum power output allowed is 1500 watts.
If you only want something simple that will enable you to make a QSO, then a technician license will do. With good amateur radio equipment, you will be able to talk to someone that’s far off on way lower than a hundred watts.
But, if you’re looking for real power, we’d advise you to go for a general or extra class license. These class of licenses are not only powerful, facilitating communication over vast distances, but also better to use.
After hitting the books on how to operate a ham radio, it’s time to the exams. Don’t know where to take those? Just head to the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) site. There, you will find a whole lot of ads on amateur radio exams near you.
Unfortunately, you can’t take online exams for this; you need to travel to the exam station.
When going to take the exam, you need to carry the following items:
- 2 sharpened pencils and a pen
- 20 bucks
- A legal photo ID like a driver’s license or a passport
- For those who don’t have a photo ID, bring 2 of these: birth certificate, utility bill, library card, social security number
We’re hopeful that you’ll pass. After passing, go onto the following steps.
2. Get the Equipment
Skip to step 3 if you already have the necessary equipment. If not, then you will need to secure a/an:
- Power Supply
- Microphone or Key
- Antenna Tuner
Those are the basic things you need to be able to make a contact. The best place to get these is Amazon, as you have a chance to compare many different models and get what suits you.
This is just a combination of the transmitter and the receiver. This is a better option than purchasing the two separately. Based on features like frequency and range, the cost can be anywhere between 100 and 10000 dollars.
If you’re on a budget, don’t fret; you can get a good model for less than 600 dollars.
Another great piece of news is that a transceiver is the only expensive item you’ll be purchasing. All the others cost less than 100 dollars.
You could also go for a building kit if you like soldering but note that these hardly produce more than 5 watts. On the brighter side, they’re extremely fun particularly for those who love soldering.
If you look to operate on VHF, then a small portable, handheld transceiver with all the necessary components will do. You can get a good one for 100 to 200 dollars.
(B) Power supply
What will power your transceiver? A good power supply will cost you less than a hundred bucks.
When shopping for a power supply, there’s one thing you should watch out for. Ensure it is compatible with the transceiver. A power supply that supplies too little power will under-power the transceiver and possibly cause it to not turn off properly while one that supplies too much power could blow the fuse or damage the transceiver in other serious ways.
A good quality antenna goes for as little as 30 dollars. An antenna doesn’t have to be a metal tower type; you can get a dipole or yagi variety.
If you’re really looking to save money here, obtain a G5RV. It’s a low-cost model that you can fix on the side of your house and it works as well as the vertical varieties. Don’t forget to check with your local laws to ensure your antenna installation doesn’t breach them.
(D) Antenna tuner
In simple terms, this item helps in matching the transceiver to the antenna. Keep in mind that when the two are mismatched, there’s a risk of the power being transmitted blowing a fuse or damaging the transceiver badly.
There are 2 major types of tuners – a manual and an auto tuner. You can get a fine manual or auto one on Amazon.
Go here (www.hamuniverse.com/tuner.html) to learn how to operate a tuner.
(E) Microphone or Key
Based on the mode you choose, you’ll require a microphone for sending SSB (voice) or a key for sending a Morse code.
Fortunately, most transceivers come with varying microphone jacks, and even better, when you buy most transceivers, you get a compatible microphone.
Morse keys, in contrast, are not as flexible. But, there are numerous different kinds of morse code keys, including straight keys and bugs. If you’re a beginner, we suggest you get a straight key, as it’s easier to use.
(F) Extra Cables
To connect all the parts together, you will need cables. A length of 1 to 5 feet will be enough. Before buying one, remember to talk to an experienced ham or a retailer on the best models.
Now, as a rookie, you might feel a little overwhelmed. If you need a certain kind of equipment and you’re unsure about what fits you best, just email or call the retailer or talk to an experienced ham and they will lend you a hand.
3. The contact
After getting the required equipment and installing them appropriately, it’s about time you made contact.
Switch on the amateur radio and look for a free frequency. Use your tuner to tune the antenna to 1:1 or a figure that’s close to that. Ensure that the frequency you’re using is free; it’s not being used by another person.
If you’re not sure if someone is using the frequency, just send a QRL to inquire if the frequency is being used. You could also say: This is (mention the callsign they assigned you). Is the frequency busy?
Repeat the question and if you don’t get any response, then know you’re on. If there’s a response, check another frequency.
