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HAM Alternative

Discussion in 'Florida' started by LMarshall73, May 6, 2018.

  1. May 6, 2018 at 9:45 AM
    #1
    LMarshall73

    LMarshall73 [OP] Well-Known Member

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    So, I've been studying off and on for a good while to get a HAM ticket, but it seems like every time I take a break from trying to memorize the answers to the questions, I forget all of the information that isn't pertinent to actually operating a radio. The majority of the questions don't seem to have any bearing or relevance whatsoever on recreational use.

    That being said, I decided to take a closer look at GMRS. I'm not really referring to the blister pack FRS/GMRS combos you can find at Walmart (though they do come into play a bit later), but the handheld/mobile dual band radios readily available on Amazon. GMRS still requires licensing, but it is limited to registration and paying a $70 fee. Granted, GMRS does limit operation to the UHF frequencies (I'll list them below), but it allows immediate family members / SO to communicate on your license, so you could legally communicate from a mobile to someone at home or base camp on a handheld under your license.

    So, while CB is limited to 4 watts, and most Wally World blister pack FRS/GMRS radios typically transmit at less than 2 watts GMRS and 0.5 watts FRS, the Baofeng handheld I recently picked up is switchable between 2, 5, and 8 watts. This allows for use on 15 of the 22 GMRS frequencies. I'm also closely looking at a mobile that transmits at 20 watts UHF, but that will limit me to 8 channels (15-22) on the GMRS bands.

    Considering the above, and my inherent lack of interest in some of the finer selling points of HAM operation (i.e. communicating world wide or talking to the ISS), I opted for a GMRS license since it falls more under the purview of my intended use - trail communication. Yes, the license costs more, but it also comes without the headache of studying and finding a test location that I can get to during my limited time at home.

    Frequency list and power limitations:
    1 FRS/GMRS 462.5625 2W / 12.5kHz 5W / 25kHz*
    2 FRS/GMRS 462.5875 2W / 12.5kHz 5W / 25kHz*
    3 FRS/GMRS 462.6125 2W / 12.5kHz 5W / 25kHz*
    4 FRS/GMRS 462.6375 2W / 12.5kHz 5W / 25kHz*
    5 FRS/GMRS 462.6625 2W / 12.5kHz 5W / 25kHz*
    6 FRS/GMRS 462.6875 2W / 12.5kHz 5W / 25kHz*
    7 FRS/GMRS 462.7125 2W / 12.5kHz 5W / 25kHz*
    8 FRS/GMRS 467.5625 0.5W / 12.5kHz 0.5W / 12.5kHz
    9 FRS/GMRS 467.5875 0.5W / 12.5kHz 0.5W / 12.5kHz
    10 FRS/GMRS 467.6125 0.5W / 12.5kHz 0.5W / 12.5kHz
    11 FRS/GMRS 467.6375 0.5W / 12.5kHz 0.5W / 12.5kHz
    12 FRS/GMRS 467.6625 0.5W / 12.5kHz 0.5W / 12.5kHz
    13 FRS/GMRS 467.6875 0.5W / 12.5kHz 0.5W / 12.5kHz
    14 FRS/GMRS 467.7125 0.5W / 12.5kHz 0.5W / 12.5kHz
    15 FRS/GMRS 462.5500 2W / 12.5kHz 50W / 25kHz*
    16 FRS/GMRS 462.5750 2W / 12.5kHz 50W / 25kHz*
    17 FRS/GMRS 462.6000 2W / 12.5kHz 50W / 25kHz*
    18 FRS/GMRS 462.6250 2W / 12.5kHz 50W / 25kHz*
    19 FRS/GMRS 462.6500 2W / 12.5kHz 50W / 25kHz*
    20 FRS/GMRS 462.6750 2W / 12.5kHz 50W / 25kHz*
    21 FRS/GMRS 462.7000 2W / 12.5kHz 50W / 25kHz*
    22 FRS/GMRS 462.7250 2W / 12.5kHz 50W / 25kHz*

    *20kHz authorized bandwidth
     
    EDDO likes this.
  2. May 7, 2018 at 10:14 AM
    #2
    Joshua Lees

    Joshua Lees Well-Known Member

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    I am in the same boat....Have just purchased my GMRS license and moving in that direction for comms. My thought process is I can use the handhelds for spotter communication or if we have several vehicles together on the trail, and I am looking at some of the mobile units for vehicles that Midland makes, such as the MTX-400. This setup should blow any CB use out of the water, while allowing for clean and clear vehicle to vehicle communication, or with your spotters.
     
