GMRS and FRS

BBQdave

Active Member
Aug 31, 2016
291
North Carolina
General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) and Family Radio Service (FRS) :)

Do you use these? What's your experience? CB radio guy from way back is curious about the new (to me) radio services. It is said GMRS is basically CB 2.0, though it is on a higher frequency - UHF. And GMRS requires a license, no test, just a fee. FRS no fee or license.

How's the transmission between GMRS and FRS while traveling the road, back roads and off road? Do you find this a valuable tool or just a fun toy?

Thanks for your thoughts :)

Edited for the usual, spelling :)
 

generok

Super Active Member
Gold Supporting Member
Feb 7, 2013
3,403
Anchorage, AK
I've owned FRS radios for a while... I seldom use them. They are handy when your spotter is giving commands on backing in if you don't have cell service at the CG. If you have kids out in the CG and you want to be able to call them back, it's not bad either. In AK it is unlawful to use radios when hunting, so the biggest use for them I have, I can't do.

Most folks I know in the military got theirs when they PCSd and had to caravan the cars to the next base. With hands free cell phone stuff these days, I doubt many still do it.
 

Anthony Hitchings

Super Active Member
Silver Supporting Member
Mar 2, 2019
3,675
Oakland, California
I had a CB when my kid had a sand rail - we used it tocommunicate. Sand rail is gone, my Radio Shack portable CB gets no use.

We had apair of FRS decades ago -and got rid of them pretty quickly - just not useful eough to bother with.

We use cell phones these days - AND - have a Garmin Inreach Mini in case we get in trouble in the back country.
 

kitphantom

Super Active Member
Platinum Supporting Member
Dec 26, 2009
13,660
Albuquerque, NM
I looked into them a few years back, and decided they wouldn't be a lot of use in the terrain we often hike and camp in. In the meantime, cell phone coverage has gotten better, though we know it is not a given. My husband has an inReach, which does mean I need to have cell phone reception on my end, or seek out it or WiFi. We finally solved the mystery of being able to send messages from my end to his, which proved very handy last October, when he and a friend had to hike out of Grand Canyon 2 days earlier than planned (& in a snowstorm, no less.)
 

McFlyfi

Super Active Member
Aug 1, 2014
808
Thousand Oaks CA
I've had about 4 pairs of these. We use them when fishing together as we will be near each other on the river but unable to communicate because of distance. I find them very helpful in this situation. The ones I use most are Motorola's that have both FRS and GMRS, and 4 different weather bands. We've also used them to communicate between vehicles on a caravan. You can use the scan feature and listen in on other people conversations...
 

Drufus

Member
Mar 19, 2020
55
I use gmrs mobile in the seattle area. There is a repeater out here that allows for clear communications for dozens of miles and between cities. The tower is on tiger mountain, the range is incredible. 50 freakin miles! Amazing!
WRFW583
 

BBQdave

Active Member
Aug 31, 2016
291
North Carolina
I've owned FRS radios for a while... If you have kids out in the CG and you want to be able to call them back, it's not bad either.
I've had about 4 pairs of these. We use them when fishing together as we will be near each other on the river but unable to communicate because of distance. I find them very helpful in this situation. The ones I use most are Motorola's that have both FRS and GMRS, and 4 different weather bands. We've also used them to communicate between vehicles on a caravan. You can use the scan feature and listen in on other people conversations...

Thanks all for the thoughts and comments. I'm a little red in the face to realize I have a pair of Motorola T5000 Talkabouts. Had them for years and did not realize the Walkie Talkies were FRS/GMRS. My apologies, I have experience with FRS/GMRS and did not realize it :)

Used them as described above, for campground and fishing communication, and hiking. My kids grew up with them, they weren't allowed to bicycle, hike, or fish with neighbor kids without the Talkabouts :)

A better question would be mobile vehicle FRS/GMRS units. Have you found use for that while traveling to a camp and out camping?

And McFlyfi, +1 for Motorola Talkabout. I've had these Walkie Talkies since before kids - late 90's or early 2000. Had a CB in a jeep for road communication, then used the Talkabouts at camp and hiking. These Motorola radios have been in use over 20 years :)
 

theseus

Living the Darkside...
Silver Supporting Member
Feb 6, 2007
3,498
Centerville, OH
GMRS allows for greater power and thus longer distance, in theory. In practice, both FRS and GMRS are line of sight FM radios. Put a mountain between you and it's not going to work well.

Motorola doesn't even indicate on the radios which channel is what type. That's buried in the manual in fine print. Given that, I doubt the FCC is really enforcing the licence fee.
 

Drufus

Member
Mar 19, 2020
55
You’re going to need license/ call sign if you want to use a repeater. For some of those you need permission to transmit. Monitoring is fine of course.
 

