This article is going to cover from start to finish the system I have built for myself and explain the choices made for hardware, software and frequency monitoring / use.  I will cover my hamshack solar setup for charging the radios and my portable solar-powered cross-band repeater in separate articles.

My goal here is to give a step-by-step instruction manual for non-HAMs that are ready to step up in scale from the “buy and store it” mentality every new prepper has when they run out and buy a $30.00 Baofeng UV5R and rarely if ever use it because they read the bogus hype on the internet about them.

I did it and so have many others which is OK, we all make mistakes.  Now is the time to correct the mistake and learn to look at the bigger picture of Tactical Comms in post SHTF scenarios.

Why a System?

Tactical Communications is such a large part of any SHTF situation that when I recently purchased new HT radios I placed the priority of having “handout” radios over a few higher quality units.

My plan was to buy a set of the The Perfect Prepper HTs, but in the end I kept thinking about the expression we hear in the tactical world… “the mission drives the gear”.

In my case as someone who does not have a prepper group the mission is to get as much Intel gathered about my AO in SHTF as possible and hopefully form a small MAG (2-3 families) in the immediate area to provide over-watch for each others properties.

If you understand the variables involved with trying to coordinate several different band radios like FRS/GMRS/Marine/MURs that people around you may already have and combine the fact that non-preppers will likely have no off-grid method to keep their batteries charged, a pre-made system like this one starts to make a lot of sense.

System Goals

To assemble a pre-programmed system that can be distributed to non-HAM individuals in the event of a SHTF scenario.  Using the KISS principle, the idea is to keep it at the “point and click” level of Operator interface.  No programming needed on the OP’s end, just pre-set channels and a cheat sheet with each radio to know what each channel should be used for.

Interoperability

Ability to interface with outsiders using FMR/GMRS/Marine band radios popular with hunters and boaters.

This can be done easily with pre-programmed freqs for the designated channels, but if they (outsiders) are operating on one of the 25 CTSS privacy codes, then you will need to have some higher skills to be able to find the corresponding CTSS channel to allow two-way comms with them.

You can always hear them with the CTSS not set on your HT, but you can’t open their squelch and talk to them unless your CTSS Encode matches their CTSS Decode setting.

It can be done in the field but it is unlikely that you will be able to build a successful how-to guide a non-HAM can follow.

I will be showing how this is done in another article, but you need to have the process down pat if you expect to perform it in the field.  Also, if the people you are trying to capture the CTSS off of have any radio discipline it’s unlikely you will have enough time to capture it using this scanning from an HT method.

Scan Capable (aka. “Bubba Scanner”)

Ability to scan the surrounding area for non-HAM frequencies while monitoring the assigned TAC channels of the group.  This requires a radio with priority freq function or a dual band monitor function with one scanning and the other on a fixed freq.  The radios I have chosen use the latter.

Repeater Capable

Dual band HTs that can dual monitor a cross-band repeater are crucial.  A solar cross-band repeater is another topic that you should consider once you are up and running on your TAC-Comms but is a little more advanced and will cost some money.  To see the setup I’m using, look at my portable solar-powered cross-band repeater article.

With all the requirements above in mind, I found the RT6 to be the best candidate.

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RETEVIS RT6

Pros

  • Cheap:  I picked up (5) for $35.17 ea at eBay and they come with a waterproof earpiece and lapel mic and  (5) battery eliminators for $4.37 ea on eBay, add a programming cable for $8.17 and you have FIVE radios delivered for less than $206.00 or the cost of (1) Yaesu FT-70DR.
  • Waterproof: Not having to worry about your radio in a downpour is very nice.  Living in Oregon, where I get 40 inches of rain each year makes this a real concern.
  • Ear Bud Included:  Sometimes a low profile approach is needed, not having to shell out extra money for this is nice.  I’ve found that I prefer using a radio without a remote speaker mic for simplicity, but this requires keeping the volume turned up to hear.  The ear bud handles this issue when discretion is needed such as scanning while on patrol.
  • Low/Med/High TX:  The 1W/3W/5W settings are nice.  The TYT-UVF1 radios I have only have 2W/5W settings.  I would prefer to have a .25W/5W selection so the signals stay short for TAC channels and then use 5W for repeater channels, cycling through the power levels is done by pushing one button so you can select only the amount of power (power = battery drain) that you need to make comms.
  • Battery Eliminator:  The eliminator allows you to use any 12vdc source to power the radio.  Most common is a lighter socket in a vehicle.
  • CHIRP Programmable: Being able to use one software package to program all HTs is very nice and CHIRP is the king of cross-platform programming.