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  3. May 7, 2018 at 10:33 AM
    #3
    LMarshall73

    LMarshall73 [OP] Well-Known Member

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    Exactly. I have a couple of sets of Cobra FRS/GMRS handhelds that I used for cross communications when I worked off road rallies. I had bought a Baofeng UV-5RTP when I was anticipating getting my HAM. I looked at that Midland mobile unit, but I may steer towards a HAM mobile for the additional channels that can be monitored. I had never seriously considered GMRS because I was under the impression that the RX output was limited to 5 watts. Seeing that 50 watts is permitted brought it back into play. I'm still doing some research to see if privacy codes found on the Cobras can be programmed into the Baofeng.
     
  4. May 7, 2018 at 10:45 AM
    #4
    Joshua Lees

    Joshua Lees Well-Known Member

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    Very interested in your results...I am going to pick up a Baofeng or two on top of a set of FRS/GMRS handhelds. The Midland MTX-400 tx's 40 watts from your vehicle, and seems very simple to install and throw an antenna up. Any idea what kind of antenna setup GMRS type radios like the best for truck to truck communication or in order to utilize a GMRS repeater, etc.?
    Thanks
     
  5. May 7, 2018 at 10:52 AM
    #5
    DaveInDenver

    DaveInDenver Not Actually in Denver

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    I'm a ham and very interested in seeing the hobby expand and be utilized. However I completely agree, GMRS makes the most sense as a general purpose communication tool for 4x4.

    I've been part of the effort to get people their amateur radio licenses and the use has been anything but pain-free. Some people take to it and end up finding the hobby interesting but I'd say the majority like the benefits of VHF FM over CB but don't see ham as particularly interesting and take no real interest in doing more with it.

    Seems to me the only real hurdle is getting all the people who have already put money into ham radios to want to switch again. I know I don't like the idea of dealing with another round of complaining and another outlay of cash. I think at this point if no one you 'wheel with has anything other than CB then it's a no-brainer. If you have hams in your club or group then it's no so clear.
     
    LMarshall73 [OP] likes this.
  6. May 7, 2018 at 10:53 AM
    #6
    Gunshot-6A

    Gunshot-6A In God We Trust; All Others We Monitor

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    So, a few thoughts on HAM from my experiences. Admittedly, I don't have a lot of knowledge about FRS/GMRS, so I think I have some reading to do....

    Fair point, BUT...HAM radio was never intended for recreational use. Many have it as a hobby these days, but that isn't really the point. It was designed way back as a secondary means of civil defense comms in case of attack / "the bomb" / etc.

    A lot of the material IS pertinent for intended HAM usage, just not the same as trail use CB amongst the 4wd crowd.


    Lastly, HAM infrastructure is fairly developed and common especially out west. Not sure of the applicability in Florida, but in Utah at least, there are quite a few places that HAM could be the ONLY thing to save your ass and be able reach outside help via repeaters that someone actually monitors.

    It also has good functions like APRS, which is pretty close to "lowjack for HAMs" so someone could potentially find you if they had to start looking. Stuck on a trail, incapacitated in a rollover, etc. You can also send small texts and emails, so you could use it as a SPOT type service as well.

    One thing I have noticed is being able to use a radio made a lot click for me. HAM isn't illegal to monitor without a license, so you can buy a radio and listen all you want. When I sat for my test, the graders were shocked I didn't already have a radio and familiarity.
     
