Ham radio is an amazing hobby and an important resource, but it can be a bit intimidating when you start to look at all the frequencies and what they all mean. So, as a new ham operator, what frequencies should you listen to? Which ones should you know in case of an emergency?
In this article, we are going to look at different radio frequencies and their common uses. We will also examine what sets them apart from other frequencies and why it’s essential to know these differences.
Popular Ham Radio Frequencies Chart
|162.400||NOAA / National Weather Service broadcast frequency|
|162.425||NOAA / National Weather Service broadcast frequency|
|162.450||NOAA / National Weather Service broadcast frequency|
|162.475||NOAA / National Weather Service broadcast frequency|
|162.500||NOAA / National Weather Service broadcast frequency|
|162.525||NOAA / National Weather Service broadcast frequency|
|162.550||NOAA / National Weather Service broadcast frequency|
|27.065||Channel 9 on CB Radios, commonly considered the emergency frequency for CB and is still monitored by teams and law enforcement|
|27.185||Channel 19 on CB Radios, the most used CB channel, especially active around highways|
|462.675||GMRS emergency frequency (Channel 20)|
|151.820||Most commonly used frequency on GMRS/FRS|
|151.880||Most common repeater frequency on GMRS|
|121.500||Aviation Emergency & Distress|
|123.100||Aviation Search and Rescue|
|156.800||Marine Distress Safety and Calling (Marine Radio Channel 16)|
|157.100||U.S. Coast Guard Liaison (Marine Radio Channel 22)|
|156.300||Marine Intership Safety (Marine Radio Channel 6)|
|161.205||Railroad Police Mutual Aid|
|155.160||Land Search and Rescue|
|121.500||Air Search and Rescue|
|146.520||2-meter band National Simplex Channel|
|223.500||1.25-meter band National Simplex Channel|
|446.000||70 cm band National Simplex Channel|
|906.500||33 cm band National Simplex Channel|
|1294.500||23 cm band National Simplex Channel|
How Ham Radios Work: The Basics
Amateur radio is a hobby and service that allots space amongst the radio spectrum for amateur operators, called “hams,” to use radios to communicate. Amateur radio attracts people from various age groups and backgrounds. These people come for a variety of reasons. Some are fascinated by the technical aspect including the physics of waves, the electrical components, and how the radios work. Others are searching for communication options for their families. Still, others have a passion for serving their community and beyond during times of crisis.
This communication spans from standard voice communication to digital transfer of packets of information across the globe. Amateur radio signals bounce off of the ionosphere to get their global range, and you can even use your radio to talk to the International Space Station. Hams use their radios for fun chit-chat as well as critical emergency communication during disasters. Your options with ham radio are vast.
Much like the hams themselves, the equipment varies greatly. Someone looking to have an alternate form of communication around their family farm might only have a couple of handheld radios, called HTs in hamspeak. However, someone who is interested in using their radio to make contacts around the world may have an entire ‘ham shack’ full of multiple radio transceivers with powerful antennas mounted high on poles outside. Here is a look at some of the common equipment.
Transceivers – These are the devices that actually send and receive communications, so they are the foundation of all ham radio operations. Transceivers are the formal name for what most people call a “radio”. Operators transmit and receive on a given frequency using the transceiver.
There are many different types of transceivers, but the most common ones in the hobby are
- Handheld Transceivers (HTs)
- Mobile Transceivers
- Base Station Transceivers
Handheld transceivers are portable, compact, and designed for handheld use. They have small limited antennas mounted to them and have limited power. These are best when the operator has to be on the move or doesn’t have access to high-power equipment.
Mobile transceivers, including 10-meter radios, are generally mounted in vehicles and have increased power since they draw from the vehicle’s electrical system. They also have a larger antenna mounted to the vehicle, giving mobiles much more range and ability over an HT.
Base station transceivers are what is found in homes and hamshacks. These ‘desktop’ radios have dedicated power supplies and are connected to large and powerful antennas. These are the most capable transceivers with the most bandwidth and maximum power.
Antennas – Antennas are an integral part of a radio system and are critical for efficient communications. Antennas are more responsible for range than power. Antenna height is one of the most important aspects of how far you can transmit. This is even more important when you are trying to operate line-of-sight.
Computers, Software, and Digital Interfaces – In our high-tech world, more and more hams are using digital signals and digital equipment to extend their range and increase the data types they can transmit and receive. Experienced ham operators often explore this tech-savvy branch of amateur radio.