Wrenchgear

5 Star Eagle Camper
Aug 5, 2010
3,666
Near Elmira, Southern Ontario
I was a big time CB'er during the craze in the 1970's. Big President Madison base at home. That was a different lifetime ago.

When the kids were getting old enough to go to the beach by themselves at camping, I picked up a bunch of FRS radios, one for each family member. They worked great years ago, but hardly ever get used now because everyone has cell phones. We just phone each other. The problem with the phones is that you may not always have cell service, in which case the FRS will still work. So I always take enough FRS along for everyone to have one if needed. One set that I have though has weather frequencies in it. You can scan through about 8 weather bands to find National Weather Service broadcasts to see what might be coming your way. Again, thats helpful if you have no cell service. I do not have a mobile of any sort in the vehicles.
 

BBQdave

Active Member
Aug 31, 2016
291
North Carolina
Motorola doesn't even indicate on the radios which channel is what type. That's buried in the manual in fine print. Given that, I doubt the FCC is really enforcing the licence fee.
I agree with you on the non-enforcing :) Been using these Walkie Talkies for over 20 years, and I know the kids and I have not stayed in Channel 8 thru Channel 14 (FRS) and nothing happened. That said, now that I have re-educated myself :) I will get the GMRS license as I will most likely get the mobile FRS/GMRS radio.

I need to further research the proper use of the FRS/GMRS channels: Channel 1 thru Channel 7 - FRS/GMRS, Channel 8 thru Channel 14 - FRS, and Channel 15 thru Channel 22 - GMRS. Currently researching Channel 1 thru Channel 7 use, if it is based on power as in low power is FRS and high power is GMRS. I know Channels 8 - 14 (FRS) are low power. And Channels 15 - 22 (GMRS) are high power.

We had a couple of Motorola radios for years. One finally gave out and I got these
https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B091YLJ6CN/ref=ppx_yo_mob_b_track_package_o0_img?ie=UTF8&psc=1
very powerful for their size. We use them to stay in contact when I’m fishing away from camp. We never have cell service. I can also contact the NPS, FS and SAR in an emergency
I believe those newer Baofeng UV-5R5's are now compliant with FCC regulations. So you can monitor channels, but are unable to transmit in GMRS. Older models (in violation of FCC regulations) could transmit in GMRS. Baofeng became compliant after a lot of FCC nagging.
 

davido

Super Active Member
Jul 17, 2014
1,347
I use GMRS camping, skiing, hiking, and on road trips.

Get the license. It's $35 for ten years, covering the entire immediate family.

Current GMRS and FRS designations share all the same frequencies, except for the eight repeater input frequencies that some GMRS radios can utilize.

Channels 1-7 are limited to 5w for GMRS, or 2w for FRS.
Channels 8-14 are limited to 0.5w for any device regardless of GMRS or FRS.
Channels 15-22 are limited to 50w for GMRS, or 2w for FRS.

In practice, handheld GMRS radios will output less than 5w in high power mode. Usually it's between 2-4 watts. And of course they will only output 0.5w on channels 8-14. Mobile / base-station units will be limited to 5w in 1-7, and up to 50w in 15-22. Most mobile units I've seen cannot transmit on channels 8-14. That may be an FCC restriction.

Channels 15-22 operate on the same frequencies as the OUTPUT frequencies for GMRS repeaters. There are eight additional frequencies that serve as the INPUT frequencies for GMRS repeaters. GMRS radios will only transmit on those INPUT frequencies if they have repeater support. Most blister-pack radios do not support repeaters.

If you have a radio that does not support repeaters, you will still be able to use channels 15-22 for normal communications. You may hear repeater output on those frequencies, but won't be able to talk to people who are communicating using the repeaters.

There is currently no designation for channel use in GMRS or FRS. Any channel can be used for any legal use. Channel 1 is no different than channel 15, for example, in terms of its permitted use. Some time ago there was a recommendation that channel 20, using one of the CTCSS codes be the common channel for traveler aid communications. But this recommendation is not currently in effect, and nobody is monitoring any particular channel in an official capacity waiting to help out a stranded motorist.

Therefore, in selecting a channel, do so based on the properties you need.

Want lots of traffic? Channels 1-7 seem to be where it's at.

Want low-power communications between handhelds so your battery lasts a long time? Channels 8-14. These channels will be quieter (fewer people competing for using them), usually, since they're limited to 0.5w and typically only available in handheld devices. In reality a lot of people can be using them but the range radius is less due to the lower transmitting power. So you won't get as much interference from others using 8-14.

Want higher power for clearer communications in challenging environments? Channels 1-7 or 15-22.

Want somewhat less traffic than channels 1-7, and still need that higher power? Again, channels 15-22.

