3 watt versus 5 watt handheld UHF for emergencies

Submitted: Sunday, May 11, 2014 at 18:54
ThreadID: 107728 Views:9862 Replies:18 FollowUps:20
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Hi

I'm looking for affordable options for a UHF radio for emergencies. I have a PLB (personal locator beacon) if something goes horribly wrong, but would like a way of making contact with fellow travelers if we run out of fuel, get bogged, have a flat etc.

Is a handheld UHF worth considering, or is the range significantly worse than in-car systems? Cost is the main reason for looking at handhelds (rather than portability).

Also how much better range will I get with a 5 watt rather than a 3 watt radio? I'm looking at GME handhelds on the Prestige web site. They have a high gain antenna for the handheld I'm considering, and wondered whether this was a worthwhile compromise as compared with the purchase and installation cost for an in car radio.

Apologies if these are all naive questions. I really have no idea.

Thanks for any help.

Peter
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Reply By: Ross M - Sunday, May 11, 2014 at 19:24

Sunday, May 11, 2014 at 19:24
A 3 watt radio is ok for help from a few caravans away, but the nature of an emergency, to me, means you have a 5 watt unit and not a 3 watt.
A similar concept is signalling for help with a small torch or a spotlight. I know which one I would choose for effectiveness.

I recently purchased a GME TX6150 80ch, and that with an adapter from Jaycar, it can also be used to feed the coax of a car aerial system. BEST on Roof and not on Bullbar. Then you will have far better performance, comparable to an in dash unit.
The TX6150 only comes with a short antennae, possibly longer, higher gain models available later for purely hand held use. There are other radios but are dearer, maybe better too.

I have 2 old TX6000 40ch units and they can trigger an outback repeater at 70km.
In flat country they have, with a higher gain antennae, talked through a repeater 100km away. So, I would leave the 3 watt.

If space provides, a beam antennae will concentrate your signal if help is needed. Just aim at a station repeater, maps of all repeaters are available and handy to have with you.
GPS will give the direction/bearing and aim and shoot.

It is radio and sometimes effectiveness is far less and other times greater. Who knows which applies where?

Best ever was a call from Kingscote KI to Ardrossan up the Spencer Gulf 140km, but over water.

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Follow Up By: P_Young - Monday, May 12, 2014 at 06:34

Monday, May 12, 2014 at 06:34
Thanks Ross for your help
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Reply By: mikehzz - Sunday, May 11, 2014 at 19:29

Sunday, May 11, 2014 at 19:29
I've got a 5 watt handheld that I use in 2 cars. It works heaps better if you screw an external aerial onto it. To be honest I wouldn't be relying on uhf for much to do with emergencies. It's a bit hit and miss whether you can make contact with anyone in a position to be helpful. They are great for inter car communication in things like a convoy situation and not much else....in my opinion of course. :-). Others may disagree entirely.
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Follow Up By: garrycol - Sunday, May 11, 2014 at 20:23

Sunday, May 11, 2014 at 20:23
I agree - do not rely on any UHF radio for emergencies - I have two cheap portable Chinese $80 5w 80channel UHF radios and they are more than a match for their highly fancied and high priced competitors - and these can be connected to an external aerial for good range - though the standard aerial is quite good.
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Follow Up By: P_Young - Monday, May 12, 2014 at 06:35

Monday, May 12, 2014 at 06:35
Thanks Mike. This thread has helped me think through whether a UHF radio is going to meet my need for one more option if I get stuck.
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Reply By: Idler Chris - Sunday, May 11, 2014 at 21:27

Sunday, May 11, 2014 at 21:27
I fail to understand how people can use words such as "affordable" when considering their personal safety. To me its a no brainer, if I cannot afford the equipment to keep me safe then I do not go. A PLB if fine but should you use one you are potentially asking someone else to their life at risk to save you. People travelling remote areas by themselves is asking for trouble. As for running out of fuel, if you cannot plan a trip that ensures you do not run out of fuel then do not go as you do not have enough experience. Suggest you join a 4WD Club.
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Follow Up By: Member - Mark (Tamworth NSW) - Sunday, May 11, 2014 at 21:59

Sunday, May 11, 2014 at 21:59
Sorry Chris I really find your answer contradictory and insulting to the OP and not in the spirit of the EO forum.

