“Will work for T-shirts” That’s a popular saying by hams that like to get involved with volunteer activities. I can’t recall how many shirts I’ve collected over the years from the various walks, runs, bike ride, ski events, and marathons I’ve been a part of. Suffice to say, I can’t remember the last time I’ve bought a t-shirt.

But free shirts aren’t the reason why we volunteer. Amateur radio operators providing health and welfare communications at events is a way for the ham radio club to give back to the community. But more than that, volunteering at these events is great emergency communications training.

So what do you need to get started with working an event? Last week our ham radio club helped out at a popular walk/run. I took a little time out at the event to shoot this short video on what it’s like to volunteer.

What should you bring along with you into the field when doing a public service activity like this? My standard equipment kit includes:

  • 2 meter HT with a speak mic and spare battery
  • Earpiece (handy in noisy environments)
  • Aftermarket antenna with gain (the stock antennas on the Chinese HTs are notoriously bad)
  • Small notepad and pen or pencil
  • Safety vest
  • Clothing appropriate for the conditions

Also don’t forget hydration and a snack if you’re going to be out there all day. I’ve been at some events where they will drop you at your spot in the morning and won’t pick you up until later in the afternoon. In cases like this, I’ll make sure to pack a lunch and plenty of snacks. A chair is also handy so you have a place to rest. Everything goes into my backpack so it’s easy to pack in and out of your spot.

What type of radio should you bring with you? If you will be within easy shot of a repeater, a handheld radio will work fine for you. Although be aware that if you are in a low spot or wooded area that the repeater’s coverage may be lacking. In that case, here’s some tips on improving your range with a handheld.

In other cases, when you are out in a more remote location where it may be more difficult to get into the repeater, or your group will be using simplex, consider a field kit with a mobile radio, battery, mast and antenna like the 2 meter J-Pole. While I wouldn’t want to backpack my field kit into a remote spot, it can be easily transported in my car.


Getting involved with events and volunteering your communications expertise is certainly a great way to give back to the community. Plus it will keep you ready for when there is a need for emergency communications. If you belong to a club that provides these services, go ahead and get active. Otherwise consider putting a team together and talk to an event organizer to get started.

What are your experiences with providing public service communications? Please feel free to share in the comments below.