To make a call anyone on the ham band, just send the letters CQ (that’s a single word). To make your first contact, send the word CQ and hopefully you will get a response. If you don’t get a response, you can change to another frequency.
In morse code, a normal call would be something like: CQ CQ CQ DE (your call sign) (your call sign again) K.
DE means “this is” while K denotes “back to you”, referring to the person on the other end.
A call sign should be sent twice, to make sure the person on the other end doesn’t miss it. If you’re using voice to communicate, it’d be best to use phonetics to avoid confusion with letters like B and D that have similar sounds. So, if your call sign is MB1DWR, you can say it like: Mango Bread One Dragon Work Rock.
Don’t say the words too fast or too slow; you want to say them at a good, convenient pace for the other person to hear without missing some words or losing interest.
When someone answers you, just make a normal conversation about the weather or any other topic you can think of. And, if you’re uninterested in what they have to say, just tell them you have to walk the dog or something.
By the way, you say weather as WX but of course if you’re on voice, you don’t need the code. Here are other important codes (these are recognized by hams around the world):
- 88- With Love
- 73- Goodbye
- SK- Signed off (last thing you send)
- GL- Good Luck
- CU- See you
- HPE- Hope
- AGN- Again
- GM- Good Morning
- GA- Good Afternoon
- GD- Good day
- HNY- Happy New Year
- PSE- Please
- FB- Fine Business
- UR- Your or you’re
- YL- Young Lady
- OM- Old Man
- XYL – wife
After you’re finished with the call, you can log your contact or even send them a QSL card, either by mail or by online logging services. Let’s see how to send and receive a QSL card.
4. Sending a QSL Card
You can either log your contact online or do it on a booklet. Online logging sites include eqsl.cc and qrz.com.
After logging the contact, fill a QSL card and send it to them. You have to get their physical address if you’re going to send it by mail. Qrz.com will help you get the address using their call sign. If you’re sending it online, the process is pretty straightforward.
That’s it folks! That’s how to use a ham radio. Now let’s see how to take care of it so it works properly for a long time.
HF, VHF, & UHF – Which One You Need to Choose for HAM Radio
HF is high frequency in full, and its frequencies are 3 to 30 MHz. It’s also called a decameter wave/band since the wavelength ranges from 10 to 100 meters. These frequencies are very popularly used in ham radio operations, as it facilitates communication over long distances, even between people on different continents. One of the notable benefits is that HF is less affected by land features like mountains than VHF.
Frequencies immediately higher than HF are dented by VHF, meaning very high frequency. These frequencies range between 30 and 300 MHz. Mostly, VHF is used for FM radio and TV broadcast and for amateur radio communication.
VHF is perfect for short-distance communication, and is thus normally used locally. The advantages include the fact that atmospheric noise and electrical gadget interference doesn’t affect it much. One of the reasons for the short range is that it’s easily blocked by mountains and other land features.
UHF refers to ultra-high frequencies, designating electromagnetic waves whose frequencies range between 300 and 3000 MHz (or 3 GHz). UHF is popularly used for TV signal transmission.
If you want a ham radio for local communication, VHF would be great but if you want one for long distance communication, HF would be better. But, for flexibility, we’d advise you to go for one that combines HF and VHF.
Difference Between Ham Radio and CB Radio
There are certain vital differences between ham radios and CB radios. Let’s discuss them by topic as follows:
Ham radios are restricted while CB radios are open to the public. Often, the folks who operate ham radios are conversant with radio operation. As a matter of fact, the government conducts exams to identify those who are capable of operating a ham radio and issues licenses and call signs to the successful candidates.
In contrast, you don’t need any license or certification to operate a CB radio. Communication via CB radio is regulated very loosely that you might not even know if there are any laws governing the use of this device. As long as you’re not using it for criminal purposes, you have nothing to worry about.
You only apply for a CB radio license when you’re looking to set up a station.
2. Power output
CB radios normally operate at a maximum power output of 5 watts while ham radios can transmit legally at as high as 1.5 kilo watts. Power output is directly related to the range. The higher the power level, the higher the device’s ability to communicate over vast areas. That is why you can only communicate locally with a CB radio while you can communicate with people in outer space using a ham radio.
3. Frequency choice
Hams have a wider frequency band choice while CB radios are restricted to frequencies of up to 27 MHz. This restriction on CB radios also limits their applications, particularly with regards to voice transmission. Ham’s wide choice of frequencies allows you to use it for virtually anything, like TV, satellite communication, high-speed data access, and so on.