Looking at you "signature", you are at a remote location on one of Len Beadell's roads, I don't doubt you were well prepared.
I understand Emergency Services want people in remote areas to have PLBs. If someone has one, it normally stands to reason they are well prepared. PLBs reduce risk to the "rescuer" not increase it.

You criticize people for going to remote places unprepared, but the OP is asking all the right questions for someone who seems to want to be well prepared.

Your statement "People travelling remote areas by themselves is asking for trouble", seems to cover Len Beadell himself as well as a lot of members of EO doesn't it?

Mark
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Follow Up By: garrycol - Sunday, May 11, 2014 at 22:58

Sunday, May 11, 2014 at 22:58
I agree - a lot of unnecessary crap - coming to conclusions based on nothing.

Try focussing on what was asked and just provide a relevant response.
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Follow Up By: P_Young - Monday, May 12, 2014 at 06:40

Monday, May 12, 2014 at 06:40
Thanks Chris. My goal is to not have to use a plb unless absolutely necessary - hence the need for other options. I'm certainly not planning on going to remote locations at this stage. As for running out of fuel - I wish I had your optimism that every situation could be planned for. Cheers
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Reply By: Bazooka - Sunday, May 11, 2014 at 21:52

Sunday, May 11, 2014 at 21:52
First up - 5 watt. Safety necessity? Maybe not but they're so versatile I'd recommend them to anyone who travels extensively. While they're useful devices for communicating with others on every day matters (traffic etc) on top of that you can use them to ask other travellers for advice on pretty much anything - cheap fuel, good eating, that sort of thing. No guarantee you'll get an answer of course. And if you're travelling with friends then they're both fun and extremely useful - eg lead truck advises on wildlife, good views, oncoming traffic, etc etc.

In-car is fairly straightforward to install yourself depending on your vehicle and willingness but get what suits your wallet best. A good portable will do almost as well in most situations.
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Follow Up By: P_Young - Monday, May 12, 2014 at 06:42

Monday, May 12, 2014 at 06:42
Thanks. Yes it seems like the benefits might be less for emergencies and more for advice etc. Cheers
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Reply By: AlbyNSW - Sunday, May 11, 2014 at 22:17

Sunday, May 11, 2014 at 22:17
Peter there are some GME car kits that plug into your cigarette lighter for power and have a rooftop magnetic ariel, I have seen them on the site you are looking at.
I suspect you will get a better result with one of those and there are not installation costs
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Follow Up By: P_Young - Monday, May 12, 2014 at 06:43

Monday, May 12, 2014 at 06:43
Thanks Alby. I did see that plug and play kit. I'll go back and have another look. Cheers
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Reply By: Echucan Bob - Sunday, May 11, 2014 at 22:44

Sunday, May 11, 2014 at 22:44
Pete

UHF is for short range car to car or car to walker comms and not much use in an emergency. The range is line of sight and 3 or 5 watts makes little difference.

If you are off the beaten track and need to communicate an emergent need for assistance there are a number of options. The cheapest is probably the Spot system. Next would be an Epirb, which is of limited use but very reliable (of most use to sailors rather than terrestrial adventurers) and will call out the troops who will not be impressed if you have just run out of fuel. Next would be the satphone, and lastly, HF radio. Each of these connects you by satellite or HF (long range but a bit variable), to a central coordinator who can rescue you.

If I were you I'd go HF or satphone. Personally I have UHF, VHF, satphone, Spot and HF. I sold my Epirb as I couldn't even test it. There is a chapter in DSM V about me and my gadgetry.

