Starter Comms — What should I get for basic comms to let me start joining group runs, etc?

DaveInDenver

Expedition Leader
Portable HAM (you don't need a license to transmit in an emergency)
This is often cited but there's not much precedent to support that the Rules give you carte blanche.

First is that the FCC gives a licensed amateur leeway to use whatever means necessary to protect life or property. This doesn't give just anyone a free hand to operate without a license. I'm not aware of a general rule that allows anyone, anytime to operate. There may be, I just don't know it. The Part 97 presumption is you're already a licensed station and you need to use privileges beyond your license. For example you're just a Technician and want to use voice on 40m where you'd normally need to be General or Extra class. It may imply that your ham ticket gives you authority to operate beyond the Amateur Service but it does not say that explicitly.

Second the understood need is that you have no other means but carrying an InReach would indicate otherwise.

If you choose to invoke the safety and distress authorization that you should be ready to expect a fine, so make it worth it. The FCC won't care that you didn't bother upgrading your ticket or getting the appropriate license. The best case is probably that they don't revoke your ham license and just give you a warning.


§ 97.403 Safety of life and protection of property.
No provision of these rules prevents the use by an amateur station of any means of radiocommunication at its disposal to provide essential communication needs in connection with the immediate safety of human life and immediate protection of property when normal communication systems are not available.

§ 97.405 Station in distress.
(a)
No provision of these rules prevents the use by an amateur station in distress of any means at its disposal to attract attention, make known its condition and location, and obtain assistance.

(b) No provision of these rules prevents the use by a station, in the exceptional circumstances described in paragraph (a) of this section, of any means of radiocommunications at its disposal to assist a station in distress.
 
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samer0214

Member
Not familiar with your work schedule of course, but studying for and taking the HAM test do not really require a ton of time.

You can study at your own pace, and take practice exams online at your own pace. Although highly recommended, you wouldn’t even need to buy a book to study and prep for the exam.

Get your HAM license, as many have said here, that’s where people and clubs/groups are heading. IMO, CB is for truckers, good on the highways, not so much on the trails. I am licensed for HAM and GMRS both, and tend to use GMRS when I’m over landing with friends, and HAM when I’m off-roading with a club.


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BigSwede

The Credible Hulk
I have a 2M ham permanently installed as that is what my overlanding club uses due to ham's much greater range and than CB.

But, some events still use CB, so I have a Midland 75-822 and magnetic mount antenna which I throw in the vehicle as needed. Although there is an ongoing transition toward GMRS, CB is still more common by far.
 

Metcalf

Expedition Leader
I would love to see more clubs and organizations supporting better comms plans.
I am SOOOO tired of the 'EvEryOne ALreaDy hAS a cB' excuse.
People use to just throw rocks at the car in front of them too, time to update.

Personally, I have had my Ham tech license, and now a GMRS license, for a long time.
The 'race radio' 2M+ stuff has even further muddied the waters for this sport too.
GMRS is going to get too congested, especially if people play by the rules and only use 50watts on 15-22

With a 2m/70cm mobile or handheld and a bit of programming, you can do ameature radio along with the grey area of race radio and GMRS with a single unit.
There are a few quad band handheld and mobile radios that can also listen to CB ( 11m AM ) which can be nice.

There seems to be very little momentum in any single direction in the sport right now.
 

axlesandantennas

Approved Vendor
I would love to see more clubs and organizations supporting better comms plans.
Good luck with that. I was fairly active with a local group / club and the comm plan within the group ammounted to little more than "good luck". I'm a long time ham radio dude, first licensed in 1992. I'm not some ham radio nazi that sees all other forms of radio communication as useless. But my main frustration was the aversion to anything that required more thought than to just turn the on/off knob. Ham radio can be a good tool, but it takes a decent amount of understanding how to use it since most ham radio devices have lots of functions. Most non ham radio folks don't understand that amateur radio is not channelized the way that CB/FRS/GMRS is.

Honestly, I would be fine with a switch to GMRS/FRS as the de facto trail communication system, but CB has too much draw in the community. I would not worry about GMRS/FRS congestion. Even at 50 watts, you are still limited by line of sight. In reality, this will be around 5 miles or so with vehicle to vehicle communication. Sure, if you are way high up on a ridge line, your comms will exceed this, but I would argue that it's not the norm.

And you are right, the race radio mess is a ...mess. The FCC is cracking down, so hopefully it helps.

At the end of the day, it's going to take some big names in the overland community to agree upon a standardization of sorts, be it 2 meter ham radio (with license!) or GMRS/FRS.
 

Billoftt

Active member
The ironic part is how the CB die-hards always say stuff like “I don’t have enough time to take the test” or “It’s too much work” and then they have to screw with their radio or antenna for 30 minutes every time they try to use it on a trail run.


Sent by electrons or some crap like that.
 

DaveInDenver

Expedition Leader
then they have to screw with their radio or antenna for 30 minutes every time they try to use it on a trail run.
That's more due to questionable installations (mainly it seems unwilling to admit lack of knowledge, installing car stereos does not necessarily qualify one for two-way radios). And of course lack of maintenance. Nothing's going to work if you ride it hard and put it away wet. CB just has a bad rap. I've seen plenty of sketchy ham installs and I'm sure GMRS won't be any different.
 

axlesandantennas

Approved Vendor
That's more due to questionable installations (mainly it seems unwilling to admit lack of knowledge, installing car stereos does not necessarily qualify one for two-way radios). And of course lack of maintenance. Nothing's going to work if you ride it hard and put it away wet. CB just has a bad rap. I've seen plenty of sketchy ham installs and I'm sure GMRS won't be any different.
A lot of that bad rap comes from super sketchy CB shops that sell "peaked and tuned" radios and then install with what amounts to little more than speaker wire and the crappiest RG-58 coax. Best place to install my 2 foot firestick? Lets just mash it up against the side of the cab with no consideration of parasitic effect. Not to mention, those super short CB antennas are really only operable on one specific channel and then maybe, MAYBE for the next adjacent channel. I used to do installs as part of my business and would use an actual antenna analyzer to check antenna function. The swr dip to below 2.1:1 was very apparent. And then just before and past the specific channel, it would be at 5.1:1 or worse.

Don't get me wrong, I have a CB in my Wrangler and will always have a CB. But I have had to do trail repairs on too many and now when I lead or organize a ride, I won't let CB be a consideration for trail comms. We either do amateur radio or FRS.
 

ChadHahn

Adventurer
I got my ham license about 20 years ago. All I did to study was find a website with practice tests. They went through all the questions in the pool and I just took the tests until I was consistently getting 100%. This took less than a week. Then I went in and took the test, which was free and in an hour I had passed my test and was good to go.

The technician test is pretty easy
 
As mentioned earlier, find out what the group you want to join up with has.

I think it'd be a good idea for groups, who usually have a leader and/or people on social media, to list their prefered trail comms in their account bios. A few (12) letters is needed. GMRS/FRS/HAM/CB. Edit as approp.

But with the frequency this question pops up, I'm betting that more than a few rigs in any group have multiple setups. The GMRS/FRS handhelds are pretty inexpensive to start out with, so that's not much of a barrier.
 

greg.potter

Adventurer
In Canada GMRS does not require a license and in my opinion is the simplest solution for group communication. For emergency communication or communication back to "civilization" I have carried an InReach for more than 10 years and it has worked flawlessly although if you are in deep valleys you do sometimes have to wait a while for a satellite to be in the view of the sky that you have. So far I have never been in a situation in which I couldn't get a message out within a half hour.
 
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