4. Freedom to build and repair equipment
You remember that ham radio operators normally have knowledge in the inner workings of the radio while CB radio operators don’t. you also remember that CBs have restrictions on power output and frequency.
Therefore, hams are allowed to build and repair their own equipment while CB radio owners are not. Why? The latter might, in the process of repairing or building their equipment, extend their power beyond what the law allows.
Amateur radio frequency allocations
Amateur radio frequency allocations are done by NTAs (National Telecommunications Authorities). Although hams are free to use any of the authorized frequencies, the allowed band might vary with varying license classes.
Amateur radios transmit through various modes, such as radioteletype, voice, data, and morse code. The modes and kinds of allocations in each frequency range is known as a bandplan. These bandplans are established by national regulations, international agreements or even agreement between hams.
There are 3 main types of frequencies being transmitted:
1. Low frequency
2.2 km – 135.7 to 137.8 kHz – Very long antenna. The band is below the commercial AM broadcast band.
2. Medium frequency
600 meters – 472 to 479kHz – lies just below the marine band and the commercial AM broadcast band.
160 meters – 1.8 to 2MHz – Often a technical challenge because propagating over the long distance is hard, a result of the higher D-layer ionospheric absorption. Ideal for the night, and the band tends to have lots of noise during summer.
3. High frequency
80 meters – 3.5 to 4 MHz – perfect during the night, with lots of daytime signal absorption. Summer’s atmospheric noise affects the band, which functions best during winter. Only a few parts of the world have access to this band.
60 meters – 5 MHz – this allocation is relatively new. It’s available to only a few countries, including the US, the UK, and Ireland but it’s spreading to other parts of the world.
40 meters – 7.0 to 7.3 MHz – the most reliable band for all seasons. Mostly good for the night, and for medium distance.
20 meters – 14.0 to 14.35 MHz – the most popular DX band for daytime operation. 14.06 MHz is the basic calling frequency for QRP operators in this band.
15 meters – 21 to 21.4 MHz – a daytime band that is very helpful during solar maximum.
As you have discovered, there are 3 major license classes for amateur radios – technician, general, and extra. Each class has its own set of allowed frequencies. For instance, technician class licenses don’t allow the operation of frequencies over 30 MHz.
Ham Radio Safety Issues- That You Need to Take Seriously
Lately, there’s been lots of propaganda going on concerning the dangers that the ham radio might lay on users and the general public. Some people are claiming that the electromagnetic radiations from these radios (the power frequencies and the RF power) are very harmful.
But, these claims are unfounded and essentially untrue. It’s true that electromagnetic rays are not very healthy but that is when they reach certain levels. Now, to dispel these concerns, the FCC has imposed limits on the RF power levels people can work with.
Some amateur radio stations even have to be evaluated to ensure they’re complying with the rules.
Here are the safety concerns you need to take seriously:
1. Electrical safety
You’re probably aware that every year, there’s a good number of people dying from touching regular power lines. Amateur radio users are faced with a similar issue. When installing the antenna, ensure you’re not doing it very close to power lines. Keeping in mind that most of the ham radio equipment gets power from electricity, you need to be very careful when opening them up for servicing.
2. Lightning protection
When installing your ham radio station, you need to do a proper lightning protection. Some hams are worried about the damage that electromagnetic pulses (EMPs) can do. Dennis Bodson has settled the concerns by studying EMP protection and coming up with effective mitigation tactics. You can find them here (http://126.96.36.199/~gbpprorg/mil/herf/QST-Electromagnetic_Pulse_and_the_Radio_Amateur.pdf)
How to Take Care of And Maintain a Ham Radio: Common Maintenance Issues
When we’re talking about the maintenance of a ham radio, the issue that most commonly comes up is that of the antenna. Remember, an antenna is the critical link between the transmitting and the receiving station.
The ham’s overall performance, hence, depends on the proper installation and maintenance of the antenna.
With a properly maintained antenna, communications via the radio can be optimized but with a poorly maintained one, the capabilities of the receiver and the transmitter are degraded.
To maintain your ham radio station properly, ensure that you have your station notebook nearby. Open it any time you need to fix a problem or add a piece of equipment. In the course of time, the notebook will prove very handy for solving issues but that’s if you keep it updated.