Before you can operate a ham radio you must first obtain an amateur radio license from your country’s regulatory authority. In the US this is the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
There are several different license classes that each grant different privileges, such as frequency bands and transmission power levels. Not every ham can operate on every amateur radio band. The three amateur radio licenses have increasingly difficult qualifications:
- Technician License: an entry-level license that grants transmitting privileges on the VHF and UHF bands used for local communication, and limited Ham bands for global transmissions
- General License: expands transmitting privileges to long-distance, international communication via signal propagation, and increased voice operation on Ham bands
- Amateur Extra License: provides access to the full range of Ham bands allocated to the Amateur Radio Service
Each level requires passing a test that demonstrates your knowledge of the rules, regulations, frequency allocations, and functionality of ham radio equipment. These tests are performed by Volunteer Examiners in your local community.
What are Ham Radio Frequency Bands and How Are They Used?
The electromagnetic frequency spectrum is divided into “bands” which are assigned to specific uses. Amateur radio is further subdivided into several classifications based on these frequency bands. These bands are:
- Low Frequency (LF)
- Medium Frequency (MF)
- High Frequency (HF)
- Very High Frequency (VHF)
- Ultra High Frequency (UHF)
These bands are utilized differently depending on what it is you are looking to accomplish, your equipment, and your license.
LF is defined as between 30 KHz and 300 KHz. Within Ham radio, the only band is 2200 meters, with a frequency range of 135.700 KHz – 137.800 KHz. This band is used for data, voice, and CW (Morse code) transmissions.
MF has two bands: 630 meters and 160 meters. These bands sit on either side of the AM broadcast bands with 630 below and 160 just above. Both are used for data, voice, and CW (Morse code) transmissions.
- 630 Meter ranges from 472 KHz to 479 KHz. 160 Meter ranges from 1.800 MHz to 2.000 MHz.160 was previously the lowest band used in ham radio and is often called the “top band’ by many hams.
HF bands are where the majority of long-distance communications happen in amateur radio.
- 80 Meter ranges from 3.5 MHz to 4.0 MHz. This band performs best during the evening hours and during the winter. 80 Meter can be used for CW, data, voice, and image transmissions, and is a favorite amongst many hams.
- 60 Meter is a newer band and has more limitations than other bands. There are currently only 5 frequencies in 60 Meter that are open to ham radio: 5332 KHz, 5348 KHz, 5358.5 KHz, 5373 KHz, and 5405 KHz.
- 40 Meter ranges from 7.000 MHz to 7.300 MHz. It is considered by many to be the most reliable long-distance (DX) band, and for that reason often has a lot of traffic. 40 is used to transmit CW, voice, and images.
- 30 Meter is a digital band and ranges from 10.1 MHZ to 10.15 MHz. It can be used for CW and data.
- 20 Meter ranges from 14.0 MHz to 14.35 MHz and is a very heavily used band that is often active during the daytime. 20 can be used for CW, data, voice, and image transmissions.
- 17 Meter ranges from 18.068 MHz to 18.110 MHz can be used for CW, data, voice, and image transmissions.
- 15 Meter ranges from 21.025 MHz to 21.450 MHz and can be used for CW, voice, and image transmissions.
- 12 Meter ranges from 24.890 MHz to 24.990 MHz and is used for CW, voice, and image transmissions.
- 10 Meter band ranges from 28.000 MHz to 29.700 MHZ and can be used for CW, data, voice, and image transmissions.
Very High Frequency
VHF ranges between 30 MHz to 300 MHz. VHF is often used for two-way voice communications by public service agencies and others for their day-to-day radio needs, especially in more rural or remote areas.
- 6 Meter ranges from 50.0 MHz to 50.1 MHz and can be used for CW, voice, image, data, and MCW (Modulated Continuous Wave) transmissions.
- 2 Meter ranges from 144.0 MHz to 144.1 MHz and can be used for CW, voice, image, data, and MCW.
- 1.25 Meter ranges from 219.0 MHz to 225.0 MHz and is used for CW, voice, image, data, and MCW.
Ultra High Frequency
UHF ranges from 300 MHz and 1 GHz and is often used for voice communications by public service agencies and others for their day-to-day radio needs, especially in more urban areas. These bands are used for CW, voice, image, data, and MCW.
- 70 centimeter ranges from 420.0 MHz to 450.0 MHz 33 centimeter ranges from 902.0 MHZ to 928.0 MHz 23 centimeter ranges from 1270 MHz to 1300 MHz
Now we know about the different frequency bands and their uses, we also need to know where amongst those ranges to set our receivers. For that, you have to look at the band plans.
Band plans are divisions of a specific band that are assigned to each type of transmission, or mode. This is done to both make it easier for hams to find each other and to reduce interference.
