Monday, 09 November 2020
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As you may have seen in some of my other posts, the debate on whether to get GMRS radios or Ham radios bring up a lot of good thoughts and ideas. My goal with any post like this is to weigh the pros and cons to help 4x4 folks make informed decisions to communicate effectively without wasting money and time.

I also look at things like this, if there is a national or international emergency.. be it a storm, an invasion, an illness, a mass fire... if our lives are on the line, I'm sure as hell wanting the best radio I can to get out of harm's way. At the time of this writing, I can say with almost certainty that our world is heading for a stark awakening on many fronts, from more extreme weather, to political to strait up fighting socialism and communism. We are not safe. As such, I want to highly stress, you can use a ham radio without a license if life or property is at risk (that's one of the first test questions). So if my son or wife needs to contact me and I'm far away (I live 20 miles from work to home) and the cell networks are down or power is out, ham radio is the best chance my family can make that happen. With the blatant media and social media bias now also running rampant, if something is happening in your area, you may not even know about it.

In a life or death situation, the best chance of survival is with a Ham radio.

Through the Yaesu WiresX network, I've been able to listen to real people from all around the world on news and events. Unfiltered, with no agenda.. just real people having real conversations.

I don't consider myself a radio nut or super techy person. I don't enjoy having lots of radios in my rig or at home and I'm not a radio collector. I enjoy driving on trails and talking with the people on said trails effectively and over the longest distance possible. I don't geek out when looking at a circuit board, duplexers, or antennas. It's just not my thing, I'll do what's needed to have the best signal I can out on the trails or at home, but it doesn't really go past that for me right now. I'm too busy to dig deeper at this point in my life.

10 years ago when my brother got his Ham license I thought it was dumb. He wanted me to get my license and I didn't see the point. I've had a CB in all of my cars since I was 16 and used CB for PA shenanigans, asking truckers where cops are on the highway, getting directions, playing CB tag, and more... but I didn't have a CB in my home and again, I don't consider myself a radio guru, just a dude who wants to use radios to communicate. Not to boast, not to make a radio hot or amped up, I've never done anything illegal with any radios nor do I want to break the law in any way. So there's that.

Now that I'm a Ham and have seen how many 4x4 clubs around the world communicate, how 4x4 folks without a Ham radio can be killed or unrecovered (this worst-case here) I just can't recommend anything except Ham radios for 4x4 folks. It is simply the most powerful communication tool 4x4 people can have that works without a cell or satellite network.

I have a major problem with radio prices. I think the entire radio market is way too expensive... maybe that's just me. Sure, you get what you pay for, and the audio quality of a high-end radio is noticeable, even to the untrained ear.

While GMRS is cheaper, a GMRS license is limited to roughly 22 channels (in lamens terms), few or no repeaters, APRS (but not really so it turns out?). While you think GMRS is the bee's knees, it's so limited really the only benefit is the bands are higher than CB and you can have more power than CB. But that's about it.

Ham radios can do GMRS, but in the USA, those radios aren't type accepted. Here's a debate I hate because it comes down to politics on how to sell more radios, not protect anyone from anything, or to keep anyone safe. This rule is a carefully legislated one so GMRS radio manufacturers can compete with Ham radio manufacturers... somehow. Yet, in Europe and in most of the world these stupid laws don't exist. Why do I care? Because it's silly to tell a 4x4 person to buy a GMRS radio when a ham radio does so much more, many are in the same price range, yet Ham radios do way more things.

Because Ham isn't "type accepted" for GMRS, when I got into Ham it was enough to just buy two radios. I didn't want to break the law, and didn't know how this can be tracked. As the President of RL4WDA, I have a responsibility to promote the ethical use of communication equipment in a lawful manner. While we do a great job enforcing licenses, call signs, and we're getting into how to host nets, I am 100% against the BS around not allowing Ham radios to do GMRS since they can, are better radios, and then 4x4 folks only need to buy one radio that does both. The more a looked at it, the easier I saw it was. I realized you can't track or make it known what radio is transmitting, as long as your in the proper power limits, it's impossible to tell a GMRS radio apart from a Ham radio. Ham radios are super easy to "open up" too. They make it easy so you can do these mods without wrecking your radio. If Ham radio manufacturers didn't want you to do this, they would make it much harder to modify. Some circuit boards even PUT AN ARROW to the resistor or bridge you have to remove.

