What is the de facto prepper ham radio? The Baofeng UV-5R radio. I know, I know – the purists within the ham radio community scoff, but there is a world of a difference between the ham radio community and the prepper community. There’s overlap, to be sure, but the two communities are not the same.
One is interested in staying alive during times of disaster, and the other is comprised of retired electrical engineers who are interested in talking about how many cups of coffee they drank that morning. They’re not the same.
- High / Low Power Settings (4W/1W) Programmable Amateur Radio
- Frequency Range: 65-108 Mhz (Only Commercial Fm Radio Reception) Vhf: 136-174 Mhz(Rx/Tx). Uhf: 400-520 Mhz(Rx/Tx)
Don’t listen to the naysayers here, though. The UV-5R is still a great tool to add to your communications toolbox. It can do a heck of a lot, and even though it’s not as high-quality of a radio as what ICOM or Yaesu puts out, it can still get the job done.
Yes, programming it can be a little frustrating, but I’ve written a Better Baofeng UV-5R Instruction Manual that spells out everything you are apt to encounter.
What are some of the things you need to know before you buy, though, so that you go into UV-5R ownership with realistic expectations? Let’s take a closer look…
Table of Contents
What Can You Do with a Baofeng UV-5R Radio?
Quick Note: 2018 was the year that Baofeng started creating neutered UV-5Rs.
For reasons that make no logical sense unless you consider sinister purposes, around 2018, the FCC started to get mad at the idea of people being able to use the radio spectrum and made it illegal for people to get Baofengs that could handle non-ham bands.
A good guide book, if you need supplemental reading, is The Guerrilla’s Guide to the Baofeng Radio.
- Scout, NC (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
To my knowledge, they specifically targeted Baofengs as well. You don’t see the same restrictions on a Yaesu handheld units or the like. But Baofengs are within the financial reach of the common man at $25 each, and I suppose that was a bad thing?
As a result, Baofeng began importing UV-5R units into the States that could only handle 2m and 70cm, greatly reducing the effectiveness of this tool.
1) You Can Apparently Listen to Russian/Ukraine Military Transmissions
You would quite literally have to be in Ukraine, be very close to the fighting, and have a pre-ban ‘feng for this, but there are numerous photographs that have come out of the Ukraine war of both sides of the fighting carrying Baofeng radios. They were sending out their military information over analog signals, unencrypted, in the clear.
It’s advisable to increase the range of your Baofeng by adding the optional 15.6″ antenna.
- Enhanced Signal Strength: The Nagoya NA-771 Dual Band Amateur Antenna offers a notable performance increase, with a gain of up to 3 dBi. This enhancement ensures a powerful boost to your radio's signal strength, providing clearer and more reliable communication.
- Rugged and Flexible Design: Ideal for outdoor enthusiasts, this 15.6-inch standard whip antenna is crafted to withstand the challenges of nature. Its soft yet durable flexibility makes it far superior to OEM radio antennas, perfect for outdoor and camping activities.
For modern conventional forces, that’s both unheard of and stupid. However, let this point to you just how versatile of a tool this is.
(For what it’s worth, Russian ground forces use 30-108 MHz as their operating frequencies.)
2) You Can Triangulate Where an Analog Ham Signal is Coming From
Honestly, you can do this with any ham radio – you just need a directional antenna hooked up to it, a map, a compass, and a wee bit of time on your side. But the fact that you can do it with a $25 radio is pretty cool.
- This UHF 400-470MHz antenna features a 7 dBi signal with up to 50W of power; with UHF-F Connector; In the 430-440 MHz band it will have best communication;coaxial cable is not included
- Aluminum alloy material; rugged construction allows for withstanding tough outdoor conditions; light weight for handheld use
You can make your own directional antennas for pretty cheap, but it’s a lot less work to pick up a portable Arrow Yagi antenna that will work with your UV-5R.
3) You Can Get a Survival Retreat Farm Squared Away Comms-Wise for $100
Have a big homestead that you want to be able to protect post-collapse? $100 will get you four UV-5R units so that you can have a good comms plan in place to monitor your property, call for help, and the like. If you tried to do that with ICOM or Yaesu, you’re talking about potentially spending over a grand easy.
Get extra range without giving away your prepping habits by incorporating a stealth antenna in your home or retreat.
4) You Can Experiment with Ham Radio without Breaking the Bank
Just got your license but worried that you may not enjoy the hobby of ham radio? At $25 per unit, this is an easy way to dip your toes into the water to make sure that you actually enjoy talking with others via radio wave without dropping a grand on equipment.
If you want to know how to program your UV-5R, check out this guide I wrote up on how to use CHIRP.
5) You Can Equip All Vehicles with an Emergency Comms Source for Just $25
If you don’t have the money to drop into a mobile radio rig for each of your vehicles, but still want to have some form of emergency comms available for your family in the event of some type of major disaster, again, it’s hard to beat $25/unit.
The whole pre-ban radio and ham license requirements talk comes into the conversation here again, but if we’re talking about a true WROL situation, there is no law, so anything goes. That way, if your wife is at the store and your son is at basketball practice when the doo doo hits the fan (e.g., Perhaps cell phone towers have been taken down?) you’ll still be able to contact each other to figure out where everybody is, how they are doing, and so on.
6) You Can Send Out Your GPS Coordinates
If you’re in some type of situation where you need somebody else to know exactly where you are at, then you may want to give them your GPS coordinates. You can do that through ham radio with a program called APRS – Automatic Packet Reporting System.