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  7. May 7, 2018 at 11:04 AM
    #7
    DaveInDenver

    DaveInDenver Not Actually in Denver

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    To the FCC it's still the primary justification for the amateur service, to train a pool of operators who have the knowledge and ability to work in an emergency. FEMA throws money out to an organization and they go and buy the shopping list of recommended hardware but no one is given training or a maintenance budget for it. So it takes a major hurricane or wildfire for the Red Cross and sheriffs and SAR groups to realize that all this tinkering by the local ARES group actually was useful.
    APRS is something that even hams I think under utilize and holds a ton of potential for 4x4. I don't have a nearly well enough put together APRS station in my truck but it's proved super useful getting someone into camp after dark on a Friday night several times. Like you say, a middle-of-nowhere text - you can relay them via the ISS so there is literally coverage everywhere in the U.S. if you really need it.
     
    LMarshall73 [OP] and Gunshot-6A like this.
  8. May 7, 2018 at 11:20 AM
    #8
    Gunshot-6A

    Gunshot-6A In God We Trust; All Others We Monitor

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    Yeah, 3rd party utilization is something I don't really have much knowledge about, but I know we have some dangerously smart HAMs around the Salt Lake City area that are part of ARES groups.
     
  9. May 7, 2018 at 11:22 AM
    #9
    LMarshall73

    LMarshall73 [OP] Well-Known Member

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    I'm not really sure on antennas specific to GMRS. I just started really digging into it over the past week, but from what it looks like, due to frequency overlap, any antenna dual band HAM antenna looks like it would do the trick.

    One thing that got me going down this rabbit hole was looking at the offerings from Rugged Radios. Their units are (for the most part) pre-programmed, relabeled Baofengs. While they list their 5 watt dual band handheld for $68, it is essentially the same UV-5R that can be found on Amazon for less than $30. And RR's entry level mobile (the RM-25R) that they sell for $160 (full kit priced at $247 with coax and antenna) is nearly identical to the Juentai JT-6188 that is listed on Amazon for $67 (total kit with equivalent coax and antenna would cost under $100), with two exceptions - the mic on the RR unit does not include the keypad, and RR has modded the radio with a 5 pin headset output. One particular feature that I found that piqued my interest is headset compatibility. That brought me to the Talkcoop KT-8900D ($84 on Amazon) that has a plug and play 3.5mm headset jack on the back of the unit. It is limited to 20w on the UHF band, but the B-Tech Mini UV-25X2 pulls a full 25w on UHF and costs $115. There is also a 50w model (UV-50X2) for full transmit power, but no headset jack.

    https://www.ruggedradios.com/index....info&cPath=302_529_1134_1135&products_id=1274
    https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MZBQVCW/ref=psdc_912322_t2_B00KDNRSOK
    https://www.ruggedradios.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=296_26&products_id=1858
    https://www.amazon.com/Juentai-JT-6...rd_wg=ElWPt&psc=1&refRID=MPFG6E8Y7Y4R1N99FFMT
    https://www.amazon.com/TALKCOOP-KT-...coding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=WTJ5B49WHCHFGZPBA91E
    https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XD3CQ6...59&pd_rd_r=764F2Z9MW4DX9DAS23RX&pd_rd_w=tCn0J
     
  10. May 7, 2018 at 11:31 AM
    #10
    LMarshall73

    LMarshall73 [OP] Well-Known Member

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    Excellent points. Again, I'm simply looking for an alternative to CB. A lot of the HAM material is simply Greek to me. I don't see the benefit in memorizing spectrums for specific frequencies when you can keep a reference guide handy. Now, if we were talking thermodynamics or bio-technology, that would be a different story, but after about 8 years of reviewing the material, I still fail the practice tests any time I take one cold. Never mind that my work/travel schedule typically lands me with about 1-2 days off a month for 10 months out of the year and most of the exams I can find near me are in the afternoon on a weekday.

    I may eventually find the time for a cram session to take the Technician exam, but for now, I think GMRS might fit the bill.
     
