While a lot of folks have stated the many drawbacks of the Baofeng/Wouxun/etc brands of Chinese HTs, the reality is that they’re not going anywhere anytime soon. As stated in the last post, there’s a number of advantages to running lesser expensive gear, namely:
- It gets your foot in the door for communications
- They allow for an inexpensive testbed for improvement projects with little financial risk
- If for nothing else, it’s a cheap but efficient receiver
Ideally, a Survivalist/III%/Libertarian Malcontent would have a setup like I described with keeping things simple and reliable in addition to a CB for the Jungle Telegraph aspect. But realizing that many new to communications may not be able to justify some larger costs, despite what folks who know better may say, it’s important to recognize that most of us will be “running what we brung to the party.”
Getting your foot in the Door-
Many “preppers” buy these radios by the case due to the inexpensive nature of them. Don’t be the guy who buys five of them in a bulk pack and then leaves them in an ammo can without a knowing of how to use it. One very good friend, fellow Survivalist, and Radio Amateur is on a tight budget like most of us. He has one UV-5R. One. He carries it everywhere, regularly makes contacts on both repeaters and simplex, and participates in everything radio to learn anything he can. In doing so, he’s figured out what works best and where, how to make the most out of the 5 watts it offers having confidence in his kit.
That’s what separates a “prepper” from a Survivalist; it’s about skills, not having a bunch of stuff. Learn to use what you have.
Inexpensive Experimenting Equipment
These sets are what I call “frequency agile”; meaning they cover a bunch of space in both VHF and UHF. This means it covers 2M and 70Cm, respectively. It also covers MURS and Marine in VHF and GMRS/FRS in UHF, although it’s not legal to transmit (So don’t. Because I said so) but you can listen all day, making a great Bubba detector.
With that being said, it’s important to realize the numerous things you can do with this set- starting with the basics. The radio uses a Kenwood two prong accessory plug. When you pick up the programming cable, make sure to get the more expensive FTDI cable and not the cheap Prolific- it’s going to alleviate numerous programming headaches later. The knockoff Prolific cables don’t easily talk to some versions of Windows, and my version of Linux doesn’t like them either. The most headache free software is Chirp- if you don’t have Chirp, you’re wrong.
There’s boatloads of cheap accessories out there and I won’t dive into that; but I will say the two things on the short list of to-gets is an extended battery and a better antenna. The larger 3800mAh battery runs for a long time between charges. Also understand the stock antenna is little more than a dummy load; it’s crap. Diamond, Nagoya, Maldol, Comet, and even the “expert power” brand antennas offer much better results. The antenna connector on Baofeng radios are SMA-F, in case you were wondering.
Now that we’re past that, start building your own high gain antennas. The first and simplest one is described here. Once you’ve done that with some friends and begun developing a simplex infrastructure locally (which is the whole point of all of this) move on to building Yagis and the thousands of other really cool DIY antennas out there. You can’t fail- and you’ll only get better the more you do it.
Cheap and Effective Reception
So understanding the law of TNSTAAFL(there’s no such thing as a free lunch) one must understand that for ~$30 you’re not getting the most durable, effective, reliable, end-all be-all radio set out there. Far from it. Many of these barely meet the requirements for spurious emissions, if they even do (a bunch don’t). That is a problem, especially for the potential for harmful interference on other bands. They do however, by and large, have decent reception capabilities, especially once you’ve upgraded the antenna. Like I said before, they can be used as an efficient Bubba detector– a monitor of the license free MURS and FRS(and GMRS which is often pirated) that many hunters and other folks use. It’s also a great idea to program all of the NOAA frequencies while you’re at it. Mine, when powered up, always has the local NOAA channel on the VFO B frequency to keep an ear on weather changes while I’m working.
Let me reiterate something- these radios are not the end-all be-all like some claim, and I do not recommend buying them for a primary radio, but by the sheer number of them out there it’s important to know how to maximize them. It would definitely not be the set I pick up to go on a patrol as my sole lifeline; but in certain roles, it’s better than nothing. They do have certain advantages, and bottom line, they get folks on the air, experimenting, learning how to effectively communicate, and ultimately becoming the best they can. For those that own them as a first radio, I urge you to make the most of them while looking to upgrade to better stuff. You’ll be happy in the end.
And please, don’t be the idiot who buys twenty and puts them in an ammo can with no knowledge of how they work.