BaoFeng Range: Hundreds of Miles or?39 min read

Written by Brent Davidson

October 29, 2022

BaoFeng Radio - Master Prepper

In our internet travels, we occasionally encounter preppers purchasing pairs of BaoFeng handi-talkies for themselves and their far-flung loved ones, believing they would be able to communicate over hundreds of miles in the event of a grid-down. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. The BaoFeng’s range is nothing near that.

Yes, the popular BaoFengs are amateur (ham) radios, and with the proper ham radio, you can converse over hundreds of kilometers. However, BaoFeng handi-talkies are not suitable for long-distance communication. So, before you embark on any preparation plans using one of these gadgets, you should understand what they can and cannot accomplish, as well as why.

HF is only a minor part of what amateur radio is, and it’s a rather restricted club, at least in the United States. To make extensive use of HF, you will need two FCC amateur radio licenses: Technician, which is the entry-level license, and General, which is the mid-level license.

Here’s what you should know about BaoFeng radios:

  1. BaoFengs operate in the very high frequency (VHF) and ultra-high frequency (UHF) bands of the electromagnetic spectrum, which are limited by topography and can only travel one to ten miles under most typical situations.
  2. A high-powered, high-frequency (HF) radio and a General license are required to make contacts hundreds of miles away.
  3. Under perfect conditions and with a few twists and changes, a BaoFeng handi-talkie using VHF can go up to 30 miles.

Not all amateur radio (ham) is the same:

It’s easy to see how people become perplexed by the BaoFeng’s range. When you think about amateur radio, you generally see a middle-aged man in a hut with a table of electronic equipment and a large desk microphone, communicating with people all over the world. That is high frequency, or HF, communication, which occurs between 3 and 30 MHz.

But HF is only a minor part of what amateur radio is, and it’s a rather restricted club, at least in the United States. To make extensive use of HF, you will need two FCC amateur radio licenses: Technician, which is the entry-level license, and General, which is the mid-level license.

If you simply have the entry-level Technician license, you’re primarily limited to the Very High Frequency (VHF) and Ultra High Frequency (UHF) frequencies that your BaoFeng employs.

What is the distinction between VHF/UHF and HF? Longer electromagnetic waves go large distances in HF. HF waves may also bounce off the earth’s ionosphere, which allows them to spread all over the planet. This is known as skywave propagation.

Ionospheric skywave propagation

Image Source Credit: RF Cafe

VHF and UHF have properties that are diametrically opposed to those of HF. Such stations must have a clear passage between them, with no substantial obstacles in the way. Because VHF has the largest range, I’ll concentrate on it from now on.

Output power is a particular difficulty for portable radios such as most BaoFengs. BaoFeng handi-talkies are often rated at 5-8 watts, while the actual power is lower. Most HF radios broadcast at 100 watts, whereas many mobile VHF radios transmit at 50-75 watts.

Don’t get taken in by smart YouTube videos about long range radios or more specifically BaoFeng radios

You could come across films like this one: “Baofeng UV-5R ham radio, talking from Atlanta to Seattle” and be persuaded to believe that a BaoFeng can travel such long distances on its own.

To be clear, the man in the video is not attempting to deceive. He utilizes an internet-based technology called EchoLink to extend the range of his radio, as he describes later in the video. He broadcasts to an EchoLink-connected repeater in Atlanta, and the signal goes through the internet to an EchoLink repeater in Seattle, where it is broadcast over the air to the other end of the nation.

You don’t even need a radio to experiment with this. As long as you have a Technician license and internet connectivity, you may utilize free applications for iPhone and Android.

EchoLink is a cool invention, but it relies on the internet, which negates the point of ham radio for grid-down readiness. You may save money on radios by using an app like Zello.

Other methods, such as tropospheric ducting or signal bouncing off satellites, can send VHF/UHF transmissions far further than normal. However, both of these are conditional and may not always be feasible. Those are all important aspects to be aware of, but while developing an off-grid communications strategy with loved ones, we want to focus on simplicity and dependability.

Height is essential for communication

How might we overcome these constraints without relying on the grid? Other than purchasing a new radio, there isn’t much we can do regarding power, but there are a handful of other things we can tweak. Height is the most crucial of them.

I reside in a valley distant from cities, and even with my greatest antenna—a truck-mounted Nagoya UT-72—I can only hear a few repeaters. But if I ascend the steep hill behind my house, which boosts my elevation by roughly 60 feet, an entirely new world of communications opens up, even with the crappy stock BaoFeng antenna. I’m able to reach repeaters up to 34 miles distant.

Height is essential for good VHF/UHF communications. That is why repeater towers are built at high altitudes and as high as feasible.

You may assume that a longer antenna would be beneficial, but it isn’t. On the hill, I’ve tried various antennas, and none of them are noticeably better than the original one. My longer whip antennas, such as the Nagoya NA-771, perform slightly better, and if I could get my slim-jim antenna high up in a tree to increase elevation, it would probably assist even more, but the most bulk of the gain comes from just hiking up the hill.

Long-distance solutions that are realistic Communications by BaoFeng

Let’s return to your initial issue: long-distance communication in a grid-down situation. Obviously, the telephone, internet, and satellite are your first and best alternatives for crisis communications. Even in the midst of major calamities and civil conflicts, these services normally continue to function – satellites, in particular, will continue to function even after most end-of-the-world scenarios. But we’ll stick with the BaoFeng walkie-talkies for now.

If your definition of “long-distance communications” is less than 30 miles, then the two-way VHF/UHF BaoFengs will work. The essential factors are wattage and elevation, both of which will need some trial and error with your communication partners. As with any troubleshooting, begin with the simplest and cheapest solutions and work your way up.

