OB Approved A Basic Overlanders Guide To Mobile Radio Equipment (U.S. Version)

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Mad Garden Gnome

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Off-Road Ranger I

2,771
Templeton, Ca
First Name
Ryan
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Marlett
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661

Ham Callsign
W6ORV
I see the question pop up on forums every now and then.

I have my Ham Radio License now......now what?

or

I bought this radio. Do I need a license to use it?

or

I bought these little FRS/GMRS radios and I'm on the same channel as my buddies but they can't hear me!



Lets start with the Family Radio System / General Mobile Radio Service aka FRS/GMRS radios.
  • Both types are available through common chain stores.
  • Both types are of channelized frequency selection (HEY, WE'LL BE ON CHANNEL 7).
  • Both types have a secondary privacy channel ability, in order for the user to only hear traffic on their selected channel from users who are also using the same secondary privacy channel (HEY, WE'LL BE ON CHANNEL 7 and PRIVACY CHANNEL 3).
  • FRS/GMRS operate in the FM mode, which offers the best audio quality.
  • FRS operates in the UHF (Ultra High Frequency) range at no more than 500 milliwatts.
  • GMRS operates in the UHF range at no more than 50 watts. Generally you will find hand held units limited to 5 watts due to FCC radio frequency exposure limits.
  • Dedicated FRS and GMRS units have some channel overlap.
  • Hybrid FRS/GMRS units will transmit on all FRS and GMRS channels.
  • FRS does not require the use of an FCC license.
  • GMRS requires the use of an FCC (no test) license. Sidenote: I have yet to meet someone with this license or hear of the FCC enforcing GMRS licensing requirements. I'm not condoning the unlicensed use, just an FYI.
  • Most all FRS/GMRS handhelds use common disposable batteries and/or rechargeable battery packs.
  • Mobile/Desktop sized GMRS units are slowly entering the market. These units can operate at a higher power setting due to the antenna not being mounted on the unit and have better heat dissipation facilities. Also, these units will generally require an external 12 volt DC power source (vehicle), which also allows them to run at higher power.
  • No formal operating procedure. Key down and talk.
  • FRS/GMRS will easily accommodate most group outing requirements.
  • FRS/GMRS radios can be purchased with NOAA weather channel reception.
Pro's
  • Easy to acquire
  • Little to no licensing
  • Easy to operate
  • No formal operating procedures
Cons
  • Shortest range due to FM (versus other modes)
  • Shortest range due to UHF (versus other frequencies)
  • Shortest range due to power output


On to the next medium, Civilian Band Radio (A.M. version only)
  • Channelized frequency selection (HEY, WE'LL BE ON CHANNEL 7).
  • Better range than FRS/GMRS due to operating in the HF (High Frequency) range.
  • Better range capabilities than FRS/GMRS because it operates in AM mode, which requires lower power to transmit due to lower bandwidth use.
  • CB in AM mode is limited to 4 watts of power output.
  • CB does not require the use of an FCC license for non business use.
  • CB radios are built in a handheld format, but these suffer from reduced performance due to the handhelds smaller sized antenna transmitting on the 11 meter HF band.
  • CB will easily accommodate most group outing requirements.
  • CB radios can be purchased with NOAA weather channel reception.
  • CB is monitored by some law enforcement / emergency services agencies on a designated emergency use channel (9).
  • CB has a general calling channel (11) (HEY DOES ANYONE WANT TO TALK? YEA? LETS SWITCH UP TO CHANNEL 20).
  • CB has a road conditions/info channel (19).
  • No formal operating procedure. Key down and talk.
Pro's
  • Easy to acquire
  • No licensing
  • Have squelch and attenuation controls for receiver tuning
  • Easy to operate
  • No formal operating procedures, other than respecting channel designations
  • Good range for social use
Cons
  • Waning use due the ease and popularity of FRS/GMRS
  • Larger antenna requirements than FRS/GMRS. Think damaged antennas due to drive thru's, trees, etc..
  • No privacy channel option. You're going to hear everyone on your channel within reception range, even if they can't hear you. This is where receiver controls come in.
  • HF performance characteristics. You may not be able to reach your friends ten miles away due to atmospheric skip, but you may get the old man on the mountain in the next state.
  • Illegal amplifier use may cause interference from long distances.


