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M Rose

US Northwest Region Director
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Expedition

Advocate III

5,584
La Grande, Oregon, USA
First Name
Michael
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Rose
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20990

Ham Callsign
W7FSB
Service Branch
US ARMY Retired
I have GMRS, VHF and UHF. You can easily do it on the cheap and you have covered your bases. The downside is that you give up a day of your life for the license and that you will probably end up with a new addiction that involves spending lots of money on radios. Does anyone still use CB?
Depends on where you are at. Out here most clubs are requiring General license and a 12m transceiver.
 

OkieMountaineer

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If you are unfamiliar with radios in general and want to ease into it to learn, GMRS is perfect. Also consider if you have friends and family who won’t want to get licensed to use ham but are covered under your license or could be covered under their family‘s GMRS license if they get one.

If you already are halfway familiar or like this kinda stuff go HAM. I’ve had an absolute blast with ham and joining a club. Currently going for my extra.

The good thing is neither limits you from the other. I hold dual licenses and my wife got her ham ticket also because of the advantages.
 

joltman

Rank I

Contributor II

184
Castle Rock, CO, USA
First Name
Jim
Last Name
Oltman
Ham Callsign
KF0GWQ
I think the answer to your question depends on several things.

  1. Will you be using this in a group during off-road use?
  2. Is this for emergencies only?
  3. What is the problem you're trying to solve?

For me, I use the P.A.C.E. method for communications:

Primary: Cell phone. This is only useful in areas with cell coverage (obviously).

Ancillary: GMRS. UHF has lower propagation and is really only useful for communications within a group in a small area (10 miles maybe, add in obstructions like trees/mountains, and range is reduced).

Contingency: Ham Radio (VHF or maybe HF). This has wider reach. 2 meter VHF antennas (1/2 wave or 5/8 wave) can reach longer distances (maybe 50 miles with little obstructions). They're easy enough to put on a vehicle. Yes a test is required, but with all questions and answers available online, it's just a matter of memorization. Websites like HAMSTUDY are very useful as they have all the answers and provide practice tests (they also have mobile apps). HF antennas are large and not terribly practical for offroad use.

Emergency: Sat Comms. Garmin InReach, ACR, SatPhone. This is (in my opinion) a must-have for any trip (off-road or otherwise). You never know when you won't have cell service even traveling on major highways.

The above options are only useful if there's someone on the other end listening. With SatComms, you pay a subscription (Garmin InReach) and the emergency centers are "always" there. The other thing to consider is that HTs inside of a vehicle are about useless. They have severely limited range as they're essentially within a Faraday Cage. Getting an antenna outside of the vehicle helps tremendously with range.

CB radios that use AM have a 4 watt output limit (per FCC). That makes them essentially useless. The FCC has approved FM for CB radios, however, I don't think this will help CB as a serious communications device. Anyone that is selling a CB radio that is modified for higher PEP should (in my opinion) be avoided as they're not following FCC rules.

My wheeling group moves between GMRS and maybe FRS (for those that don't want to spend money on the license). They also have a list of 2 meter frequencies that they use for trips. I have my GMRS license and last year got my Amateur Tech license. I am still planning for my General upgrade, but life gets in the way of studying.

With all that said, I have a cellphone, Garmin InReach Explorer+, Yaesu HT, Kenwood TM-D710G, Wouxun KG-1000G and 2 Midland GMRS HTs. This covers me on pretty much anything I would need for offroading and daily driving. I chose these devices because my family's safety is my most important consideration.
 

MojaveJT

Rank I

Contributor III

231
Gallatin, TN, USA
First Name
Scott
Last Name
Danton
Ham Callsign
KI4MHQ
I have a question about GMRS. I have a current and valid HAM radio license. I have not used it in years and I need to get a new radio. Sorry, Side note. On to my question...... What is the proper etiquette for GMRS communication? I know you get a call sign with you GMRS license, but how are you required to use it. My sound like a simple question, but I have no clue.
 