  11. May 7, 2018 at 11:34 AM
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    Gunshot-6A

    Gunshot-6A In God We Trust; All Others We Monitor

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    Agreed. I am a firm believer that wrote memorization tests are and always have been bullshit. Esp when the data is scientific in nature that you could use a chart.

    Thankfully a lot of the tests administered here in UT are on Saturday mornings, and it is 4 hours of teacher cramming info into your head immediately followed by optional self study/the test.
     
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  12. May 7, 2018 at 11:39 AM
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    LMarshall73

    LMarshall73 [OP] Well-Known Member

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  13. May 7, 2018 at 11:40 AM
    #13
    ROCdermody

    ROCdermody Well-Known Member

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    Great thread. I had studied for about 3 mos for the technicians exam then found they rolled out a whole new pool of questions last month. Probably would still do ok, but I work Saturdays and getting into an exam is a pain. Any, moving to GMRS has been in the back of my mind for a few weeks now.
     
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  14. May 7, 2018 at 11:44 AM
    #14
    JdevTac

    JdevTac Bawnjourno

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    I run a Midland MXT400. Have messed with hitting the repeaters in GA. Talked to some guys all the way up in Chattanooga, TN from Columbus, GA, so I’ll call it a win for functionality. I actually wanted the Midland MXT115 but it apparently had horrible received issues so it was either the base 5watt unit or upgrade to the MXT400.

    It will automatically change power output based on Channels of course.

    Finding a good antenna took a little research. Ended up with a MaxRad for the GMRS band. Works very well after cutting it to tune.
     
  15. May 7, 2018 at 11:55 AM
    #15
    DaveInDenver

    DaveInDenver Not Actually in Denver

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    Keep in mind that the amateur test is presuming that you're going to actually be a ham. Even at the Tech level you're being given a lot of latitude with respect to the FCC. You are allowed to use up to 1,500 watt transmitters, given chunks of very valuable spectrum and a very major authority, which is to work on and even build your own radios. Every other service requires you to get a GROL ticket to actually work on radios.

    This appreciation is lost on a lot of users I think. The FCC is handing over a whole lot of authority and responsibility to you and they are in fact trusting that you're aren't going to use that to royal screw up cell phones and police radio systems. Using a few 2m FM channels is barely a tiny fraction of what you can do with amateur radio.
     
  16. May 7, 2018 at 12:20 PM
    #16
    LMarshall73

    LMarshall73 [OP] Well-Known Member

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    I understand that fully. My initial interest was due to working with NASA RallySport at Rally West Virginia in 2011 and Sandblast Rally in 2012. At RWV, I assisted in course setup and ended up sitting at the repeater van during the event. At SBR, I worked scoring and had to relay information via FRS to the scoring team down the road who then reported to race control via HAM. With rallies, most of the "best" assignments require a HAM ticket. I caught the bug, but never took the test. When I moved back to Florida it fell off of my list of priorities. I started looking again while planning for a trip to Moab. Ultimately, one of the reasons I am still looking at a HAM mobile unit is being able to reach out in the event of a legitimate emergency, as most trail communication can obviously be handled via CB.
     
  17. May 7, 2018 at 12:26 PM
    #17
    booted

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    As far as I know, you are only supposed to use radios that are certified for GMRS on the GMRS bands. And I'm pretty sure these radios aren't certified. They are pretty cool though.
     
  18. May 7, 2018 at 12:28 PM
    #18
    LMarshall73

    LMarshall73 [OP] Well-Known Member

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    Valid point
     
  19. May 7, 2018 at 1:31 PM
    #19
    LMarshall73

    LMarshall73 [OP] Well-Known Member

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    After a mind numbing review of the applicable CFRs (specifically 47 CFR 95.1761(c)) any radio that can transmit on frequencies other than GMRS frequencies cannot be utilized:
    Shit.
    Back to the drawing board.
     
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  20. May 7, 2018 at 1:39 PM
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    ROCdermody

    ROCdermody Well-Known Member

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    Honest curiosity - is that in any way similar to "you cannot drive faster than the posted speed limit"?
     
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