Amateur Radio Service aka Ham Radio
  • Uses direct frequency input for receiver/transmitter tuning. No channelization.
  • Individual units have memory banks (many units have alphanumeric) where you can save your "favorites".
  • Has a privacy side tone ability, like the FRS/GMRS radios, in a non channelized format. (It's actually the same system, only not using the channel assignments and manually entering the tone frequency)
  • Multiple modes of operation. The most commonly used mode for mobile is FM.
  • Handheld units are offered by many manufactures and generally put out 5 watts at max power due to exposure limits. These units can be powered by rechargeable battery packs and/or disposable batteries.
  • Around 50 watts is a normal capability for many mobile rigs. More advanced rigs may put out up to 100 watts.
  • A nationwide repeater network is available for wide range communication. A repeater is a stationary automated amateur radio station that takes your radio broadcast and rebroadcasts it for wider ranging communication. The majority of repeaters are for free public use supported by a local amateur radio club. Very useful for the lower power hand held units.
  • You must be licensed by the FCC to transmit on amateur radio frequencies.
  • There are different tiers of licensing. The initial license is not hard to get and is obtainable through your local amateur radio club. These clubs are very willing to help newcomers.
  • There are formal but uncomplicated operating procedures.
  • The most popular mode/band for off roading amateur radio is FM mode on the 2 meter and 70 cm bands.
  • Most handheld and mobile FM rigs will operate on both 2m & 70cm bands.
Pro's
  • Most capable form discussed here.
  • Repeaters that can take your signal and boost it out over a wider range.

Cons
  • Equipment only available online or in large metro areas.
  • Requires a license to use.


 
Last edited:

Robby

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Pathfinder I

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Excellent write up...

I actually know a couple of people with GMRS license which they only got so they could make GMRS repeaters. These repeaters would be great for large groups like this to use during rallies. Localized and portable with the extended range capabilities. You hit some great points. I have to admit, since I started overlanding, I've considered getting, installing, and even using and 11 meter radio. Something I never thought I'd do. As a Ham we've always had an arrogance against the "children's band" radios because we took the time and effort to get licensed. CB has plenty of benefits to consider. One such benefit is the wide use in communities like this. Another great benefit is the large whip antenna offers a great place from which to fly the OB flag :-D.

Great work here!!
 

MOAK

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Unfortunately I found myself behind the mike of a CB radio for way too many years and burned out on em long ago. There are just way too many CB cowboys out there that just don't have a clue. Etiquette, manners and common sense are non-existent. When we're out with family we use the portable two way radios. However, one of my top 10 priorities to have before our Canadian Rockies/ Alaska trip is to have a good Ham radio and my operators license..
 

1Louder

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Nice write up. I think the next step is to talk about what radios to buy. Maybe a separate thread for FRS, CB, and HAM

I have FRS Motorola radios that I rarely use but they did work well on a recent trip where a friend had no other communications. They are for very close communications though since you are using a handheld inside of your vehicle.

For CB I have had several cheap models that all didn't last. The Uniden Pro 520XL is pretty good. I currently have a Uniden Bearcat 880 radio and it has been excellent. Great audio quality for CB and it is easy to tune out the high power guys screaming about nothing from their shacks in the middle of nowhere. A good antenna is KEY with CB. I have a Lil Wilson that works well. The larger Wilson 1000 with a 62" antenna is an excellent antenna. I've had all kinds of CB setups and am now in the the keep it simple,with a magmount antenna on the roof camp. If you are buying a CB as a safety item to get help when needed forget it. Not enough range. Ham is the way to go or even better a device like the Delorme InReach or Spot (Not a fan of the Spot but better than nothing)

Ham , oh boy lots of choices again. Many start with the cheap Baofeng handhelds. I think these are great as a backup radio and not as a primary. They can be difficult to use. Lots of illegal ham operators on 146.46 because that's the only frequency in their radio setup by someone else. I have a Yaesu FT-60 handheld which is an excellent radio and pretty easy to program. For group trail use it works reasonably well with an external antenna. I also have two mobile units. Why? Because I lead a lot of trail runs and as organizers we need extra frequencies to talk outside of what the group is using. There are some very affordable single channel 2M radios from Kenwood and Yaesu for around $150.00. I have a Kenwood D-710 dual channel with APRS which I love and the very simple 2M Kenwood TM-281A as my stand by radio. I like having APRS because if I choose to broadcast my location it is easy for my wife to see where I am at. I have also used APRS to track down other people on a trail to check trail conditions.

If you really get into Ham outside of group trail communications I really recommend getting a dual band, dual channel radio. Most importantly learn how to use it! I have waypoints in Gaia which show all of the repeaters around me if I need to attempt to reach someone for help. The Repeater Book free app is an excellent resource along with the website.
 