OTH Overland

Rank VI
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Advocate I

4,436
Camano Island, Camano, WA, USA
First Name
Dave
Last Name
Ballard
Member #

20527

Ham Callsign
N7XQP
I have a question about GMRS. I have a current and valid HAM radio license. I have not used it in years and I need to get a new radio. Sorry, Side note. On to my question...... What is the proper etiquette for GMRS communication? I know you get a call sign with you GMRS license, but how are you required to use it. My sound like a simple question, but I have no clue.
Excerpt from FCC rules for GMRS below, it seems about the same rules as for HAM except that since your GMRS license is good for the entire family, you can add a station number to the end of the call sign to identify different radios (stations) if your family is using more than one at a time, as in talking to each other. That said, I don't think i have heard anyone use a call sign on the GMRS in real life, most seem to treat it like CB and probably are not licensed anyway. guessing the repeaters transmit one automatically, but have only done simplex so far so not sure. secured a license to be legal, but really have not used the GMRS much yet, mostly HAM or CB in use on the trips we have been on so far.

§ 95.119 Station identification.
(a) Except as provided in paragraph (e), every GMRS station must transmit a station identification:

(1) Following the transmission of communications or a series of communications; and

(2) Every 15 minutes during a long transmission.

(b) The station identification is the call sign assigned to the GMRS station or system.

(c) A unit number may be included after the call sign in the identification.

(d) The station identification must be transmitted in:

(1) Voice in the English language; or

(2) International Morse code telegraphy.

(e) A station need not identify its transmissions if it automatically retransmits communications from another station which are properly identified.
 
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MojaveJT

Rank I

Contributor III

231
Gallatin, TN, USA
First Name
Scott
Last Name
Danton
Ham Callsign
KI4MHQ
I have a question about GMRS. I have a current and valid HAM radio license. I have not used it in years and I need to get a new radio. Sorry, Side note. On to my question...... What is the proper etiquette for GMRS communication? I know you get a call sign with you GMRS license, but how are you required to use it. My sound like a simple question, but I have no clue.
Excerpt from FCC rules for GMRS below, it seems about the same rules as for HAM except that since your GMRS license is good for the entire family, you can add a station number to the end of the call sign to identify different radios (stations) if your family is using more than one at a time, as in talking to each other. That said, I don't think i have heard anyone use a call sign on the GMRS in real life, most seem to treat it like CB and probably are not licensed anyway. guessing the repeaters transmit one automatically, but have only done simplex so far so not sure. secured a license to be legal, but really have not used the GMRS much yet, mostly HAM or CB in use on the trips we have been on so far.

§ 95.119 Station identification.
(a) Except as provided in paragraph (e), every GMRS station must transmit a station identification:

(1) Following the transmission of communications or a series of communications; and

(2) Every 15 minutes during a long transmission.

(b) The station identification is the call sign assigned to the GMRS station or system.

(c) A unit number may be included after the call sign in the identification.

(d) The station identification must be transmitted in:

(1) Voice in the English language; or

(2) International Morse code telegraphy.

(e) A station need not identify its transmissions if it automatically retransmits communications from another station which are properly identified.
Awesome, thanks for the information. I have applied for the license and will go from there. I guess it would be kinda strange communicating with my wife and both using the same callsign, but if that is what should be done, I guess that is what we will do
 

Hourless Life

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Eric
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Highland
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Something I haven't really seen discussed in this thread is international overlanding in third world countries as it relates to the topic of GMRS vs HAM. While in the States we used GMRS and thought quite a bit about HAM radio but never used it, once we were about to go south of the border on our global overland trip we did a lot of research. What we found is that you basically don't want to have a comms arsenal in your cab. You definitely don't want your cab looking like an airplane cockpit. Many of the governments, police, and military in these countries use these types of comms for their comms and don't appreciate it when they think you can listen into their communications. For international overlanding in third world countries less is more.