In the USA, band plans are issued by the National Association for Amateur Radio (ARRL) and are available on their website at http://www.arrl.org/band-plan
Sample Band Plan for 2 Meters (144-148 MHz)
|Frequency Range (MHz)||Description|
|144.05-144.10||General CW and weak signals|
|144.10-144.20||EME and weak-signal SSB|
|144.200||National calling frequency|
|144.200-144.275||General SSB operation|
|144.30-144.50||New OSCAR subband|
|144.50-144.60||Linear translator inputs|
|144.60-144.90||FM repeater inputs|
|144.90-145.10||Weak signal and FM simplex (145.01,03,05,07,09 are widely used for packet)|
|145.10-145.20||Linear translator outputs|
|145.20-145.50||FM repeater outputs|
|145.50-145.80||Miscellaneous and experimental modes|
|146.52||National Simplex Calling Frequency|
A good place to begin is 146.520, the National Simplex Calling Frequency. It’s meant to be a starting point for hams that are not sure what frequency to use. Simplex means radio-to-radio communications without involving a repeater, and it is the simplest means of communicating using amateur radio.
What are the Most Common Ham Radio Frequencies?
The answer is complicated because it honestly depends on your specific location. Although there are many standardized aspects of using the frequency bands, different regions utilize frequencies in unique ways. You can think of it like a regional dialect – there’s the Brit, the New Yorker, and the Texan – all speaking English. It may be helpful to join a local ham club to learn about the specifics of your area. Additionally, it’s important to know whether you’re listening for voice or CW. Current conditions (weather, time of day, etc) will also determine which band is the best choice. Once you have a band and range, you have to listen to multiple frequencies until you find something active in the area.
Using the national calling frequencies is the best place to begin. The two most utilized are the 2 Meter (VHF), mentioned above, 146.520MHz, and the 70 centimeter (UHF) 446.000MHz.
What Is a Frequency? Is It the Same Thing as a Channel?
The definition of the word frequency is “the rate at which a vibration occurs that constitutes a wave, either in a material (as in sound waves), or in an electromagnetic field (as in radio waves and light), usually measured per second.”
So when we talk about tuning into a specific frequency, we are essentially matching the specific wavelength of a known signal. If one amateur radio operator is transmitting at one specific wavelength, and your receiver matches that wavelength, then you can understand that signal. This is a very simple explanation of a complex concept, but it covers the basics.
A channel, on the other hand, is a number that has been assigned to a specific frequency to simplify it for the operators. Rather than remembering that I need to set my radio to 146.520MHz to use the National Calling Frequency, I just have to know that it’s Channel 1.
What Is the Difference Between CB Radio Frequencies and Ham Radio Frequencies?
CB or “citizen’s band” frequencies range from 26.965 to 27.405 MHz, which is just below the Ham 10-meter band. These frequencies are broken down into 40 assigned channels.
Simply put, CB is just a different frequency allocation than ham radio bands.
CB radios were designed to be used for short-distance communications. They’re most popular with truckers, who have used them for decades to report on traffic, weather conditions, and other helpful information. They don’t require any kind of license and are only lightly monitored by the FCC.
CB radios are not meant for emergency communication because they’re short-range, low-power, and can only communicate on a select number of bands. You can use an SSB (single side band) CB radio to transmit out ~20 miles, but it requires communicating with another SSB CB to be effective.
The two most common CB channels are Channel 9 (27.065 MHz) which is reserved for emergency traffic and Channel 19 (27.185) which is most commonly used by truckers.
Go To Emergency Frequencies
The most important ham radio emergency frequencies are the ones that keep you informed about what is going on around you. Therefore, the first frequencies on this list are the NOAA All-Hazards Weather Radio (NWR) frequencies.
These frequencies are used to transmit important weather and other hazard information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. These broadcast information to the public regarding severe weather warnings and during a national or local emergency.
- 162.400 MHz
- 162.425 MHz
- 162.450 MHz
- 162.475 MHz
- 162.500 MHz
- 162.525 MHz
- 162.550 MHz
Next would be the National Calling Frequencies. These are the most common channels used for ham to first communicate with one another. They’re monitored 24/7 and once contact is made, communication can be moved to other less-busy frequencies.
- 146.520 MHz
- 446.000 MHz
While they are not amateur radio frequencies, it is a good idea to monitor the two main CB channels. Most ham radios or shortwave radios have the ability to monitor these frequencies.
- 27.065 MHz
- 27.185 MHz
Some others to add would be the most used GMRS/FRS channels.
- 462.675 MHz (GMRS Emergency Frequency)
- 151.820 MHz
- 151.880 MHz
Wrapping It Up
While there is a benefit to knowing all of the frequencies, the best advice is to know and understand the band plans for your particular area and to practice your ham skills.
With the right preparation and training, you’ll be able to communicate with other hams around the world. And in an emergency situation, you’ll know the frequencies and best practices to get vital information to the right parties.