Keep in mind that if you’re doing this, anybody else who is looking for this information can find and use it. So, if you’re in a collapse situation where GPS is still functioning and you broadcast out your coordinates, you could potentially end up in a situation where somebody else finds out where you are at and gets there before your friends do.
Want to learn how to set up APRS on your UV-5R? Check out the below video. You are going to need a special cable and either a tablet, smartphone, or computer to do this.
7) You Can Use It Hands-Free
I don’t really recommend this, but it is possible. In the world of radio, there’s a feature called ‘VOX.’ This basically means you can simply talk to your radio, and it will detect somebody is talking and send out a transmission. Of course, you could end up sending a transmission you have no intention of sending by doing this.
A potential use here would be if you have VOX headsets and you’re communicating with some buddies on your homestead post-collapse as you coordinate a plan of action. Let’s say a hostile force is moving through and you want to keep both your hands free.
It’s a possibility here, but again, I wouldn’t entirely recommend this feature.
8) You Can Put It in Your Pocket Without Anybody Knowing About It
If you’re in a situation where you need to EDC a radio, but can’t carry a bag, you could use a UV-5R in this situation. You are going to have to disassemble the components, though. Take the battery out (which is easy) and unscrew the antenna.
Put the antenna and battery in one pocket and the radio proper in another. You now have a radio on your person that can be assembled in less than 30 seconds, and that won’t leave a huge signature like many bulkier HT units will.
If you don’t take the battery out, the radio will turn on in your pocket and there is a very good chance you will end up making an accidental transmission.
Can a Baofeng Listen to Police?
It depends on whether you have a pre-2018 model or a post-2018 model. If you end up buying your Baofeng UV-5R at your local ham radio festival, you’re likely picking up an older model. Pre-2018 will allow you to listen to police frequencies.
But there is a caveat. Most police departments within the United States now use digital mode radios and some form of encryption. The police that still use analog radio signals in the clear where literally everybody can listen to them are few and far in between.
If you live in an area where your local police use analog signals (and you can use RadioReference.com to find out) and you have a pre-2018 model UV-5R, then yes, you can listen to police.
Otherwise, the answer is no.
How Do You Jailbreak a Baofeng?
“Jailbreaking” a radio simply means that you make it so that you can send or receive on the full spectrum of what the radio can pick up. People do this themselves if they’re handy with electronics and a soldering gun.
If you’re not, you can send your Baofeng off to Gigaparts.com and ask for it to be MARS/CAPped. They’ll jailbreak your Baofeng for about $35.
How Can I Boost My Baofeng Signal?
There are three main things that you can do to get your transmission out further with a UV-5R. You can bump up the operating power level, you can get up higher, or you can use a better antenna.
A UV-5R has three power levels: low, medium, and high. If you put your Baofeng on high power, you’ll push the signal out further than you would otherwise.
Height is a big deal here as well. These radios operate line-of-sight. They need to “see” each other. If you can get up high enough – like on a really tall building or mountaintop – you’ll increase how far your radio can “see.”
Lastly, getting a better antenna will help immensely. The stock antenna that comes with a UV-5R is junk. When you buy your unit, buy another antenna as well. I can receive okay with the stock antenna, but I can’t transmit well at all.
Learn how to build a jungle antenna. Buy a whip antenna. Get yourself set up with a roll up J-pole. Pick up an inexpensive Yagi. All of these are means that will get your message out further and allow you to hear from further away.
How Far Will 8 Watts Transmit?
As usual, ‘it depends’ is the real answer here. And what things really depend on here is line-of-sight and the type of antenna that you’re using. Of course, the weather, nearby foliage, the frequency used – these all matter as well.
Want to know how far an 8-watt UV-5R will transmit in your area? Get out with a couple of buddies and experiment. If everybody has maps and knows where everybody else is, a drawing can begin to be made to figure out what the expected range is with your 8W UV-5R in your immediate locale.
What Happens if You Transmit On a Ham Radio Without a License?
If you transmit on a ham radio without a license the old men in your community will team up to hunt you down. Quite literally. Old hams refer to this as a “fox hunt.” They are fiercely protective of the government’s ownership of the ham radio spectrum and patrol, hunt, and turn in those who they find without a ham radio license operating equipment.
They do this via triangulation and they can figure out where the signal is coming from (you) by doing so. This can either give them your address – which they’ll promptly turn into the government along with a recording of your transmission – or they’ll know where your vehicle was and local street cameras or your phone will be used to determine who was at that position at that time.
Then, the FCC will either fine you heavily (in some cases, I’ve heard of up to $10,000) or throw you in jail.
Can I Use a Baofeng As a Walkie Talkie?
We’ll assume that walkie-talkie is being used in reference to FRS/GMRS/MURS frequencies. Legally speaking, no, you cannot use any of those frequencies with a radio that has a detachable antenna. Don’t ask me why. I’ve still not been able to wrap my head around the logic of it. A UV-5R has a detachable antenna, and, therefore, it’s illegal to transmit on these frequencies with it.
That said, it is entirely possible to transmit on and receive FRS/GMRS/MURS frequencies with a UV-5R, provided it is a pre-2018 model.
What is the Most Powerful Baofeng Radio?
To my knowledge, this is the BF-F8HP. It’s an 8-watt Baofeng handheld radio, and I’ve yet to find any other Baofeng units out there that have a higher watt capacity. If you’re looking for as much power as possible from Baofeng, this is where to find it.
Want to dig further into what your Baofeng can do for you? Some people have found the following book helpful, though none of use have read it.
- Biddle, Rodney Ellis (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
What are your thoughts on the Baofeng radio? Are there tips or tricks we missed? Share ’em in the comments section.