Last edited:

Steve

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Mad Garden Gnome

Rank V
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Off-Road Ranger I

2,771
Templeton, Ca
First Name
Ryan
Last Name
Marlett
Member #

661

Ham Callsign
W6ORV
Excellent write up...

I actually know a couple of people with GMRS license which they only got so they could make GMRS repeaters. These repeaters would be great for large groups like this to use during rallies. Localized and portable with the extended range capabilities. You hit some great points. I have to admit, since I started overlanding, I've considered getting, installing, and even using and 11 meter radio. Something I never thought I'd do. As a Ham we've always had an arrogance against the "children's band" radios because we took the time and effort to get licensed. CB has plenty of benefits to consider. One such benefit is the wide use in communities like this. Another great benefit is the large whip antenna offers a great place from which to fly the OB flag :-D.

Great work here!!
I did debate mentioning GMRS repeaters in this but err'd on the side of keeping it basic, as in the title. I did mention ham repeaters because I feel they are more commonplace.
 

Steve

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True. I guess I was thinking more of in an article format with some structure but I agree.
That's what I meant. The info is scattered about, but not in a well organized article format. I was encouraging the effort, but maybe it didn't came across that way.
 
E

expeditionnorth

Guest
even though I have to be an advocate for amateur radio
these other services work perfectly if you base the coverage area on the bands you're using, the distance you need to cover etc
UHF=short range
VHF=medium range
HF =long range
 
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Gunnermoose

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Great write-up! A lot of things to consider when entering the world of communications. @1Louder does bring up a good point on non-licensed users. They are out there and do not understand what is authorized.

When it comes to the etiquette portion of HAM. There are different ways to speak on repeaters then on SSB. Additionally, when it comes to SSB there are some known channels that are dedicated to support events/groups. Those are there to make initial contact then, the individuals need to switch to another of the many channels to carry out their conversation. This is where knowing your radio helps.
 
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1Louder

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@1Louder - When it comes down to what to equip yourself with the big factor seems to be - how is the rest of the group I am going out with equipped so I can talk to them.
Yep and that's why I have too many radios.

I guess I will have to install a FRS mobile unit as well! :)
 
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1Louder

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I do not understand this statement, please explain....too many does not associate with radios...
Sadly with 1 dual channel APRS ham mobile, 1 2M single channel radio, a handheld ham, a CB radio, and two handheld FRS radios some people say I have too many radios.
 
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Gunnermoose

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The one form of communication that @1Louder and also rely on is the Delorme inReach Explorer. Initially it was designed for use in emergency situations but has evolved to be used as a standard piece of equipment now on trips. There are plenty of times along a trip where you will not have cell service. For most this is the means to let people know your are safe. This is the feature that the inReach provides. It has a texting feature that allows the user to pre-program messages and have the ability to send messages. Another feature is the ability to post to facebook (not pictures). Through your account you can also create a mapshare and send login information to people. This allows them to track you along your trip. It is a paid service. They have multiple plans to cover every spectrum of travel. It is based on the iridium satellite network and has worldwide coverage. The subscription plan also has evacuation insurance for both domestic and international travel at differing costs. Back to its original purpose, much like SPOT, it has an SOS feature. Some of the differences, it allows two communication with the SAR asset. Once activated it will continue to track your location. Last time I read up on SPOT neither of these feature were available. Once SPOT was activated it just sent the location at the time of activation.

In addition to the communication aspect of the device, it also has mapping functionality. As with the communication features the device can be connected to phones and tabels through a bluetooth connection. Delorme has an app called Earthmate that can be downloaded for this connectivity. Through the app, the user can download many different map layers (not as many as a dedicated navigation app like Gaia). The inReach has the capability to log your track on the map. Additionally, it can send your position to the mapshare at user defined intervals. This keeps your position updated on the map accessable by those you wish to share with.

All of these features can aid rescue services if you do not return as planned. You can read up on the devices and service plans at this link:

http://www.inreachdelorme.com/product-info/inreach-explorer.php?gclid=Cj0KEQjw1v66BRCV-6rh6s-Biu8BEiQAelpui0OoEvknQjHOmJvegydUR9uzcqc4jQ9MBt-W77kgAMAaAvMK8P8HAQ

All and all I have been real happy with it, except for one occasion when the messenger service just stopped working. Delorme replaced the entire unit for free. But there is piece of mind knowing that you have the ability to communicate, if anything, to let people back home know you are ok.
 

Steve

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@Gunnermoose Can an InReach subscription be toggled off an on as needed? I'd only have a use for it a few times a year for a few days to six weeks. Other than those times, I wouldn't want to have to pay for not using it.