On our trip we are carrying four handheld GMRS devices that are put away and one satcom device. What I've learned is that this is really enough for when it comes to safety and the ability to communicate in case of emergency. I think that like most things we tend to overkill and want the latest and greatest. I mean it is fine if it is a hobby. But for real world needs? I think keeping it simple is the way to go. But that's just me. ~ Eric
 

joltman

Rank I

Contributor II

184
Castle Rock, CO, USA
First Name
Jim
Last Name
Oltman
Ham Callsign
KF0GWQ
@Hourless Life that's awesome that you're traveling full time! I have a lot of respect for anyone who can do that as it takes more knowledge (and courage) than many (including me) will know.

It sounds like your radios are really more for keeping in contact with one another in case you were separated. GMRS radios are only really called that in the States as that's what the FCC has defined for those frequencies. In reality, they're just the 462MHz and 467MHz freqs. As such, they don't travel great distances (as pointed out in several posts above). The US (via the UN) has agreements with many other countries that allow radio operators to work in those countries. It's on the operator to know what frequencies are available for use and which ones to avoid.

Its good to know you carry that sat device as that's for the SHTF moment. Also good to know that border patrol/LEOs in southern countries can be a little less than friendly sometimes. Caution is key. Enjoy your travels!
 
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MojaveJT

Rank I

Contributor III

231
Gallatin, TN, USA
First Name
Scott
Last Name
Danton
Ham Callsign
KI4MHQ
I guess technically I can not loan a radio to a friend on a trip and use them to communicate with each other legally, can I? from what I am reading, my license covers me and my family, not me and who I am talking to, even if it is my radio. I am thinking about this correctly? I know there are plenty of people that have just purchased radios and either did not know or chose to ignore the fact they need a license and continue to use them. Just trying to understand the concept.
 

joltman

Rank I

Contributor II

184
Castle Rock, CO, USA
First Name
Jim
Last Name
Oltman
Ham Callsign
KF0GWQ
I guess technically I can not loan a radio to a friend on a trip and use them to communicate with each other legally, can I? from what I am reading, my license covers me and my family, not me and who I am talking to, even if it is my radio. I am thinking about this correctly? I know there are plenty of people that have just purchased radios and either did not know or chose to ignore the fact they need a license and continue to use them. Just trying to understand the concept.
You got it. The GMRS license covers you and your "immediate family". You can hand out a radio to someone else, but if they don't have a GMRS license, they would be using the radio "illegally". Will the FCC have paratroopers raid your wheeling trip or come to your house and shoot your dog? Probably not.
 

OTH Overland

Rank VI
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Camano Island, Camano, WA, USA
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Dave
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Ballard
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20527

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N7XQP
I agree less tech in your rig may be a benefit when travelling outside other countries, both to avoid garnering attention from both authorities and people looking for a quick smash and grab. My preference is HAM radio due to the number of available repeaters and hobbyists that monitor the bands at all hours should you need to reach someone in an emergency. However when traveling with different groups of people, even within Overland Bound, you never know what radio type the majority of the group will have. Locally there are still a lot of members and many off roaders that still use CB due to its inexpensive and no license. CB can also be handy in the NW to communicate with the log trucks that frequent our favorite forest roads. GMRS is starting to become more popular with the recent surge of new overlanders. As a former Firefighter and SAR member, I also have a gps enabled scanner monitoring emergency frequencies while traveling to keep appraised of what is going on around us. End result is ending up with the aforementioned airplane cockpit..lol I have tried to suppress the inner nerd, but to no avail :)
 

mtn

Rank III
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Adventure

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676
Washington, USA
First Name
Ole
Last Name
H
Member #

30318

Ham Callsign
KA7OLE
...I also have a gps enabled scanner monitoring emergency frequencies while traveling to keep appraised of what is going on around us....
What scanner do you use, and do you like it? I've been thinking about getting one since driving into an active forest fire down in central Oregon last summer. Would have picked a different trail if I had known to avoid it.
 

