HAM Radio Safety

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HAM radios or Amateur radios refer to the homemade radios that people use for different small-scale operations like conversations or as a hobby. According to the ARRL, there are more than 700000 radio operators in the US right now. With an increase in their popularity, we have seen a rise in amateur radio operations.

However, with growing amateur radios and unlicensed radio operators, the risk related to HAM radios has also gone through the roof. Unlicensed operators do not have the technical knowledge about overt safety measures, which puts them at risk of radiation and other forms of harm.

You’ll soon learn about the basic safety protocol of HAM radios and how you’ve been putting yourself at risk by not knowing them. Hopefully, you’ll be more careful and safer after learning about safety protocols.

Primary Safety Protocol for HAM Radios

We cannot deny the thrill of HAM radios; their small buttons and all those small tubes have a certain alluring quality. And there is nothing wrong with using HAM radios for recreational purposes, as long as you follow basic safety concerns.

The main reason why a HAM radio is considered dangerous is because of the frequencies that it operates on and the general standards that some amateur operators don’t follow. Multiple things could go wrong, like electrocution and other long-term health issues.

HAM radios aren’t necessarily harmful, but knowing about what could go wrong will allow you to be better prepared for any unforeseen circumstances. The three basic safety concerns attached to every HAM radio are:

  • Lightning Strikes
  • Electrical Malfunction
  • RF Exposure

We’ve explained every issue in detail so that you can stay the radio head that you are incurring any extra hazard.

Safety from Lightning

The operation of HAM radios without antennas is almost impossible because of Radio Frequencies. HAM radios are usually operated from mobile vehicles or HAM shacks with the help of antennas. There’s nothing wrong inherently with antennas, except for the fact that they are good conductors.

Their conductivity makes them a hazard in areas prone to lightning strikes. According to the AARL, tall structures and receptive antennas are highly prone to lightning strikes. Lightning strikes the Earth about 3 Billion times every year, and some of these strikes hit people.

According to the National Weather Service, an average person has a 1 in 15300 probability of being struck by lightning throughout their life. These odds go up significantly when you live in areas that have a high density of lightning strikes, hilly areas or when you have something conductive like a radio antenna.

However, you don’t have to expose yourself to lightning strikes because there is a way to save your HAM radios from lightning strikes, specified by the ARRL. According to the ARRL, every HAM radio should be grounded to keep it safe from lightning strikes.

Grounding a HAM radio against lightning strikes

Lightning is like a river of fast-flowing, super-charged electrons. You can’t stop a river from flowing, but you can divert its path to save people from drowning and houses from being washed away. In the same way, you ground buildings and different towers, which allows the lightning that hits them to flow into the ground.

HAM radios can be made lightning-proof by grounding the equipment with the help of a long conductive pole. You take the pole and connect it via wires to the antenna of your HAM radio. After that, you put the pole in the ground or bind it to a mast ground clamp.

Some people who live in apartments may be confused by this because how do you put a grounding pole into your apartment floor. For apartments, there are alternatives like radial wires that can divert lightning strikes without harming you or your equipment.

Also, remember to find the correct grounding value. If you live in hilly areas, you might have to insert more than 20m of the pole into the ground to find the correct ground value. If you are using multiple poles, ensure that they are at the same ground value.

Coax

Another thing that ensures the safety of your equipment during lightning storms is the coax detachment. If you detach the coax, you will save your HAM radio from damage. You can find more information about disconnecting your coax during a lightning storm by clicking on the highlighted section.

According to the NEC, both the coax and the antenna should be grounded with the help of the GES. The GES refers to the Ground Electrode System that almost every house has in the US. These are poles usually connected near the Meter Box.

General safety for lightning strikes

Even if you have grounded your HAM radio against lightning strikes, you shouldn’t use your radio during bad weather. Operating a HAM radio during a lightning storm increases the probability of being hit at least two to three times.

You should also be careful about grounding your HAM radio. When grounding your HAM radio, follow the specifications highlighted by the ARRL and get a professional technician to do the job for you.

If you are new to the amateur radio field, use modern HAM radios for beginners that have better safety standards compared to the older ones. If you want the thrill of using HAM radios without extra hazards, you should go for smaller handheld HAM radios.

These are portable, safer, and economical. You also have different variations in these, so you could get a Tri-Band Mobile Hand Held Radios or some Quad Band Mobile HAM Radios.

Safety from Electrical Malfunctions

HAM radios are intricate contraptions with a hundred different pieces that work on mains current. Over time these little pieces can wear down, and your HAM radio could malfunction. For example, a wire could end up breaking and touching the chassis of your HAM radio.

A button or dial could be exposed to the main circuitry because of an insulator wear down. Touching the chassis or the button would expose you to the main current and fatally electrocute you.

