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Why You Should Install A UHF In Your 4WD

The great outdoors in Australia is ripe for exploration. Whether you’re creating your own adventures on undiscovered tracks or following in the footsteps of other 4WDing pioneers, it is important to consider safety. A significant part of this is ensuring that you can contact others for help if something goes wrong.

While mobile telephone coverage in Australia is usually reliable in cities and towns, it is often patchy or non-existent in remote and regional areas. The coverage percentages advertised by telecommunications companies refer to population rather than land coverage. This means that when Telstra promotes its reach as covering 99 per cent of the population, it must be considered that most of the nation’s population is based in coastal cities. Therefore, coverage in rural and remote areas, where populations are sparse, is not guaranteed. Ultra-high frequency (UHF) radio is a great alternative for road users to communicate with each other and emergency services.

Emergencies can happen quickly in the bush. One minute, you can be driving along happily and the next you can be stranded on a deserted track with no other vehicle to help with recovery. If you’re in a remote area with no signal, your mobile telephone may be useless. So, what do you do? Hopefully, you’ve prepared well and have food and water, a first aid kit, and a UHF radio.

A UHF radio is a hand-held device (CB radio) that accesses a range of frequencies from 300MHz to 3GHz. It consists of a handset, an aerial and a head unit. There are a range of CB radios available that can access UHF. 

UHF radios are a useful safety tool for those venturing outside of heavily populated cities and towns. A UHF radio has many channels through which you can communicate with other drivers and emergency services. Some of these channels are for general chat, while others are for emergencies only, so it’s important to know what you’re doing.

As a rule, the extent of UFH coverage depends on your antenna type. Antennas are rated by their dBi (decibels-isotropic). In flat terrain, a higher dBi (e.g., 9dBi) should be more than adequate. This is because it works by line of sight. That means that the signal can travel about five to eight kilometres, without interruption. If your antenna can ‘see’ a point in the distance, its signal can transmit there.

If you’re in hilly terrain, with valleys and peaks, the transmission of the UHF signal will be affected. In these circumstances, a low dBi (e.g., 3dBi) will work better. Instead of working in a line-of-sight manner, low dBi antennas create more of a sphere-like field. It is possible to have both types of antennas or you can opt for a 6dBi antenna to cover all your bases.

There are several specified channels on the UHF network, including repeater channels. Repeater channels retransmit the broadcast to extend their range, which is particularly useful for emergencies. Channel 40 is the nationwide road safety channel, while Channels 22 and 23 are data channels only.

Channel 18 is reserved for caravan and camper convoys to communicate with one another, and Channel 10 is used by 4WD clubs, convoys and national parks. If you’re not in an emergency situation and are seeking a chat channel, turn to Channels 9, 12–17, 19–21, 24–28, 30, 39, 49–60, 64–70, 79 or 80. Many other channels are simply repeater channels. Channel 29 is a road safety channel for the Pacific Highway and Pacific Motorway. Channels 5 and 35 are legally restricted for emergency communications, so ensure that you respect these conditions.

Using UHF radio can help make life on the road easier. It can assist with travel and safety, so is well worth the investment.

4 comments

  • Doug Brooker: September 08, 2022

    Whatever aerial you have on a UHF, it’s range is not much more than line of sight.
    If you are really in trouble in the middle of nowhere, an EPIRB is unbeatable. Hope you never need it, but having one gives great peace of mind.

  • robert millsom: September 08, 2022

    Should be law for all vehicles towing caravans & trailers & turned on at all times.

  • Peter Hannah: September 08, 2022

    We “live on the road” as grey nomads, and for 10 years, have travelled far and wide.

    The CB comes in really handy when travelling, so I leave it on “Roam or Scan” – so that I can hear any emergency, wide loads or other travellers that may be on a different channel.

    Channel 40 – the truckies channel, is full of bad language and bad attitudes!
    It is "very useful for accident sites, as truckies chat back and forth from each end of the accident – so you can get an idea about what has happened, and how long you may be stuck in the que.

    Great for calling a truckie around to pass or to chat about road conditions etc.

    Channel 18 – the traveller’s channel, is starting to get that way too. Unfortunately, some travellers think that you can chat all day long as you travel in a group – and use Channel 18. Please meet your friends on another “less used, but available” channel!

  • Chris: September 08, 2022

    Dear Bec,

    I do not want to seem unappreciative of your article on UHF radios. I myself recommend that whoever ventures off-road should have UHF radio for safety on the track.

    However, for.real emergencies in remote areas. either HF radio or Satphone is the only reliable way to go. In certain areas in the Pilbara area, UHF is absolutely hopeless because of the iron content in areas. HF can also be affected as well. Todays Satphones are very reliable and rental is very reasonable, considering one’s safety. To solely rely upon UHF communications to get you out of the mire is nothing short of being over confident.

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