The Range Of Ham Radio – How Far Can You Reach With This Radio?

Andy Klugman Written By:
Andy Klugman
Rick Brandt Fact Checked By:
Rick Brandt
Ham Radio Range

Ham radios are valuable communication tools in SHTF (Survival, Hazard, or Total Failure) scenarios when traditional communication methods like the internet, phone lines, and mobile networks may not be operational. It is much more reliable than smartphones.

Staying connected with friends and family who live far away is also made possible through the use of a Ham radio. Newcomers to amateur radio often ask, “What is the range of ham radio?”

The answer can be subjective, with one response being “around the world” and another being “it depends.” Actually the range of a ham radio depends on several factors, including frequency band, output power, antenna height and type, terrain, and atmospheric conditions.

With the appropriate equipment and optimal conditions, a ham radio can communicate over vast distances, potentially spanning the entire globe. However, the range can also be limited to just a few miles under less favorable circumstances.

So, while some ham radios have a minimum range of about 2 to 5 miles, some have a maximum of 18 miles, while others can communicate globally.

I will cover about the ham range and discuss the effective measures you can take to extend the range in this article . So, you have to read to the end to catch all of the things.

The Range of Ham Radios

Based on various factors, Ham radios are powerful devices, and their transmission range can start from 5 miles to the entire world.

Factors affecting the ham radio range include the power of the ham radio you are using, the antenna, frequency, radio configuration, weather conditions, and terrain.

Talking of the type, for example, a Ham radio base station features an extremely high range over a mobile or handheld ham.

So, while a base station could feature a range of, for example, 4000 miles, a handheld could feature only half a mile or more based on the type you are using, the frequency, and the antenna, among other factors.

Moving on to the frequency – ham radios use various frequencies, which could start at 200kHz to 1GHz or more. So, the frequency band is also key in determining the shortest or farthest range it can feature.

Some of the frequencies include: HF, UHF, and VHF but VHF, which means Very High Frequency, offers the best and farthest range (but it could also be affected by factors such as environment and weather conditions).

Let me briefly give you an overview of VHF, HF, and UHF.

The Difference Between HF, VHF, and UHF?

HF, VHF, and UHF
It is paramount to understand the various frequencies available and under what circumstances you should use each of them. So, read on.

High Frequency (HF):

Commonly referred to as shortwave radio, the HF frequencies range between 3 and 30 MHz. HF is ideal for long-distance radio communication, including intercontinental, unlike the UHF and VHF frequencies.

This is because the HF band allows the radio waves to reflect back to the earth, possibly due to the ionosphere layer in the atmosphere.

The method by which the back reflection of the radio waves takes place is called ‘skywave’ or ‘skip’ propagation.

What Is HF Frequency Used For?

The most common usage of the HF frequency is across shortwave international broadcasting radio stations that feature a frequency range of 2.310 to 25.820 MHz.

Other uses include amateur radios, government time stations, citizen band services, radio aviation communication, and weather stations.

Very High Frequency (VHF)

This band ranges between 30 MHz to 300 MHz. When broadcasting, for example, the VHF band is between 87 to 108 MHz. On the other hand, the aeronautical services band ranges between 108 to 137 MHz.

Whatever the type of radio you own, using the VHF band extends the range by several miles. For instance, the handheld communication radio range could go from half a mile or 2 to around 3 to 6 or more.

Also, based on the power output of your ham and the antenna you are using, a base station’s signals could go up to 30 or 600 miles and above when you use the VHF. Better said, VHF is powerful and ideal if you want the farthest range in open areas.

What Is VHF Frequency Used For?

VHF band is commonly used in amateur radio, aeronautical services, television and FM radio broadcasting, marine communications, two-way land mobile radio systems, and long-range data communication.

Let me give you the approximate band for the VHF based on its broadcasting services: The radio band ranges between 136 to 174 MHz, while the amateur to amateur satellites range is 144 to 146 MHz.

The Pros of VHF

  • Offers a longer range
  • Less power usage
  • Wavelengths are longer; hence, VHF is ideal for outdoor use since the waves penetrate through trees and buildings.

The Cons of VHF

  • Requires a clear terrain
  • Lesser power penetrating through buildings and walls

Ultra-High Frequency (UHF)

UHF offers a range of 30 MHz to 3 GHz. Therefore, UHF is ideal when using Bluetooth, a walkie-talkie, GPS, cell phones, and Wi-Fi. It is the best choice if you are using it within buildings.

However, if you are in urban areas, you can also use this radio outdoors (nearby). The type of antenna you are using could also help strengthen the signals so that they can penetrate through concrete walls.

What Is UHF Frequency Used For?

UHF is commonly used in but not limited to mobile phones, television, and satellite communication, such as personal radio services. So, most amateurs using walkie-talkies use the UHF frequency.

Pros of UHF

  • Great for outdoor communication in urban areas
  • Penetrates through walls

Cons of the UHF

  • Lower range compared to VHF

Factors Which Can Affect on Ham Radio Range

Factors on Ham Radio Range
Various factors come into play when determining a ham radio can reach. Let me take you through these factors for a better understanding.

1. Terrain

The physical features of the location you are operating your radio may greatly have a negative impact on the signal transmission, thus affecting the range.