Want to communicate with someone who is operating a mobile radio, and need high power? 15-22 (your handheld will be 3-4 watts but the person operating the mobile unit could be 5-50 watts on these channels).

More power is not always better. More power runs your battery down more quickly. More power extends your range radius a little more. Do you need to be heard four miles away when you're just talking to someone on the other side of the same campground? If you're just talking around the campground, use lower power, and even maybe a channel that precludes high power. Bump up to a higher power channel and setting when you need it. Also, remember that UHF communications such as GMRS is "line of sight." A mountain will obscure 50 watts of transmitting power almost as effectively as it will obscure 5w. You get your best range when you're on a 10000 foot mountain peak talking to someone on another mountain peak with nothing between you. The rest of the time, you get substantially less range regardless of power setting.

When selecting a channel to use for the day, open up the monitor mode on that channel for a few minutes and listen for chatter. If it turns out to be a busy channel, or with a lot of repeater use, move on to a different one.

Once you've selected a lower-traffic channel that meets your power needs, select a CTCSS or DSC setting that will squelch out anyone not in your group. These are often called privacy codes or privacy tones, but those names misrepresent what they do. They really make it so that your radio's squelch only opens if the person transmitting is using the same channel and code as you. However, people using no code can still hear you. Your communications are NOT private. Therefore, don't go saying, "I left my credit card in the trailer at the XXXX campground. It's unlocked. Can you read me back my number?"

Once you've picked a channel and squelch code, you'll find that you get anywhere from about 1/2 mile to a dozen miles of range, depending on line of sight interruptions. I usually leave the radios all set to the same channel and code all the time, with the keypad locked. That way I can hand them out to the kids or others and they don't have to think about it.

If you are transmitting using a GMRS radio, you are required to state your callsign at the end of the first transmission, and again once every fifteen minutes of continuous transmission. Nobody ever seems to do that, except for people using repeaters, in my experience. But it's supposed to be done.

I use my GMRS radios (a few handheld, and one mobile unit in the car or trailer) a lot. They keep us from getting separated skiing, they help us coordinate multiple vehicles heading to the same camping areas, keep us in touch hiking, and so on. They're very handy, and they don't cost much.

A pair of GTX1030s from Midland costs under $70. A mobile base unit like the MXT275 is under $200 and transmits with 15w of power from your vehicle or trailer's power port. If you use repeaters, the Baofang models support those, and still cost around $60 for two. And if you're in a group you can bring some cheap-o FRS models to hand out to others, and as long as you're within a half mile or maybe a little more, they'll be able to talk to you also. Most GMRS handheld radios also pick up NOAA weather and weather alerts.

4x4 groups have mostly shifted to using GMRS (away from CB). Skiers, campers, hikers, motorists... a lot of people use them.

They will never get the 38 miles they're advertised to get on the blister packaging. That's a theoretical distance at which two people standing on mountain tops 38 miles apart with nothing between them would be able to decipher what the other person is transmitting. In real world conditions, you get a few blocks, up to a few miles, depending on terrain and obstructions. But that turns out to still be very convenient for a lot of uses.
 
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davido

Super Active Member
Jul 17, 2014
1,347
GMRS allows for greater power and thus longer distance, in theory. In practice, both FRS and GMRS are line of sight FM radios. Put a mountain between you and it's not going to work well.

Motorola doesn't even indicate on the radios which channel is what type. That's buried in the manual in fine print. Given that, I doubt the FCC is really enforcing the licence fee.

The FCC tends to go after nuisance abusers, not individuals who are politely using GMRS as it's intended, but failing to mention their call-sign (possibly because they don't have one). People who are being abusive are the ones who are at more risk. It's been a few years since the FCC went after a manufacturer for marketing GMRS equipment that violated the FCC guidelines. You'll be hard-pressed to find any example of the FCC going after a well mannered individual who is unlicensed and transmitting on GMRS frequencies at appropriate power levels with normal GMRS equipment.

This isn't an invitation to ignore the rules. I recommend getting a license. Why wouldn't you? It's $35 for ten years, covering an entire immediate family. And it takes a half hour to apply, no test, no documents needed. You get the license via email in a couple of days. Then you're legal. Sure, you're not going to get hunted down by the FCC for using GMRS on a hike without a license. But not everything in life is about whether or not you'll get caught. Think of it this way; by getting a license, the FCC knows that you're exercising your right to use those GMRS frequencies, which makes it even less likely for the FCC to ever reallocate them to some other purpose. Sometimes people argue that there is too much government regulation. This is an opportunity to voluntarily comply so that the use of GMRS frequencies doesn't get regulated away.

If you don't want to bother with a GMRS license, get an FRS radio. It will operate on all the same frequencies as GMRS, but with 2w/0.5w (lower power than GMRS). Your batteries will last longer. And no license is required. For a lot of people, that's just fine.
 




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