FRS / GMRS FAQs

This presents our best current understanding.  Please check regulations and such directly.  Please share any updates with SCRA (see contact link at bottom).

  • Do I need a license?
    • If you operate an FRS radio (up to 2 W channels 1 to 7 and 15 to 22; ½ W channels 8 to 14, you do not need a license. If you operate a radio with more power (GMRS) you need a license.
  • With whom may I share my license?
    • You may let family members operate under your license.  The family members are defined as spouse, children, grandchildren, stepchildren, parents, grandparents, stepparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and in-laws.
  • Can I let “association” members use my license?
    • That privilege only goes to licensees holding grandfathered rights.  It does not apply to newer licensees.
  • How much does a GMRS license cost?
    • The cost was $70, but in 2021, the cost is going down to $35 for a 10-year license.
  • What are the groups of channels?
    • Channels 1 to 7 have a 2 W limit.  These are available to FRS and GMRS users.
    • Channels 8 to 15 have a 0.5 W limit.  These are available to FRS and GMRS users.
    • Channels 15 to 22 have a 2 W limit for FRS operators.  For GMRS operators, the limit is 50 W.
  • What are the extra, special channels?
    • Eight additional frequencies are identified for GMRS use as inputs to duplex repeaters only.  (See below.)  The Midland MXT-400 identifies these frequencies as RP15 to RP22
    • Midland Radio identifies channels above 23 – even to 50 – which are just regular channels hard-coded to specific frequency/tone combinations
  • What repeaters are allowed?
    • Repeaters are only allowed on channels 15 to 22.  Repeaters must be owned and controlled by GMRS licensees.  An FRS user (2 W or less) can use a GMRS repeater with the authorization of the owner.
  • What is a closed or open repeater?
    • A repeater owner can establish their repeater as closed or open.
    • A closed repeater can only be used with the permission of the owner.  See www.mygmrs.com to see who to contact.  Sometimes, users are asked to help pay the costs of the repeater operation.  An owner cannot sell services or make a profit from his repeaters.  There is nothing to stop you from transmitting into and having your signals sent out by a repeater, but you are obligated to avoid using a repeater for which you do not have authorization.
    • An open repeater is one that the owner has identified as generally available for any authorized use.  If the owner decides to do so, he can prohibit any operator from using his repeater, even an open repeater.
  • If I don’t have a license and am operating FRS, can I use a repeater?
    • Yes, with the authorization of the licensed repeater operator.  This can give FRS operators extended range.  Note that this only works for simplex repeaters – duplex repeater inputs can only be used by licensed GRMS operators.
  • What are simplex and duplex repeaters?
    • Duplex repeaters receive signals on one frequency and transmit on another frequency.  For example, a remote radio transmits on 467.550 MHz (channel 15 repeater input).  The repeater receives the signal and transmits it on 462.550 MHz (channel 15).  The signal going to the repeater might be 2 W or less or up to 50 W (GMRS).  The signal coming out of the repeater is typically 40 W or 50 W.  The advantage of duplex repeaters is that the transmissions are simultaneous.  The disadvantage is that the remote radios must be GMRS radios capable of duplex repeater operation.  Programming can be complex.  Handheld radio costs run from $40 to $200.  A GMRS license is required.
    • Simplex repeaters are “store & echo” devices.  For example, a remote radio transmits on 462.725 MHz (channel 22).  The repeater receives the message and records it.  Then, the repeater “echoes” the same message on the same frequency.  The remote radio might be 2 W or less (FRS) or up to 50 W (GMRS).  The signal coming out of the repeater is typically 40 W or 50 W.  The disadvantage of simplex repeaters is that there is this double-message effect.  The advantages of simplex repeaters are that low-cost FRS/GMRS radios can be used ($10 up) and no licensing is required.  Programming is much more simple. 
  • How far should I expect to be able to communicate?
    • Tests have been conducted around parts of Sonoma County.
