I am wondering whether shortwave can be used as an effective distress call for a hiker who is a non-ham operator.

More specifically,

  1. Are non-certified operators permitted to broadcast distress calls on particular parts of the spectrum?
  2. Are there user-friendly transmitters available in the US retail market that could be used for this purpose, ideally weighing <3kg?

Please let me know if this is a duplicate question or a bad idea.

  • $\begingroup$ Consider a cell phone. $\endgroup$ Jul 4 '17 at 23:03
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    $\begingroup$ Back when I was on active duty in the dark ages we had a 40,000 acre wildfire that burned all the cell towers. Thank goodness for all the hams that connected into our PBBS at the Armory. The single most numerous messages were simple "I'm Alive" posts that we were able to relay by telephone. The hikers and others often used some FRS radios to talk to each other, but it was the roving licensed ham operators who really helped via radio. $\endgroup$
    – SDsolar
    Jul 7 '17 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Amateur Radio Stack Exchange, @carpet. Please take a moment to view the tour at ham.stackexchange.com/Tour to get the most out of this site. $\endgroup$
    – SDsolar
    Jul 7 '17 at 15:58

If you are in mortal peril, use any means necessary to make your situation known and get help. It doesn't matter if you are licensed or not. Consider the alternative.

But a shortwave transmitter is not especially effective. Among the many issues:

  • A relatively high transmit power is required, meaning heavy batteries.
  • Effective antennas are large.
  • Propagation is unreliable.
  • Requires some degree of training to operate.

If you are looking for a radio to buy, you want a personal locator beacon (PLB). These communicate on a designated distress frequency via satellite. Compared to a shortwave radio, these have advantages:

  • Pre-programmed to do exactly one thing. Consider your mental faculties may not be at their sharpest when you are a few hours from death. Or you may be incapacitated and relying on someone else to use it.
  • Keeps working if you lose consciousness.
  • No ambiguity in what the transmission means.
  • Nearly global coverage, provided you have a view of the sky.
  • Transmits your precise location. Locating a shortwave transmitter is also possible, but more difficult and less precise.
  • More rugged. Especially important considering half the circumstances where you might need rescue involve physical trauma, extreme temperatures, or submersion in water.
  • Smaller.
  • Lighter.
  • $\begingroup$ Wish I could mark the top two as answers--very comprehensive, thanks a lot! $\endgroup$
    – capet
    Jul 16 '17 at 19:17

I think the term you are looking for is unlicensed rather than uncertified/non-certified.

There are no provisions to use ham radio frequencies if you are not a licensee. You could use CB frequencies although this is not a guaranteed method of communications when in remote areas.

Perhaps a satellite based device like The Spot Gen3 would meet your requirements. No license required and ensured communications.

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    $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – Kevin Reid AG6YO
    Jul 16 '17 at 23:20

In case of an actual emergency, you can of course do anything you want. If it's truly a matter of communicating with somebody or else dying of exposure or being eaten by bears, then you can use absolutely any means necessary to make yourself heard.

Of course if you are intending to carry amateur radio equipment with you when you go hiking in the wild, that equipment would be a lot more useful to you if you did have an amateur radio licence. For a start you would have a good idea of standard operating procedures, but additionally you might have the ability to send an SOS in Morse code, and to pass your coordinates on to anyone who might answer.

If you have no interest in the technology of radio, or in the amateur radio community, then I would advise that your best bet would be to carry a satellite phone with you, as it will also work anywhere in the world. And can be used to call the emergency services directly. Chances are the equipment would be lighter than a short-wave transceiver plus antennas, it would be easier to set up and would work just like a regular phone.


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