One way many people get lost in the bush these days is due to a lack of proper communications. Two way radios are considered a lifeline by firefighters, paramedics, mining company workers, farmers, remote area hikers and jackaroos to name a few. Many people and certainly those living in the city or urban ares largely depend on mobile phones for communication. One problem with mobile phones in the event of a disaster is that often towers either get knocked out or become overloaded because of an influx of calls. Its always good to have a plan B for communications, and a UHF CB radio fits the bill in terms of reliability and cost effectiveness. Communications is definitely something that some preppers overlook in their contingency plans. The “Get Home Bag” that you take with you to work should include some form of backup communications such as a UHF CB Radio, satellite phone or Ham Radio.

In this article we will give you a little bit of an introduction to what UHF CB actually is, then progress onto what you should look for in a UHF CB radio and why.

What is UHF CB?

UHF CB (aka CBRS) is an abbreviation for Ultra High Frequency Citizen’s Band Radio. It is freely available to the general public and does not require any kind of license or registration to operate other than the cost of buying the handsets of course.

A UHF handheld CB radio can be a critical communications tool for your family or prepper group, especially in areas where there is no mobile phone coverage. It is also an essential piece of kit when heading off the beaten track or going camping, hiking or bushwalking. UHF radios are also fantastic for emergency and survival situations. A UHF radio provides instant communications, and costs nothing to use, other than the outlay for the radios (and the required batteries).

When choosing a UHF CB radio, there are a few important considerations that you may want to keep in mind:

  • Wattage is not everything: When choosing a radio, the range claimed by the manufacturer is a rough guide and can usually only be achieved in ideal conditions. Ideal conditions usually means out in the country or where there is line-of-sight between the radios. In an urban environment, amongst houses and buildings, the range is usually less than a third of the advertised maximum. Also, double the wattage does not equal double the range. To double the range, you need a radio with four times the power. So for example, a 2-watt radio will transmit twice as far as a 0.5-watt radio.
  • Antenna height is everything: Here is a real life example. I live on a hill and have a base-station antenna mounted on my chimney. The top of my antenna is about 180 m above sea-level. Though my Uniden UH950s 5-watt handheld is only rated at 15 KM, I have transmitted approximately 125 KM across the gulf. Even without using the base-station antenna, I can easily transmit 16 to 20 KM just using the standard antenna which comes with the handheld. In dense suburbia however, the range is limited to only a few KM.
  • Standard batteries vs custom rechargeable batteries: Many of the 2 watt models can take standard AA rechargeable batteries. For most purposes, 2 watts is ample for a handheld since you need antenna height to make the most of the extra power of the maximum 5 watt models. Also, AA batteries are readily available and are generally much cheaper than the custom Lithium batteries which are necessary to drive the 5 watt models. While these Lithium batteries do last a while, they eventually need replacing. It is thus advisable to buy a reputable brand such as Uniden so that you can be sure of battery availability in the future. Of course the custom Lithium batteries will almost always last longer than standard AA batteries in terms of a single charge. I’d stay away from models which take AAA batteries because AAA batteries really don’t tend to last long at all. Models which take AAA batteries also tend to be low power, less than 1-watt maximum. Battery types are a very important consideration especially during a crisis of any sort as batteries will be in high demand.
  • Removable vs fixed antenna: If you are going to get a 5-watt handheld, you should always get one with a removable antenna so it can be plugged into a base-station antenna or car antenna (i.e. ad hoc mobile radio) to make the most of the 5-watt power.
  • External charger plug: If you intend to use the radio in a vehicle, make sure it has an external charger plug and cigarette lighter adapter, and can be charged while in use.
  • Privacy. Unless you get a model with a Scramble feature, all communication is public. You can block out unwanted conversations from others by having every radio in your group select the same privacy code, but others not using any code can still hear you. Most models have two sets of privacy codes known as CTCSS (Continuous Tone Coded Squelch) and DCS (Digital Coded Squelch). Both are good at what they do, although we prefer DCS because radios supporting DCS usually have a cleaner cut off at the end of a person’s transmission, while CTCSS is often known for static at the end of a transmisson. If you need privacy, get a model with a scramble feature (such as the Uniden 950s), and preferably one which allows you to choose between several scramble algorithms. Usually only top of the range models have this feature. (Every radio in your group must be using the same scramble algorithm and thus usually needs to be of the same brand and model.)  In the military and special forces units, soldiers are trained to practice COMSEC (communications security). This involves unique encrypted two way radio channels along with a set of undisclosed codes for the particular operation or mission. We strongly recommend that you purchase radios that utilise voice scrambling so as to prevent enemies from eavesdropping on sensitive group communications. Of course it doesn’t mean you should be complacent, you should observe all other guidelines and codes that your group has agreed upon.
  • Robustness/Waterproof: If your radios will only be used occasionally and aren’t likely to be thrashed about, the cheaper models should suffice. If, however you intend to use them hiking, boating or otherwise in harsh conditions, don’t expect the cheaper models to last. Buy a waterproof model which has a cast alloy chassis. Also consider the robustness of connections such as external microphone plugs etc. Out of all of the models I’ve used, the Uniden UH950S is the most rugged and also has a long battery life (27 hours on low power). Waterproof models are suitable for marine environments and excellent for emergencies such as floods and cyclones.
  • Etiquette: Like all public services, please respect the channel allocations and use good manners. Although it is no longer essential to know voice procedure and phonetic alphabet it is a good idea to train your group to know them off by heart for emergency purposes. Channel 5 is the emergency channel and under no circumstances should it be used for any other purpose. Often thoughtless people carry on conversations on the emergency channels  Channels 1 to 8, 31 to 38, 41 to 48 and 71 to 78 are for use with a repeater and shouldn’t be used for communication when not requiring a repeater. If someone is already using your selected channel, pick another one. Also, use the minimum power you need. If your group is all within 500 M and low power is sufficient, use low power, you won’t clutter the airwaves beyond what you need to and you’ll also save batteries. Just some tips for courtesy and responsibility.

We hope you’ve found this article helpful. Until next time, remember “Be Prepared, Stay Alive!”

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