    • In flat areas, 1 W is solid to 1 mile, good to 2 miles.  5 W is solid to 2 miles, good to 4 miles.  ½ W is good for about ½ mile.
    • On hilly terrain, the results will vary significantly.  Line of sight will be as good as or better than flat terrain.  On the coast, 5 W radios with good antennas (roof mount, not rubber ducky) can reach 10 miles or more to repeaters.
    • Repeaters help significantly – if the remote radio can reach the repeater, the 40 W or 50 W being output by the repeater should be able to be heard by the remote radio.
  • If I’m not licensed, can I operate GMRS in an emergency?
    • The regulations specifically allow an unlicensed operator to use the GMRS radio owned by a licensee in an emergency.  The regulations do not allow an unlicensed operator to use his own GMRS radio even in an emergency.  (Although it is unlikely there will be penalties in any emergency situation.)  If you have a GMRS radio, get licensed.
  • Can I use FRS/GMRS for business use?
    • Yes, for short communications.
  • Can I put a better antenna on my radio?
    • For FRS, no:  the fixed antenna must stay on the radio.  For GMRS, yes, you may put on better antennas, use a cable to connect an exterior antenna, and such.
  • What are tones or interference eliminator codes?
    • These are “sounds” at frequencies that you cannot hear which are transmitted with your voice signal.  You set the tones using the functions of your radio.  Tones can be set so that only radios set to the same tones can receive your signal or so that you only receive from radios set to the same tone as you.  This can reduce interference, but this does not eliminate interference.  
    • For example, if your radio is set to tone 1 and your friend’s radio is set to tone 1, when you talk and when he talks, you hear each other.  When someone talks whose radio is set to tone 2, you will not hear him.  But, if people are talking using tone 2 and your friend talks using tone 1 at the same time, everyone using tones 1 and 2 will hear all the conversations.
    • When you are using tones, a good practice is to press the [monitor] button to see if there is traffic on the channel.  If so, standby and try later.  If there is no traffic, start your conversation.
  • How many tones are there?
    • Different radios have different numbers of tones (aka privacy codes) using different frequencies.  Most radios use analog codes.  The Motorola Talkabout T6400 has 38 tones ranging from 67.0 Hz to 250.3 Hz. The Motorola T5500, T56XX, and T57XX Talkabout offer 38 tones.   The Midland LXT112 does not offer tones.  The Midland MXT410 offers 38 analog tones.  The Uniden GMRS 540 offers 38 tones.
    • Some radios also offer digital tones.  The Midland MXT410 offers 104 digital tones.
    • Set the tone to 0 to turn off tones on most radios.
  • Does a station need to identify itself?
    • Yes, GMRS stations must identify at the end of transmissions or at the end of a series of transmissions, or at least every 15 minutes.  FRS operators are not explicitly licensed and do not need to identify themselves with an FCC-issued call sign.
  • If I’m operating FRS, can I communicate with GMRS?
    • The 22 channels are shared, so you will hear both FRS and GMRS signals.  For the GMRS operator to hear you, you’ll have to have enough power or be close enough for your signal to reach the GMRS operator.  There will be places where you can hear a high-power GMRS operator but that operator will not hear you.  Remember, FRS is quite limited in power.
  • Call tones
    • Many FRS / GMRS radios have call tones.  These are beeps or rings which are transmitted from one radio to another.  These are used to “wake up” the person at the receiving radio.  Five to ten call tones are often provided.
  • Other features
    • FRS / GMRS radios often come with extra features such as clock and timer functions and weather radio reception.  They can be nice but are not important to FRS / GMRS radio operations.
  • Batteries
    • Many FRS / GMRS radios come with rechargeable batteries and a battery charger.  Some come with base stations into which the radios can be placed for charging.  For emergency use, it is probably better to recycle the rechargeable batteries and to keep a set of fresh batteries with the radio in your emergency kit.  Rotate the batteries every couple of years.  Do not store batteries in your radios:  they are likely to leak and leave you a non-functional radio when you need it most.
