GMRS Radios: Best Disaster Comms

GMRS is the best radio service you can use for disaster communication because it hits that sweet spot between usability, capability, and flexibility. GMRS is a radio service that the average person in a survival group can use and understand. I learned that there is a little bit of a learning curve, but it’s more about navigating the FCC website to get your license and picking a GMRS radio with the capabilities you want.

What is GMRS

The General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) is a licensed radio service that uses channels around 462 MHz and 467 MHz. The most common use of GMRS channels is for short-distance, two-way voice communications using hand-held radios, mobile radios and repeater systems.

Federal Communications Commission
YAESU HT-60 Ham Radio
YAESU HT-60 Amateur Radio

GMRS is Better than Amateur Radio for most disaster groups

Nobody will argue that Amateur radio (HAM) is the most capable radio service available. As one radio pro put it, amateur radio looks good on paper.

Why I Think GMRS is better than Ham

Amateur radio is complex and requires time and dedication to learn. Not everyone in your prepper group will study and pass two tests (Technician and General) to maximize HAM’s usefulness. The untrained will not be able to communicate with a Ham out of the box without training. You might as well hand out bricks to your survival group.

That said, Ham is a valuable tool in your communication arsenal, especially if you are interested in communicating long-distance and listening to world broadcasts. I am currently studying for my technician license for Amateur radio. I figure I’ll be ready to take the test in a couple of weeks. It took me 30 minutes online to get my GMRS license.

What is a GMRS Repeater?

A GMRS Repeater is a transmitter and receiver placed at locations with high elevations or on towers to increase the range of the GMRS signal. A GMRS repeater is to a GMRS radio what a cell tower is to a mobile phone.

What Do I need For Two Way communication on a GMRS Repeater?

Your radio has to have the Duplex capability to establish two-way repeater communication. Repeaters listen and send on separate, different frequencies.

If you bought a simplex radio, you could listen to repeater traffic, but you won’t be able to send a message. There is more to it, though. Following is a list of things you need to use repeaters with your GMRS radio(s).

  1. Radio must be a Duplex capable radio(s) (not simplex)
  2. Make sure there are repeaters in your area
  3. Permission to use the Repeater (or build your own)
  4. Program the Duplex capable radio to transmit on the correct frequency using the CTCSS (Continuous Tone Coded Squelch System) or DCS (Digital Coded Squelch) code and the frequency the repeater transmits on. (Information provided by the Repeater Owner)
  5. Operate within the range of the repeater and your Duplex GMRS radio.

6 Reasons GMRS Radios Are the Best Disaster Communication

#1 Low barrier to entry

GMRS radios are relatively inexpensive, and you don’t have to take any tests to operate.

You do, however, need a license to transmit messages on GMRS; you can get a license on the FCC website.

#2 Inexpensive

I purchased two Midland GXT1000 radios with a charging station for less than $60 at Walmart. Expect to pay up to $100 for a solid GMRS hand-held with Duplex capability.

#3 Channels Instead of Frequencies

GMRS radios are plug-and-play. They have 22 channels you can click through to communicate with other radios in your group. Pretty simple.

Contrast this with an Amateur radio, where you have to know what frequencies you can use, how to set frequencies and when to use them. You also have to understand how to set the tone for repeaters. Everyone in your group has to have these skills to be capable of communicating with the group.

I’m studying to take my Amateur Technicians license, and I can tell you HAM is complicated beyond what the average user is willing to go through to make it viable as group communication post SHTF.

#4 UP To 50 Watts of Power

GMRS radios can use up to 50 watts of power to push your communication signal. Contrast this with FRS radios that are limited to 5 Watts of power and MURS, which is limited to 2 watts.

Ham Radio kicks tail when it comes to power wattage. With a Technician’s Amateur radio license, you can use 200 watts of power to drive a radio signal. The following license up, a General class license, you can use up to 1500 watts of power.

Keep in mind that if there isn’t any grid power, you will have to provide the power. I don’t see a 1500-watt amateur radio being a great choice during the apocalypse.

#5 Removable antennas for upgrading and connection to towers

When it comes to communication, the antenna is essential. GMRS radios (especially the walkie-talkies) allow you to upgrade to higher-quality antennas. On the hand-held and portable units, jack into more giant antennas on top of a house, tower, or tree.

I purchased a cheap pair of GMRS radios from Walmart, and they do not allow me to remove the antennas. So if you want to experiment with high-speed antennas, ensure the radios, you get to have that capability.

#6 GMRS communicates with FRS radios on specific channels

GMRS and FRS radios can communicate on channels 1 through 7 as long as the radios are on the same channel (frequency) with the same privacy code. If you can’t get the privacy codes on both radios, turn them off. The privacy codes aren’t encrypted, so they don’t do much anyway.