For example, if you and the other amateur are in valleys, communication may be drastically affected, and the range of the signals may also be shorter.

Operating on flat ground, your radio could feature a higher range than when in valleys and mountains.

2. Antenna

Longer antennas extend the signal range. For example, when both the base ham station and the transmitter are at sea level, a vertical antenna can (theoretically) transmit signals up to a range of about 800 miles.

So, the type of antenna you choose will determine the farthest range your radio can feature, but other factors must also come into play, like, the type of ham radio license you possess.

3. Frequency Band

As previously mentioned, the frequency band at which you operate your radio greatly impacts its range.

Based on the ham and license you own, among other factors, as discussed herein, you could use a VHF to have the signals go farthest.

4. Obstacles Present

Though hams are amazingly powerful and more reliable than smartphones, they can be greatly affected by obstacles such as hills, valleys, and tall buildings – depending on the frequency.

If there is an obstacle between the transmitter and the receiver’s line of sight, then the radio wave range shortens (this is the case when using the UHF band).

So, the UHF band would be highly affected by hills and tall buildings, so it is ideal for rural (open) areas. Even so, the signals are still strong as long as the signal transmission is within the same building.

5. Atmospheric Conditions

Clear weather allows signals to be transmitted farther based on the type of Amateur (Ham) radio you are using. A rainy or cloudy day could lower the range.

6. Type of Radio

The type of ham you are using determines the range it will feature. There are various types of ham radio like:-

Hand-Held ham Radio, mobile Ham radio, ham base station and Manpack or portable ham radio.

The base station, in this case, has a higher range if you use a powerful antenna. On the contrary, a mobile ham and portable could feature a shorter range, though you could extend it based on the antenna you use.

So, based on the above factors, the ham radio range could be vary. It is necessary to note the power transmission is usually at a steady voltage rate regardless of the ham radio you are using.

For clarity, transmission power can either be Effective Radiated Power, abbreviated as ERP, or Peak Envelope Power, abbreviated as PEP.

The average power, while the radio frequency waveform is at its’ peak, is what is referred to as PEP. The amount of energy the radio frequency gives is referred to as the ERP.

An internal circuit regulates the radio voltage. Resultantly, there is no fluctuation due to circuitry that is in close range or the line power. So, the voltage output has a direct impact on the amount of current that is going to run through the radio transmitter.

How Can You Increase the Range of Ham Radio

Increase the Range of Ham Radio
You can increase the range of your ham radio by:

  • Extending the length of the radio antenna
  • Using a higher power mode
  • Charging the battery
  • Using a repeater
  • Avoiding low-altitude zones

Let me discuss the above in a moment.

Extending the Length of the Radio Antenna

The size of your antenna greatly impacts the range of the signals. For instance, while the stubby antenna is ideal for travelers as it allows your ham to fit in the pocket, its small size affects how far your ham radio can reach.

On the other hand, the whip antenna is long. So, it does not fit in your pocket, but it extends the radio signals so that you get a longer range.

An alternative to using a longer antenna is installing the antenna at a higher level (More on the antennas later).

Using a Higher Power Mode

Choosing between power modes is only applicable to some ham models. So, if yours allow you to switch between power modes, then you can extend your range. This feature comes at an extra cost, though.

Charging the Battery

A low battery charge shortens your ham range, so charging it extends the range. Therefore, the more the battery drains, the lower the range becomes. It is vital to have a power source just in case you need to recharge.

Using a Repeater

To get a longer range, it is essential to amplify weak ham radio signals, which is possible by the use of a repeater. The stronger the signals, the longer the range.

Avoiding Low-Altitude Zones

Low altitudes greatly impact your ham range by lowering it. In low altitudes, therefore, features such as valleys and hills could block the signals; hence the range could decrease. So, go to high altitudes for a higher range.

If in a building, consider going to its highest place to avoid signal blockage so as to extend the signals.

The Impact of An Antenna on Ham Radio Range

The Impact of An Antenna on Ham Radio Range
A long range antenna can increase the ham radio range. You must need to tune ham antenna properly. If you are looking for full-size ham antennas, you could get them in two types: 1. Horizontal & 2. Vertical.

Medium-distance amateurs use either vertical or horizontal antennas. For maximum coverage, for example, you can mount a vertical ham antenna on a mast. Resultantly, your ham radio range can go farther.

Ham base stations, however, install horizontal antennas on the ground. The higher you install the ham antenna farther from the ground, the better its range. Longer antennas also perform better than shorter ones in terms of range.

Even so, if you move to a higher place, for example, occupying one of the rooms situated on the highest floor from the ground, your signals could extend farther by several miles.

In this case, I am assuming that there are no obstacles, such as taller buildings than the one you are occupying. Otherwise, obstacles could hinder the line of sight between the transmission and receiver when using the UHF band.

Parting Shot

It is clear by now that a ham radio range could vary based on several factors. For example, the size of the ham radio antenna could increase the range if it is longer or installed farther from the ground.

Boosting the signals by adding a repeater, using a fully charged battery, choosing a higher power mode (if your ham radio has that feature), and avoiding low altitude zones also contributes to how far a ham radio can reach.

Remember that choosing the right terrain, avoiding obstacles, buying a high-end ham radio, using the radio during dry weather, and using a good frequency band also greatly impact how far your ham radio can reach.

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