Bob
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Follow Up By: P_Young - Monday, May 12, 2014 at 06:49

Monday, May 12, 2014 at 06:49
Thanks Bob. That's very helpful. The Spot system might be the compromise I need. The issue for me is getting the right message to the right person. My PLB will send the message "life at risk" plus location to emergency services, but more likely is the need to send message "car needs towing" to a nearby mechanic (via a family member). As I said above, I'm not going to very remote places (I think a sat phone would be the go then). The first trip is just across the Plenty Hwy. Thanks again.
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Reply By: MEMBER - Darian, SA - Sunday, May 11, 2014 at 23:07

Sunday, May 11, 2014 at 23:07
I agree with the stance taken by others that UHF shouldn't be relied on for solving emergencies. Its far better to be able discuss your predicament with an appropriate authority, via long distance HF or with a satphone. It seems the epirb comes into play when all other tactics have been exhausted (or neglected)....and you can't tell anyone what your problem is. BTW...you can get a satphone at present for $500 and $15 / month service. You'll probably never need it so call costs wont be an issue :-).
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Follow Up By: P_Young - Monday, May 12, 2014 at 06:51

Monday, May 12, 2014 at 06:51
Thanks. I'll definitely price sat phones. Cheers
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Reply By: Batt's - Monday, May 12, 2014 at 00:18

Monday, May 12, 2014 at 00:18
5 watt would be the better option for range between you and the others in the convoy. If it is just a one of trip don't spend too much but if it's for the long term buy a reputable brand GME, Uniden etc Batteries usually don't last a long time so look for one with a rechargeable battery make sure you can charge it in car and a low power option is a good feature as well. I don't know if it's available but it would be handy to be able to use it while it is charging in the car.
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Follow Up By: P_Young - Monday, May 12, 2014 at 06:53

Monday, May 12, 2014 at 06:53
Thanks. Yes have been looking at gme brand with in car charger. Thanks for your help
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Reply By: Motherhen - Monday, May 12, 2014 at 00:31

Monday, May 12, 2014 at 00:31
Hi Peter

While having a UHF, even a hand held, is advisable for road travel and essential in some areas, if you have an emergency in an area a UHF would be helpful, you could probably walk out and flag down the next car going past.

If you are going remote, a satellite phone is the best choice. When we had a breakdown, nothing but a satellite phone could have helped. We had to phone for parts and arrange a pick up point, and check when they had arrived. Due to some poor business by the courier, we were making phone calls daily for two weeks, eventually having to get a replace consignment sent. We were also able to advise family that we were OK and that they would not be able to reach us by mobile phone or internet for some time.

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Follow Up By: P_Young - Monday, May 12, 2014 at 06:55

Monday, May 12, 2014 at 06:55
Thanks. Real life scenarios are very helpful in terms of thinking this through. As you say, having a two way conversation with the right person makes problem solving much more possible. Much appreciated
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Reply By: Member - Boobook - Monday, May 12, 2014 at 05:39

Monday, May 12, 2014 at 05:39
Any communications you may have is better than none.

If you want your CB for emergency use though, then a hand held, 3 or 5 watt will generally be of little use unless you are very lucky. Also you need to know how to use repeaters. If you can find a repeater then you can increase your range to 40 - 50 km, again if you have an emergency in the right spot with help within line of sight.

The range of a CB is all about the antenna. You will need a good roof mounted medium to high gain antenna antenna with a 3 - 5 watt hand held or car unit and even then a CB will only help you in the right circumstances. That would be a minimum spec for emergency use. But it should be considered a secondary last resort system.

Your EPIRB is enough at a push.

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Reply By: P_Young - Monday, May 12, 2014 at 06:56

Monday, May 12, 2014 at 06:56
Thanks. This discussion has helped enormously. Cheere
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Reply By: P_Young - Monday, May 12, 2014 at 07:03

Monday, May 12, 2014 at 07:03
Thanks everyone for your help with this. I think by talking, and now feel a lot clearer about this issue - much more helpful than ideas spinning around in my head.

It seems like UHF might be an option in an emergency, but I'd have to be lucky. However it also sounds like UHF would have other benefits in terms of advice from other travellers, which might help avoid some problems.

The best option if I'm really stuck sounds like the one that allows two way communication with the right person (mechanic, spare parts supplier etc), and a sat phone sounds like my best option there.

The next best option would be to get a more detailed message than my PLB will deliver to a specific person. The Spot system might be the best option in that case (more research needed).

Thanks again. Nice to have a community to talk this through with.