Cons

  • Desktop Charger:  Unfortunately the included desktop charge runs on 10vdc instead of the preferred 12vdc that would make charging on solar/battery setups easy.  In order to charge the Li-ion battery you need to use a step down unit as shown below.

 

WHAT ABOUT OTHER HT’s?

To explain why I picked the RT6, I am going to rundown the HTs I have owned, as a non-HAM and as a HAM operator.  Each radio has contributed to the choice in one way or another.

TYT-UVF1

TYT-UVF1 Homepage

My first HT was based solely off the advice of a guy that seemed to (and does) know his stuff about VHF/UHF comms.  That guy was “Guerrilla Geek” who now goes by “Guerrilla Comm” on YouTube.

His series on the TYT-UVF1 convinced me they were quality and I still have them today and use them regularly without issue.  These HTs have taken several hits and kept on going without a hitch.

My first choice was to buy more of these radios, but when I looked into them again, they seem to be getting discontinued.  The battery eliminator was nowhere to be found and the same was true for extra batteries.

I did manage to get two (6) AAA alkaline battery pack units for the two HTs I already own so that I can now run rechargeable AAA batteries in them when the Li-ions finally die.

The TYT-UVF1 showed me that Chinese radios could indeed be reliable and by default come “opened up” to allow transmitting on bands outside of it’s designated purpose, such as MURS / FRS /GMRS / Marine, this is very important to me as most radios being used post SHTF will be of this flavor as they are used heavily by Hunters now.

Baofeng UV-5R

UV-5R Homepage

My second HT was purchased as a “handout” radio and the selling factor was the price point.  These radios are in the $20-$30 delivered range and probably the most popular choice among new preppers because of the low cost alone.

Of the (2) that I bought, both broke within a few months, broken speakers.

Sometimes cheap is just that and nothing more and some brands are not worth trusting, Baofeng is one of these IMO.

Yaesu VX-6R

VX-6R Homepage

When I did become a HAM, I bought a Yaesu VX-6R (touted as one of the best prepper HTs) but soon learned that name and cost do not always equal ruggedness.

The VX-6R is waterproof and has great features with much easier interface for hand programming, but in the end it was too delicate due to it’s ceramic filter.

I dropped mine 3ft onto concrete and it cost me $150.00 to repair the radio when the filter cracked, it was sold shortly there after.

I did like the waterproof feature of the VX-6R though, and one of the reasons the Retevis RT6 was my final choice was because of it’s waterproof rating.

 

THE WHOLE PACKAGE

TAC-Comms Package

Each person given a radio will receive the following along with a short class on how to use the radios and keep them powered up.  More importantly, when NOT to use them will be covered and why it’s crucial to not establish patterns or reveal information about the size / location / capabilities of your group

Hardware Package:

  • Retevis RT6 HT radio
  • 120vac desk charger
  • 12vdc battery eliminator
  • Sticker on radio with most used shortcut keys
  • Quick Ref laminated card for basic operations

End User Guide:

  • Protocol:  When and what to say for OPSEC
  • Scheduled Nets:  Established times (with randomizer element) for group information transfers.
  • Field Programming:  RT6 Manual & Cheatsheet
  • Code Words:  Pre-established codes for REACT teams, etc.
  • One Time Pads:  For sending sensitive info over the air.

Package Shopping List

  1. (5) Retevis RT6 VHF/UHF FM Radio
  2. (5) Battery Eliminator for Retevis RT6 (unfortunately these got cancelled and I’ve not found another source yet)
  3. Original RETEVIS RT6 Radio Programming Cable
  4. Adjustable 5A Step-Down LCD Digital Power Supply

In Part 2, we will decide which Frequencies to put into memory and show how to program the radios with CHIRP a fantastic piece of software that is cross-platform and Free.

2 thoughts on “My TAC-Comms System: Part 1

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