An important factor to consider for any overland trip is how you will communicate with the rest of your party. There are a lot of options out there, from yelling out the windows at stops to handheld FRS radios, CBs, 2m, and more. While all of these methods will get the job done, some of them offer a little more usefulness than others.
From the ExploringNH forums:
ExploringNH is requiring GMRS based communications for all ENH sanctioned events and strongly recommending it for all other events
In the past, we have suggested many forms of communications, including but not limited to CB, HAM and FRS radios. Over the years, technology has improved significantly but the need for vehicle to vehicle communications has remained the same, especially with larger groups such as the Trans-NH expedition. This allows run leaders to inform drivers of hazards, an upcoming turn, or other heads up announcement. It also improves the overall experience of a run with helpful chatter and fun facts.
- More power
– GMRS radios can legally transmit at up to 50 watts (on high-power stations) on select high-powered hardware.
- FRS shared stations
– Allows some backwards compatibility on certain channels at the cost of transmit power.
- FM instead of AM
– This leads to a clearer, stronger transmission with less RF interference. CB radios use AM.
- Ease of use
– Most handheld GMRS radios are ready to use of the box with no tuning or programming necessary. True handheld GMRS radios have removable antenna which offers options for higher gain or roof mount antennas for better signal.
- Many options on the market
– In addition to a vast radio selection, pre-tuned antennas and other accessories are readily available to easily complete your radio installation.
- Shorter, easier to mount antenna
– The ideal antenna length for GMRS is ~6″ using the 1/4 wave method. This also significantly reduces the ground plane size necessary. The same method nets 108″ for CB – anything shorter is a compromise.
- No-test license
– A license is required to operate on GMRS frequencies. A license costs $70 (FCC dropping to $35 soon) and lasts 10 years. A single license covers an entire family.
– GMRS repeaters allow you to transmit through a fixed repeater location nearby to communicate over larger distances. If you plan to use a repeater, be sure to obtain permission and the necessary codes to use it.
- Built-in NOAA and scanner functions
– Most GMRS radios come with NOAA weather stations built in. Some allow you to program listen-only scanner stations, such as local dispatch for fire and EMS, or MURS frequencies for monitoring.
- Handheld radio
– Our favorite handheld GMRS radio is the BTech GMRS-V1. It is FCC certified to operate on all GMRS frequencies, includes a removable antenna, and boasts up to 2 watts of power. The battery lasts the longest of any handheld I’ve ever used – a whole weekend of wheeling on a single charge! It can be easily programmed with the built in keypad or via a cable to add listen-only frequencies such as MURS, NOAA and local dispatch frequencies. It supports monitoring two stations at once, and has dual PTT, meaning you can quickly transmit on either station.
– BTech GMRS-V1
- Handheld antenna
– The included antenna on the GMRS-V1 radio works great out of the box. Because we can’t keep anything stock, we have tried out a couple higher gain antennas on this radio with great success. Any antenna with an SMA connector designed to operate on 140-150MHz and 420-450MHz frequencies. We like Nagoya brand antennas paired with the BTech radio. The handheld can also be connected to an externally mounted antenna designed for these same frequencies using an SMA adapter for greater performance. Running a higher gain antenna can help improve range. We like the following Nagoya NA-717 high gain whip for our spotting radios since it flexes easier than the stock antenna.
– Nagoya NA-717
- Hard-mount radio
– For in-vehicle use, a hard-mount radio is highly recommended. These units are powered off the vehicle (no batteries), mounted to the dash and have a small, easy to manage handheld mic. The controls are usually on the mic itself, and are designed for easy use while driving if necessary. They tend to have higher power transmitters, offering a much higher range than most handheld radios. Midland makes a whole line of hard-mount radios, varying in power from 5 watts to 40 watts. BTech and Wouxun have a 50 watt unit, maxing out the GMRS power limit. Shop for a unit that fits your needs – not all radios support scanner functionality or have programmable interfaces. Here are some solid radios we recommend:
– Midland MicroMobile 15w
– Radioddity DB20-G
– BTech GMRS-50×1
– Wouxun KG-1000G
- Mag-mount antennas
– The easiest way to improve radio performance is to run a higher gain antenna in an unobstructed location. Mag-mount antennas attach to your (metal) roof using strong magnets, getting your antenna out of the cab, which can severely impact radio performance. We’ve run the Nagoya UT-72 with multiple brands and power radios with great success.
– Nagoya UT-72
- Hard-mount antennas
– For vehicles with limited metal roof space, such as a Jeep Wrangler, a hard mount antenna is a good choice. These antennas sport an NMO connector and can be attached to any base with a NMO connector. These come in varying styles from standard flat bolt on mounts to hood / trunk lip clamp mounts. Some are vehicle specific, so shop around for your vehicle and use case. Nagoya carries a variety of NMO base mounts, we like the following suggested Nagoya antenna and mount. This antenna is designed for 140-170MHz, 420-470MHz frequencies, similar to the mag-mount suggested above, which covers GMRS frequencies.
– Nagoya Universal NMO Mount
– Nagoya 19″ NMO antenna
How to get your GMRS license – FCC website
Use the FCC’s Universal Licensing System (ULS) to acquire your license. Follow these steps:
- Head over to https://wireless2.fcc.gov/UlsEntry/licManager/login.jsp
- Create an account – click the ‘Register with the FCC link’ and then click ‘REGISTER’. Follow steps to sign up.
- Using your FRN (FCC Registration Number) and password, log in to the License Manager.
- In the left pane, click on ‘Apply for a new license’.
- From the drop-down menu, select ‘ZA – General Mobile Radio (GMRS)’ and click ‘CONTINUE’.
- Follow the prompts through the license application, provide payment information and complete the application.
- You will receive your approval and call sign within 24 – 48 hours of application via email.
- Review all GMRS etiquette, rules and regulations. Have fun!
FCC Law Changes
In 2017, the FCC updated FRS and GMRS rules. This revamp included the re-classification of FRS only channels for use at lower power on GMRS hardware. This means that all 22 channels are shared between FRS and GRMS and depending on the channel and radio you are using, may be restricted. Note that GMRS has an additional 8 channels dedicated to repeater functionality.
You may notice that older GMRS handheld radios may not transmit at all on channels 8-14 – they were likely manufactured before the FCC reclassified. Base station / mobile hard-mount radios (non-handhelds), per the FCC rules (Part 95, Subpart E), can not TRANSMIT on these stations but may monitor / listen on them. Newer handheld radios, and those that support firmware updates and get updated, can transmit on channels 8-14 at half a watt. I would strongly suggest using channels 15-22 if you are mixing FRS and GMRS – otherwise try to use all GMRS to prevent power loss.