  • What kind of radio do I need?
    • Of course, the answer is “it depends”.
    • If you don’t want to get a license and you want to communicate with local operators or want to use a local simplex repeater, a low-cost FRS radio will be fine.  On the high power channels (1 to 7 and 15 to 22), different FRS radios often have ½ W, 1 W, or 2 W specifications.  The higher power, the better.  The cost can be $10 for a low-power, low-feature model, maybe $40 for a better one.  Finding the specs can be difficult.  If in doubt, ask SCRA members for help.  These are all handheld radios.
    • If you want to reach further, a 5 W GMRS handheld radio can be good.  You will need a license.  These cost $40 to $200.
    • To really reach farther, a 40 W to 50 W mobile radio is needed.  You will need a license.  These look like a car radio, but can be used in your “shack.”  You will likely need a separate power supply, an antenna cable, and an exterior antenna.  Feel free to ask SCRA members about this.  
  • How do I determine where there are repeaters?
    • www.mygmrs.com is a central place where people list their repeaters.  Also, ask around the amateur radio and FRS/GMRS community to see if something is being put together locally.
  • What about those distance claims on FRS/GMRS radios sold at the superstores, hardware stores, sporting goods stores, and such?
    • 16 miles!  22 miles!  26 miles!  35 miles!  Those claims (and others) are often seen on FRS/GMRS radios sold at retail.  These distances are just about impossible with 2 W FRS and even with 5 W GMRS.  This link has one analysis:  http://hflink.com/hfpack/radiorange/  Just about all the low-cost FRS radios (even the ones under the old rules) is ½ W on the low power channels and 1 W on the high-power channels.  Ignore the hype, look for the power specifications, then test the radios.
  • Is there any privacy on FRS/GMRS radios?
    • No.  You should presume that the world is listening.  And, observe the requirements to avoid indecent language and to give emergency traffic priority.
  • What other features distinguish all the FRS/GMRS radios?
    • Older radios were built to the older specifications.  Most are 1 W /  ½ W.  Newer radios are built to the new specifications.  For low-cost radios with more “reach,” look for 2 W / ½ W radios.
    • There are many other “bells and whistles” offered to help sell radios, but most are not really needed for basic FRS/GMRS operations:
    • Scanning is the ability to scan across multiple channels to hear where there is activity.  This is useful when you need to hear many channels or you are in an area in which you don’t know how the channels are being used.
    • Weather radio features allow you to hear the weather broadcasts from NOAA.
    • Some radios have a built-in flashlight.
    • Some newer radios can be charged through a USB port.
    • VOX or voice-activation is a setting in which when you talk, you transmit.  This is an option you can turn on or off.
    • Some radios have the push-to-talk (PTT) button on the side where you usually push it with your thumb or index finger while holding the radio.  Others have the PTT button at the front of the radio.
    • Monitor is a button that allows you to listen to hear what is “on the frequency” before transmitting.  When you are using a privacy code, people transmitting using other codes will not be heard on your radio.  The monitor button lets you listen in regardless of their codes.
    • Some radios float if dropped in water.  Some even turn on the flashlight when dropped in water.
    • Vibrate alert is where the radio vibrates or shakes rather than making a noise when called.  This is useful in hunting or wildlife watching situations where quiet is desired to avoid spooking animals.  (Midland calls this “Animal Call Alert”.  Motorola calls this VibraCall®.)
    • Some radios have Power level selectors.  For example, it may be possible to switch from 1 W to ½ W on channels 15 to 22 to save power.
    • A locking feature allows the user to lock the radio settings so it does not accidentally switch channels or other functions.
    • Clock and timer features are sometimes offered.

Please forward comments and suggestions and corrections to Mike Von der Porten at mikevdpca@aim.com  AD6YB / WRJQ994