Don’t forget to set aside some time regularly for inspecting and testing the components making up your station.
In that regard, check and test the main equipment (transceiver), the cables and ropes, the masts, the power supplies, and any other parts.
Let’s look at the specific maintenance issues you need to keep in mind:
- Inspect the connectors, grounds, switches, and RF cables. Fluctuations in temperature can loosen the connectors, and that’s why you need to check them from time to time to ensure they’re all tight. Also, check for kinks or any form of damage on the feed lines.
- Evaluate the amplifiers and transmitters to ensure all the bands have full power output. On the same note, remember to inspect the RF cabling along with the antenna.
- Find out the amount of noise being received on the bands. It should not be too high or too low. By doing the test, you will also notice any new noise sources.
- Test the antennas’ SWR (acronym for standing wave ratio). Look out for fluctuations in the minimum SWR’s frequency, as this can be an indication that there are connection issues, maybe from water entering the feed lines or the connectors.
- Get a pair of binoculars and use it to check the outside feed lines and the antennas. Be vigilant for any loose connections.
- Inspect the mounts, including the masts and towers. Try doing this is just before fall, or rather, before the weather starts getting harsh. A wrench will come in handy for checking those nuts and bolts. If you notice any rusting, take care of it. This guide will help you. After winter, inspect the parts for weather damage.
- Shield the electronic components of your ham radio installation from heat as much as you can. Remember, heat is known to be a notorious enemy to electronic components.
- Wipe off any dust or scum settling on the radio, as it can restrict air flow and keep the radio equipment hot. A vacuum cleaner might be very helpful here.
- As you go about your maintenance routine, check whether anything needs to be repaired or replaced, and take the appropriate action. Don’t hesitate to perform an upgrade wherever needed.
- Remember, exercising the above maintenance practices dramatically reduces the chances of your ham radio installation giving you unpleasant surprises.
Some Quick Tips to Improve Your Experience with Your Ham Radio
The first thing you need to do to ensure you have a great experience using the ham radio is study how it works. Like we mentioned before, purchase some study materials and maybe enroll to an online class. That way, you will pass the exams, get a ham radio license, and use the device without any problems because you will have the knowledge.
Here are other tips to improve your experience with amateur radios:
- check Enlist an experienced operator to assist you. Fortunately, there are lots of these on web-based ham radio forums.
- check Use proper power supply equipment. You don’t want to undercharge your radio or ruin it with excess power.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. What Is a Transceiver?
A transceiver refers to a gadget that has both a receiver and a transmitter part. The two components share a common circuitry or rather a common housing.
In the event that the transmitter and the receiver don’t share a common circuitry, the gadget is known as a transmitter-receiver.
The term ‘transceiver’ is applicable to wireless communication gadgets, in our case, ham radios.
When the transmitter part is at work (as in, when it’s transmitting), the receiver part gets silenced. There’s an electronic switch facilitating the connection of the receiver and the receiver to a common antenna. This switch safeguards the receiver against harm from the transmitter.
In radio transceivers, it’s not possible to receive signals during transmission.
2. Who are hams?
The folks who operate ham radios love to refer to themselves as ‘hams’.
3. How does ham radio contribute to emergency help?
Whether other people require your help or you need help, a ham radio can make all the difference. Of course, you can use a mobile phone or a CB for that, but remember, mobile phone and CB users, unlike hams, are not trained to offer emergency assistance in a disciplined manner. Then again, when the network is low and a phone won’t pick up a signal, a ham radio can be very handy.
4. Why not just use a regular walkie talkie?
Mostly, range. Walkie talkies are great when you’re communicating locally but when you need to talk to someone who’s miles away, they won’t be of much help.
5. How is it that a little ham radio is able to make contacts over such vast distances?
A handheld model might not be very powerful, it might not even be more powerful than a regular walkie talkie but you can tune it to a local repeater’s frequency. And, if it supports EchoLink or IRLP, it can help you make contacts around the globe.
There you have it folks. That’s all the info you need to get the best ham radio on the market and use it very efficiently. Go through the review section to find what suits you perfectly, and let the ‘buying guide’ section be your guiding star.
Don’t stress yourself with how-to ebooks and endless webpages, this post contains all the info you need to get started with ham radios. Every single topic is important and will help you greatly.
Feel free to come back here after purchasing one of the amateur radios on our list and share your experience with us.