Cheers

Peter
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Follow Up By: mikehzz - Monday, May 12, 2014 at 07:35

Monday, May 12, 2014 at 07:35
I thought the Spot system was only one way...outbound. You can't receive messages. It may have changed. And you still have to subscribe to a service. Honestly, a satphone is a great tool and not that expensive anymore.
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Follow Up By: P_Young - Monday, May 12, 2014 at 09:14

Monday, May 12, 2014 at 09:14
Yes that's what I'm assuming. As I say - the next best option (for me) after a sat phone because of the one way nature of the communication. I've had a quick look for sat phones. They seem a lot cheaper than they used to be, but still fairly expensive.
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Reply By: The Landy - Monday, May 12, 2014 at 08:54

Monday, May 12, 2014 at 08:54
Hi Peter

It looks like this is well covered with the responses received to date.

If your prime aim is to have a device for emergency communications, and by that I mean two-way communications of some kind, then the Sat-phone is most likely your best option as you can call someone, outline your situation and work from there.

Whilst the UHF radio is useful for general vehicle-to-vehicle communications, it is unlikely to reliably provide the level of cover you are looking for in an emergency, or at a time when assistance is required. In the very least, if you decide to go this way ensure you become conversant with UHF operations in conjunction with repeater stations.

Of course, other options are available, such as HF Radio, a very useful piece of communication equipment, however entry price is higher than Sat-phone, and if you are budget conscious I’d be going down the Sat-phone route first.

Spot is also good, and it can send a “need help at current location” message to pre-populated SMS and email addresses. However, the limitation is you can’t elaborate on the problem you have.

By all means, have UHF for general communications, but do not rely on it for emergency communications.

And a general comment on PLB’s. I think they are an important addition for remote travellers, and remote could be anywhere, possibly within 50 kilometres of a major city.

And whilst they are a “last line of defence” device do not hesitate to use it if you feel a situation is developing into something that might become life threatening at some stage. There is often a lot of commentary about the risks to others if used (rescuers etc.) but the worst thing that can ever happen is someone perishes with a PLB device in the vehicle that was never activated, simply because the user was concerned about the repercussions of activating it…don’t die wondering whether it should have been used!

Good luck and enjoy your travels!
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Follow Up By: P_Young - Monday, May 12, 2014 at 09:17

Monday, May 12, 2014 at 09:17
Thanks. I bought my PLB for my daughter when she did a big trip by herself. It was surprisingly cheap for the peace of mind provided.

I think you've summed up my thinking after this very helpful conversation. Off to do some research on Spot and satellite phones

Cheers
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Follow Up By: AlbyNSW - Monday, May 12, 2014 at 10:43

Monday, May 12, 2014 at 10:43
In typical Landy style, he has summed it up very well for you.

The UHF is great for communicating when travelling in convoy and if approaching other travellers with agreeing who will pull over to allow the other through and how many vehicles behind them to look out for etc and often receive some feedback on the road they have just travelled or to look out for
Another point of consideration if you are purchasing a UHF is that the car kit units have much better clarity than the handheld units so are much easier to hear in a noisy offroad environment and transmit clearer as well.

Cheers
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Follow Up By: P_Young - Monday, May 12, 2014 at 11:31

Monday, May 12, 2014 at 11:31
Thanks Alby. Yes it sounds like a useful tool to help avoid problems (rather than calling for help after the fact). I take your point about clarity as well. I had a cheap handheld in the past and it was very difficult to make out what people were saying sometimes.
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Reply By: Member - Rob D (NSW) - Monday, May 12, 2014 at 10:57

Monday, May 12, 2014 at 10:57
A UHF radio is essential if you are going to cross the the Simpson, Canning Stock Route etc. as you need to call before crossing the dunes to avoid a potential head-on collision.