Begin by attempting to converse normally with your BaoFengs. It is advantageous to have a backup mode of communication, such as a phone. If it doesn’t work, try having one party increase their elevation and then another. If elevation doesn’t cure the problem, you’ll have to spend money on more powerful radios, such as the Yaesu FTM-3100R, which can broadcast at up to 65 watts.

BaoFeng Radios by Master Prepper
Long Range Communications Radios by BaoFeng
BaoFeng Long Range Communications Radios

Frequently Asked Questions About BaoFeng

How Far Can A BaoFeng Reach?

BaoFengs operate in the very high frequency (VHF) and ultra-high frequency (UHF) bands of the electromagnetic spectrum, which are limited by topography and can only travel one to ten miles under normal conditions.

Which BaoFeng Radio Has The Longest Range?

This item BAOFENG UV-5R+ Plus Two Way Radio, Long Range for Adults Rechargeable with Earpiece, Walkie Talkie for Outdoors, 144-148 420-450MHz, Qualette Series has the longest range of all BaoFeng radios.

What Is The Range On A BaoFeng Walkie-Talkie?

The range of long-distance walkie-talkie communication is heavily influenced by geography. In regions where there are no impediments, walkie-talkies can communicate for up to 5 kilometers or 3.1 miles (such as at sea).

How Far Will 5 Watts Transmit?

The 5 watt radio has a range of 12 miles or more. Some portable radios have 6 watts of power and can reach up to 20 miles under ideal conditions.

Can I Use A BaoFeng As A Marine Radio?

Not only can I use the ham bands, but the radio can also be set to use MURS and Marine bands. There is no FCC certification for these two bands, but we all know that in an emergency, you utilize whatever you have. So I have MURS and numerous Marine frequencies set into my radio.

What Handheld Ham Radio Has The Longest Range?

The Yaesu FT-60R Dual Band claims to have the longest range on the market. The maximum output power of this portable Ham Radio is 5 watts. It has a VHF frequency range of 144 to 148 and a UHF frequency range of 430 to 470. It is an excellent HT for anyone looking for consistent performance on the 2M and 440 ham bands.

Is A BaoFeng A Ham Radio?

The Baofeng UV-5R is a low-cost Dual Band UHF/VHF Amateur Radio with a small footprint. The UV-5R is a fantastic alternative for ham radio operators that need mobility at a reasonable cost, with 128 channel capability and up to 12 hours of battery life.

How Can I Increase The Range Of My Ham Radio?

An extension, repeater, or booster can be used to extend radio range. Radio antenna boosters and extenders not only enhance your communication range, but they also give clearer sound quality for ease of connection.

How Can I Make My Walkie Talkie Signal Stronger?
  1. Enhance the antenna – Larger antennas can extend the range of a two-way radio.
  2. Use a repeater – Signal repeaters can help you increase the range of your signal.
  3. Check your batteries – Low battery strength might affect the strength of your radio transmission.
Which BaoFeng Antenna Is Best?
  1. Mirkit 18.7-inch Foldable Tactical Antenna.
  2. Dual Band VHF UHF SMA-F Antenna Retevis RHD-771 2 Way Radio Antenna Extension.
  3. Dual Band UV VHF/UHF 144/430Mhz Antennas SMA-F Walkie Talkie Antenna 15.6-Inch Whip
How Far Is 400 - 470 MHz Range?

Thus, with a 400 MHz frequency range and 1 Watt transmitter power, typical ranges are up to 30 kilometers and up to 80 kilometers with a 10 Watt transmitter power.

Is VHF Or UHF Better?

Because VHF uses lower frequencies, interference with other radios is common. UHF, on the other hand, is a better signal for long-distance communication in general. When utilizing radios indoors, such as in buildings or near cities, UHF is preferable.

Does BaoFeng Use VHF?

The BaoFeng UV-5R is a small handheld transceiver with a power output of 4 watts and frequency ranges of 136-174 MHz and 400-480 MHz (520MHz later versions). It is a small, low-cost HT with a specific VHF receiving spectrum from 65 to 108 MHz, which includes the usual FM broadcast frequency.

Can I Use A BaoFeng As A Walkie-Talkie?

The Baofeng UV-5R is dual band and most definitely covers MURS, making it a viable alternative if you want a commercial “walkie-talkie” that can communicate with an amateur radio. If you must use FRS/GMRS, it is also OK; FRS is also license-free (but GMRS is not).

Which Is Better, The BaoFeng UV-5R or BaoFeng UV 82?

The 82 feels more comfortable in your hand. The body appears to be more resistant to inadvertent touch with the elements than the UV-5R, although it is not waterproof. It also has less sharp edges that might grab on objects. The 82 is roughly 1″ taller than the UV-5R (body only).

Is It Illegal To Own A BaoFeng UV-5R?

While it is true that many Baofengs are wide open on any frequency in the 136–174Mhz and 400–520Mhz ranges, and that it is illegal to import, market, and sell these devices, it is not illegal to own or operate these devices if you are a licensed Amateur radio operator operating solely on amateur radio frequencies.

How To Extend The Range On A BaoFeng

If your definition of “long-distance communications” is less than 30 miles, then the two-way VHF/UHF BaoFengs will work.

The essential factors are wattage and elevation, both of which will need some trial and error with your communication partners. As with any troubleshooting, begin with the simplest and cheapest solutions and work your way up.

Begin by attempting to converse normally with your BaoFengs. It is advantageous to have a backup mode of communication, such as a phone. If it doesn’t work, try having one party increase their elevation and then another. If elevation doesn’t cure the problem, you’ll have to spend money on more powerful radios, such as the Yaesu FTM-3100R, which can broadcast at up to 65 watts.

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