Sometimes, while cleaning your HAM radio or servicing, you end up touching a specific part of the circuitry which might electrocute you. Modern HAM radios like the Yaesu FT-270R come with Internal Utility Supply grounding, which uses a neutral wire to reduce the probability of electrocution.

However, this system can become compromised due to physical damage or other factors, such as broken neutral grounding wires. According to the CDC, about 400 people are electrocuted each year while working or at home.

The non-fatal electrocution cases exceed 4000. We aren’t trying to scare, but staying safe is better than having regrets later. So how do you save yourself from electrical malfunctions? The answer is…

Maintenance and Grounding

Nothing can beat the good old grounding method to secure your HAM radio from electrical malfunctions. Grounding won’t fix the reason for the malfunction, but it will decrease the likelihood of you being electrocuted.

To fix the problem, you have to maintain your HAM radio through inspections. You can inspect your HAM radio, but if you are an amateur, then please stay careful. Multiple repair technicians and shops can clean, maintain and repair your HAM radio for you.

With the right maintenance and grounding, you won’t have to worry about the SHOCKING consequences of malfunctioning equipment.

Safety from RF Exposure

HAM radios and most telecommunication operations work on RF (Radio Frequencies). These frequencies are usually not harmful, but prolonged exposure can destroy living tissue and cause grotesque side-effects such as RF burn.

According to the WHO and the IARC, electromagnetic RF waves could be carcinogenic. Different researchers have carried out surveys, pointing to a potential link between RF waves and certain types of cancer (brain) and glioma.

The most referred to study in this case is a bit outdated because it was conducted by Dr. Samuel Milham some two decades ago. Nevertheless, in his study, Dr. Samuel found that deaths from leukemia were more prevalent in people exposed to radio operations.

Different lymphatic and organ cancers were also more prevalent in people exposed to radio operations. His research was backed by the nature of RF waves, which are borderline close to microwave radiations.

Prolonged exposure to RF waves can lead to the decay and heat up of living tissue. This excitation of living tissue is even more prevalent in soft areas like the eyes and groin. However, some researchers argue that the presumable link between RF and Cancer could also be because of general exposure to Electrical equipment.

We have more information about RF exposure in its respective section. Irrespective of the cause of the various forms of cancer, we recommend staying careful. Why even take the risk when there are proven and tested ways to reduce the effects of RF exposure? All it takes is five minutes of your time and some concentration.

General ways to reduce RF Exposure

The best way to reduce RF exposure is by limiting the time you spend on different EM devices. This remains the same for small and large appliances, from mobile HAM radios to HAM shacks. You should limit the time you spend on your HAM radio.

The ARRL has specific codes and regulations for HAM radio operators that can help you determine how harmful your HAM radio potentially is. You can get an operator to get the tests done for you and select the bandwidths you should be operating on.

Older versions of HAM radios that use vacuum tubes are much more harmful than the modern ones like the Yaesu FT-8900R and the Baofeng UV-5R MK4. You should rely on these modern ones and try to follow the codes and regulations laid down by the FCC to ensure your health while remaining a radio head.

RF Grounding

We’ve already discussed electrical grounding and antenna grounding, but RF wave grounding is a bit different. It works by putting radial conductors into the ground. You can find detailed instructions on how to RF ground your HAM radio by clicking on the linked area.

The basic concept for RF grounding is the same as the other types of grounding. You put some conducting materials into the ground using long wires and rods. The only significant difference is that RF grounding is optional for some types of Antennas and necessary for others.

If you have a balanced antenna, you don’t need to worry about RF grounding. However, if you have an unbalanced antenna (I.e., a quarter-wave antenna), there needs to be a counterpoise to balance things out and make the current more efficient and less harmful.

Reception benefits of RF Grounding

Another reason for RF grounding is it makes your signals clearer. You can get better reception for your signals because RF grounding reduces the noise that other sources may be emanating. These not only reduce the risk of RF exposure but also reduce noise.

If you want cleaner and clearer signals, you should also think about the use of Radio Interference Filters. These filter out unwanted signals in your HAM radio’s receptive bandwidth and give it a much better signal.

Conclusion

HAM radios have been experiencing a growth in demand over the past few years because of their recreational use, and there is nothing wrong with that. You can tune in to different bandwidths and get connected to a whole community of people devoted to keeping HAM radios alive.

However, like all technical gizmos and contraptions, you need to observe a fair bit of caution when handling HAM radios. You have to be careful about the maintenance of your device and how much it aligns with the standards set by the FCC and ARRL.

These standards exist for the safety of your life and assets. Keep your radio maintained through routine check-ups from an expert, and don’t use it in bad weather. Follow basic safety protocol and limit your time to reduce exposure to RF.

If you can take care of these basic things, your life will be much better. If you don’t take care of these things, you’re practically gambling with your life.

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