There are also narrow roads in Queensland which have numbered markers and you are requested to call your position as you pass the markers to warn the large trucks coming toward you.
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Follow Up By: P_Young - Monday, May 12, 2014 at 11:28

Monday, May 12, 2014 at 11:28
Thanks Rob - that's helpful to know
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Reply By: Idler Chris - Monday, May 12, 2014 at 11:12

Monday, May 12, 2014 at 11:12
Hi Peter,
When people post questions on this forum they usually do not give all the information necessary to give a really informed response. Instead the respondent is left to make assumptions about your circumstances and hence you get a variety of answers, some of which may not be relevant to your circumstances. It is not your fault that you do not know what the relevant information is, after all you were quiet open in saying "I really have no idea". In this case the relevant information was that you did not intend to travel to remote locations. As a remote traveller I have seen far too many people in trouble because they would not spend the money on the right gear, and your question did not preclude the fact of remote travel. In am sorry if my reply was a bit terse but it makes my blood boil to see people put their own and other peoples lives at risk so they can save a few dollars.
Now to answer your question. a 3 or a 5 watt radio, portable or in car, totally depends on longer term use. If you intend to do more travelling in the future the a good 5 watt in car is a good long term investment, join any 4WD club and they are usually mandatory. The advice that others have given seems to have educated enough to make this decision. In relation to Spot devices I believe there is a Spot device that you can pair with a smart phone to send sms's from remote locations, you might like to check this out.
Lastly you appear to have got the answers to the question you asked which is great. I think everyone who posts on this site is trying to be helpful, however, unfortunately some people find it necessary to criticise the posts of others with which they do not agree.
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Follow Up By: P_Young - Monday, May 12, 2014 at 11:38

Monday, May 12, 2014 at 11:38
Thanks Chris. This is definitely a case of "I don't know what I don't know", so you are right that I'm asking without knowing what information is relevant to include in my question.

Thanks for clarifying your response. I agree with your point about people heading off with inadequate gear and then expecting others to risk themselves to come and help them.

I'm grateful for all the input - people taking the time to share their experiences and wisdom. It's been a big help.

Cheers
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Reply By: wizzer73 - Monday, May 12, 2014 at 18:22

Monday, May 12, 2014 at 18:22
Another good feature of the uhf is you can leave it on scan mode and if you can hear someone then generally they will be fairly close by (say within 20km) unless on a repeater channel

wizzer
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Reply By: Member - Sanantone - Tuesday, May 13, 2014 at 08:24

Tuesday, May 13, 2014 at 08:24
Peter,
For what its worth, I just purchased this on E-bay for under $130 delivered.
DIGITECH 80 CH 5WATT UHF CB HANDHELD RADIO + CAR CHARGER DC1065
can't say they are good or bad.
Tony
"For the Rover's life has pleasures, that the townsfolk will never know" - sort of from Banjo Paterson

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Reply By: olcoolone - Tuesday, May 13, 2014 at 09:16

Tuesday, May 13, 2014 at 09:16
A PLB in my opinion should only be activated in a life threatening emergency...... using it because of a breakdown, running out of fuel or getting bogged is a hard call and you may be meet with a hostile search party....... plus be considerate about the associated costs in activating a PLB.

A UHF is a must have for any travelling and not just the so called "remote" areas or for "emergency's".

And as said above "it is not an emergency device"

We can across a family stuck in their Toyota Camry and on road caravan stuck in thick mud in a washout in Mutawintji National Park out of Broken Hill...... no comms including UHF, we found them the next day after they were stuck for 16 hours...... if they had a UHF radio they would of been able to call a property owner for help..... we had constant UHF chatter from property works doing boundary runs and stock checking in the area.

A satellite phone is fantastic to have and well worth it's weight and cost.

And when you start talking about "affordable and emergencies" what price do you put on a life of a loved one?

The difference between a cheap and expensive UHF is not that much....... break the difference down over 5 years and it's insignificant........ try a dollar a week more.

In my opinion safety, recovery and emergency gear should not be compromised.

And by the way you don't have to 900 kilometers or 5 days from civilization to be remote...... it can be as little as 20 kilometers and an hour from civilization.
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Follow Up By: P_Young - Tuesday, May 13, 2014 at 11:41

Tuesday, May 13, 2014 at 11:41
Thanks. That's another helpful example. I agree that I wouldn't be comfortable activating a PLB in that sort of scenario, so having an alternate option makes a lot of sense.
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