OTH Overland

Rank VI
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Advocate I

4,436
Camano Island, Camano, WA, USA
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Dave
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Ballard
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20527

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N7XQP
What scanner do you use, and do you like it? I've been thinking about getting one since driving into an active forest fire down in central Oregon last summer. Would have picked a different trail if I had known to avoid it.
I have the Uniden BC536HP hard mounted in my Ram Truck, its connected to a GPS puck on the dash, so I just set the desired radius (up to 50 miles) that I want to listen to, and the select what types of radio traffic (Police, fire, DOT, military etc) and the radio constantly programs itself based on your location. The built in database is very detailed and works well. The display indicates the type of agency, name, and if available the unit number of who is talking. So far for the other vehicles I have not invested in a mounted scanner, but have a BC436HP which is the handheld version of the radio that I take along, unfortunately it does not have a GPS receiver built in so I have to deal with wires laying about (power and gps plugged in for that feature to work) There is a Zip code option on both radios where you can type in your Zip code and get calls local to you (have to keep entering Zip codes every 50 miles if your travelling). Uniden is proud of their radios price wise, but they seem to work well. When choosing a scanner make sure you know what type of radio systems you will be listening to, many city and state agencies are using trunking systems that share many frequencies and require a digital scanner capable of decoding them. for rural and remote agencies they usually use fixed VHF/UHF frequencies and even a basic scanner can receive those, you just have to manually program them in, which is fine if you go to the same locations often.

Since we travel long distance, the GPS function and auto programming was critical for us, and there are really not many options currently.

If you have a VHF/UHF HAM radio, most will allow you to program in public service frequencies (non trunking) as receive only without modification. I have our local fire/police and forest service frequencies entered into a scan group that I can set on the secondary side of radio to act as a limited function scanner. Easy enough to look on radioreference.com for the forest service frequencies of where you are planning to go and enter them in. saves the cost and space of an extra radio in the car, unless you need trunking or more capability.
 

tjZ06

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Advocate I

2,268
Lincoln, California, USA
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TJ
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Adams
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Some great info here, and I'm struggling with this decision myself. I have two rigs to equip, so I really don't want to have multiple hard-wired solutions per vehicle. I'm leaning heavily towards GMRS currently (still need to pick which unit, of course) for my hard-wired solution. I was thinking about having a hand-held CB (maybe w/ a remote magnetic antenna dealio?) for those situations where I need it (for example, my last long Idaho trip included roads with signs for the CB channel to listen to the logging trucks - which would be handy).

It does sound like if I did the *right* HAM radios and got the *right* HAM licenses it could cover HAM and GMRS though? I'd consider that option, but really need to research/learn more about it...

-TJ

EDIT/PS- I have a Garmin inReach for emergencies, my use case is just comms with my group.
 
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Jeffrey Dill

Rank VI
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Member III

3,364
Greenville, SC, USA
First Name
Jeffrey
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Dill
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15578

Ham Callsign
W4FOZ
Short answer:

Satellite for emergency comms (like Garmin inReach) and GMRS for trail comms.

Long answer:

If you're looking for comms for real emergencies, there is simply no better option than satellite. It's possible to use Ham in an emergency, but the number of variables at play make it fairly unfit for emergencies, particularly considering that satellite is readily available in the consumer market.

Don't get me wrong. I've got my Technician's license and enjoy Ham. But I have it because for me it is an enjoyable hobby. I would never count on it for an emergency. If you have no interest in it as a hobby – only for use in an emergency situation – I wouldn't worry about getting it. I suppose one could argue it's better than nothing, and I wouldn't disagree with that. But it may just be giving you a false sense of security.

As for trail comms, it all depends on what the folks around you are using. Of the maybe 25 or so folks that I've been on trails with, I could count on one hand the number of them that had Ham. I don't think any of them have ever had CB. But all of them have had GMRS.