Handheld Ham Radio Range: How Far Can You Talk with Your Ham?

One of the most intriguing questions everyone has with a handheld ham radio is its range. People want to know how far they can communicate with these devices.

There are two reasons this is important.

      • Being extensively used by survivalists and preppers, not knowing the actual range of your device can be a huge setback during emergency situations.
      • You might need to get additional accessories or might even change your handheld ham radio if the range is poor

What I have to tell you is that this article on handheld ham radio range covers everything you need to know.

First, let’s clear the important question!

What is the Normal Range of Handheld HAM Radios?

The signal range for a ham radio may vary according to the equipment you own. A beginner ham radio, e.g., a handheld unit, may get a few miles only. On the other hand, the survivalist ham radios can offer you ranges up to 6 miles in some cases.

You get the best range in flat areas with no obstruction. If there are terrains, buildings, or high walls in the way, the frequency range gets shorter.

To summarize, the range for two operators carrying a ham radio HT, on flat ground with zero obstructions is around:
  • 2 miles for beginner handheld radio
  • 6 miles for survivalist ham radios.

Do All Handheld HAM Radios Offer The Same Range?

The range that a handheld ham radio offers vary from device to device. It is affected by the height and quality of the antenna. Moreover, the same HT can offer different performance for different users depending on the terrain.

Additionally, different frequency bands can also make a lot of difference. One great idea is to opt for a dual-band transceiver to use two frequencies simultaneously.

You may also want to compare the power output of each device to conclude about the range. Moreover, many models offer variable power settings to allow you to save battery. One advantage of this unique feature is that it will enable you to make manual adjustments according to your needs.

      • So, the answer to our question is NO. Not all handheld ham radios offer the same range.

Handheld Ham Radio Range: The Factors that Matter

1. VHF vs. UHF

The most typical handheld ham radios use two frequency bands, Very High Frequency (VHF) and Ulta-High Frequency (UHF). If we talk about the VHF waves, they travel much farther and penetrate objects better than UHF frequencies. The UHF signals, on the other hand, are shorter.

You cannot pick a winner among the two without comparing the structures and obstructions around you; more on that later!

If you are using your HT in a barren area, VHF is an excellent choice as is it travels greater distances. But to communicate in dense woods, or around buildings, you may want to consider UHF.

2. Antenna

The distance that a portable ham radio device covers is directly proportional to the height of your antenna. There are two kinds of antennas that standard handheld transceivers use: whip and stubby.

With the stubby antennas, you can easily store the transceiver in your pocket or backpack. But, keep in mind that means cutting down on your range by a whopping 30%.

If the range is your priority, you may want to consider a device with a whip instead of the stubby antenna. Or, you can also look for one that allows for both! You can find some of the best ham radio antennae here.

3. Obstruction

We mentioned earlier that terrains and buildings could affect the range. The reasoning behind this is that solid objects block radio signals. Most notably, metal can be quite problematic when it comes to radio communication.

Apart from solid objects, the landscape can be another factor. Many operators living in hilly areas find it troublesome to get adequate signal coverage. Like metals, signals cannot pass through hills, as well.

You may also want to note that when the signal passes through an object, it weakens the strength. That means, each time the frequency passes through an object, the range gets shorter!

4. Wattage

Another essential factor in the distance a two-way radio covers is its power output. Having stronger signal strength, it can withstand weakening when passing through obstacles. This signal strength is measured in watts and results from the transceiver’s power output.

The higher the watts a device has, the farther it transmits. A handheld two-way radio typically broadcasts at 1-5 watts. Similarly, a mobile vehicle radio may broadcast anywhere from 5 to 100 watts. You can see, there’s a significant difference between the transmit power, and hence, the range.

The FCC has set a maximum wattage level for each radio type. Since most HT ham radios operate at a small battery, a higher wattage would anyway result in lower battery life. If you have a GO box, you can check out some of the recommended ham radio batteries for Go Box here: https://xroadgps.com/best-battery-for-ham-radio-go-box/

How To Improve the Range of a Portable Ham Radio

how to improve the range of handheld ham radio

Since you already know the factors which affect the handheld ham radio range, now comes the big question.

How can you improve it?

Here are four different methods you can do to improve the communication range of a portable ham radio.

      • If you have been using a stubby antenna, look into other options.
      • Increase your height by going to an elevated location. For example, walk up the hill to get a better range.
      • Lower battery levels can contribute to weaker signal strength.
      • Set your radio to the high power mode.

Summing Up

Handheld ham radios, being lightweight comes in handy in aiding communication wherever you go! Many relief operators also use the portable ham radio to assist during emergencies. Moreover, it offers you many other versatile features like Morse code and GPS, as well.

There are several reasons why such a device tops the list for preppers and survivalists. It boasts excellent power abilities, flexibility, and, most importantly, range. With the right ham device, you can talk from the top of a mountain or a forest without needing a cell tower!

Keep in mind the terrain when planning on using the VHF and UHF bands. If you want to make your portable amateur radio powerful, don’t forget to invest in a better antenna.

Another factor, not mentioned here, is nature. Atmospheric conditions can also affect your transmissions!