Table #1 FRS & GMRS shared channels

GMRS/FRS Shared ChannelsShared FrequenciesFRS Power/BandwidthGMRS Power/Bandwidth
1462.56252 W/ 12.5 kHz5 W/ 20 kHz
2462.58752 W/ 12.5 kHz5 W/ 20 kHz
3462.61252 W/ 12.5 kHz5 W/ 20 kHz
4462.63752 W/ 12.5 kHz5 W/ 20 kHz
5462.66252 W/ 12.5 kHz5 W/ 20 kHz
6462.68752 W/ 12.5 kHz5 W/ 20 kHz
7462.71252 W/ 12.5 kHz5 W/ 20 kHz
FRS and GMRS Overlapping Channels

Cons Of GMRS

No one radio service is going to be perfect. GMRS does have two drawbacks I can think of.

License Required

You need a license to transmit on a GMRS radio, but there isn’t a written test. I just purchased my license on The FCC website for $35.00. It’s suitable for ten years, and anyone in my immediate family can use it for free.

Line of Sight Radio

GMRS is a Line of sight radio which means the signal is blocked by manmade structures, topography, and distance.

Limited Communication Distance

In wooded areas or areas with topography and buildings, don’t expect to get more than 1 mile of communication without using a repeater.

GMRS License: Where do I get one?

You can get your FCC GMRS license on the FCC website, and boy, is it fun. I watched a YouTube video about the FCC website, and the guy called it a dumpster fire. Disaster is a perfect description. It’s a great website with broken links and zero user experience—see below for step-by-step instructions on how to get a GMRS license.

How To Get Your GMRS License: 6 steps with pics

How you get to each page often changes on the FCC site, but you’ll get a general idea of how to sign up with the following tutorial.

Step#1 Create An FCC Account

Create a new account by going to the new account web page on the Federal Communication System New Account Page. Make sure to write your information down in a password book or somewhere you won’t lose it. The username is an email account, and the password is well a password. Signing up will get an FRN, also called an FCC Registration Number.

Step #1 GMRS License

Step #2 FCC License Manager Log In

Once you’ve established a New Account, use your username (email), password, and FRN to continue the process. Go To the FCC License Manager page and log in with your FRN Number and the Password you used when you created the account in step #1. See lower left “username login.”

Step #2 GMRS License

#3 Apply For New License

Click the hyperlink in the top left corner, Apply for a New License.

Step #3 GMRS License

Step #4

Select ZA -General Mobile Radio (GMRS) in the drop-down menu and click continue.

Step #4 GMRS License

Step #5

Answer the questions in the following screens and then fill out your info for the GMRS application. Follow the direction to move through the remaining screens.

Step 5 GMRS license

Step #6 Pay For Your License

Go to the FCC CORES Commission Registration System to pay for your license. Sign in again with your FCC Registration number (FRN) and your FRN password associated with the FCC username in Step #1.

FCC Cores Payer Log In

Pay by credit card or Paypal. After You log in, you will end up on the payment screen. It’s pretty self-explanatory. I’ve already paid for my GMRS license, so no payments are showing on my screen.

FCC CORES Payment Screen for GMRS and other licenses

Who Can use the GMRS license?

Anyone In your immediate family can use your GMRS license at no additional cost.

Buying A GMRS Radio (Questions)

If you want to know a radio’s capabilities, just read the packaging. Not. There is a lot of BS; information is inflated, omitted, or twisted. The best way to get a good radio with the characteristics you want is to research and then read reviews. Amazon is a great place to read comments and get some honest feedback, and some of the Youtube channels are also an excellent place to find reviews. Here are some questions to ask yourself when buying a GMRS radio.

Is it a GMRS radio?

If the packaging doesn’t say GMRS on it, it’s not a GMRS radio.

Split Tones

If you plan on using split-tone repeaters, the radio has to have split-tone capability.

How big is it?

The bigger the radio, the bigger the battery, and the longer the battery will last. If weight is an issue, use a smaller, less powerful radio.

Wattage/Power

The more watts, the more power to send and receive, but the battery drains faster.

Batteries

The more Milliwatt hours a battery has, the longer the battery charge will last.

Range and Distance

A GMRS radio’s advertised working range is under perfect conditions. You will average a mile to 15 miles depending on what is between you and the other person unless you use a repeater.

Screen size and color

Colored screens are hard to see in the sun. Large screens have more information and are easier to see but can be confusing.

Dual monitoring

Some GMRS radios can monitor more than one channel at a time.

Moisture-proof and dust-proof

If there isn’t an Ingress Protection rating (IP rating) on the box, then the GMRS radio isn’t waterproof or dustproof.

A rating of 66 means the GMRS radio is dust and moisture-proof, and a rating of 67 means the radio can be submerged.

Channels

All GMRS radios come with the primary 22 channels, with eight additional channels for repeaters. The other channels are for receiving only, or they are sub-channels. No matter what the box says, there are only 30 channels you can transmit on.

Privacy Codes or Tones

Privacy codes are not encrypted, and nothing is private on a GMRS radio regardless of what the marketing says.

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