Fast forward to the MARS mod. You go to and the DEALER will do this simple mod FOR YOU even. It opens up the radio to more then just GMRS, and I heard it'll even keep your warranty intact. When I found that out it made it much harder to swing for the GMRS radio route. Talking with many hams, a lot of them have their radios "open" in this way. Sure, some of those keyboard warriors will yell at me here and other places for "talking about this" but for real people... why is this masked like a dirty little secret? I just don't get it, but I sure as hell will talk about it if it saves people many hundreds of dollars. The more I do ham stuff, the more people I talk to and become friends with, the more I realize the "type accepted" argument is a joke.

To the radio clowns out these who'll share this forum post to try and incriminate me somehow, you're the reason ham radio isn't popular and you don't deserve to be a ham. Yes, we follow the law, yes we make sure licenses and call signs are used at rides, yes we make sure we're on the proper frequencies and power levels. Yes, we have a band plan. Yes, we'll work with ham radio clubs to take down unlicensed radio violators. We're not the bad guys, but juggling multiple radios on a trail can be dangerous. If my post saves a life or prevents an accident, then this post is worth it.

My option, especially for emergencies, it's better to get a HAM radio and do the mars mod vs getting a GMRS radio alone. I had to write down why I think that, so now it's out there. Trying to do whatever I can to help new trail users make sense of all this radio stuff.
more than a month ago
I'm very much pro-Ham here so let me give some opinions on the Ham/GMRS aspect. My hope is we start discussions and educate others, not get in heated arguments.

To me, this is all about responsibility. GMRS is a very select set of frequencies intended for the general public in the USA. Therefore, it is restricted. It has a low cost of entry, little barrier requirements, and only a minor amount of knowledge required. In GMRS, responsibility lies with the manufacturers to certify their equipment fits within these tight requirements.

Amateur radio, on the other hand, is a huge array of frequencies with international and space agreements. As a US 4x4 club we'll only tap into a very small portion of what is possible and most of that will overlap with GMRS. In amateur radio, responsibility lies with the users. We are educated, licensed, and enforced.

We have such a broad set of frequency availability to us, GMRS shouldn't even be a concern. Though I will say it's a known constant for ham operators to want more frequencies, there's no doubt about that. :D Regardless, I don't think it's valid to compare the use of GMRS in other countries while on Ham radios because GMRS isn't in other countries. They have their own set of rules for specific frequencies.

The MARS mod argument is difficult for me to agree with. It was never intended just to give access to GMRS. Rather it's to open up radios to the frequencies that MARS uses (not the planet, haha, Military Auxiliary Radio System); mostly in the HF band. GMRS and others just happened to fall between the min and max. There's nothing actually wrong with modifying your radio for the extra frequencies. You just have to fall in line with the rules of transmission for your license or frequency you are operating on. This is well known and part of our training: our closest band ends at 450MHz and doesn't start again until 902MHz.

On warranty, you do lose your manufacturer warranty, but most retailers will supplement that with a warranty from their own store (Gigaparts, HRO, etc) so it's not really a concern.

To summarize my opinion: amateur radio is best. GMRS is still good for what we do. Both can co-exist.
more than a month ago
I'm just getting into this two-way radio thing and only had a basic handheld CB radio. I personally went with GMRS for equipment cost reasons and the ability to quickly get the license. Midland has quality products and is right for my budget.

Will I ever upgraded to HAM in the future? Yes, but for now GMRS is what I wish to use right now. Its not always easy to guide someone in a direction when their are multiple options. It was honestly pretty easy for me to pick GMRS over HAM.

GMRS has one big advantage over HAM. The license covers everyone in your household. My wife and kids are able to use it without the need to take a test. I know that HAM could be used by anyone in the state of an emergency, but only during that time.
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