CB Radios: Citizens Band Radios for Survival Communication

CB Radio Base Station

What are CB Radios?

Citizens Band Radio (CB Radio for Short) is primarily used for short-range radio communication. Using the 11 meter band with frequencies between 26.965 MHz and 27.405 MHz, this two-way voice communication service is a perfect medium for localized emergency communication during disasters, highway communication between truck drivers, and of course, good old-fashioned fun for radio hobbyists and enthusiasts.

Made popular during the 1970s, because of movies like Smokey and the Bandit, for decades C.B. Radio was one of the most popular forms of short distance communications. Although its popularity has faded during recent years, largely due to the development of mobile phones, the internet, and the Family Radio Service, it still remains a highly popular option for truckers, radio hobbyists, and survivalists.

Why is CB Radio good for Emergency Communications?

One reason these communication devices are still popular is because they are extremely reliable during emergencies. Unlike traditional phone lines and cell towers that can fail during inclement weather, Citizens Band Radio works even when other forms of communication have gone down.

Even during small scale disasters (earthquakes, seasonal storms, etc.) normal communications channels can become compromised quite easily. In fact, it doesn’t take much to bring down an entire cell network, making the ability to communicate during a disaster one of your top priorities. With little more than the power from your vehicle’s battery or even a couple of double AA batteries for the mobile versions of these radios, you can ensure your ability to communicate when things go bad.

While Ham radio is always my first line of emergency communications, a C.B. Radio is another important part of any good survival communications plan. One advantage these radios have over Ham Radios is they do not require a license to operate, making them a good option for kids or people who refuse to take the Ham Test.

CB Radio Range

Citizen’ Band radio (CB radio) is primarily intended for short-range communication, usually distances of 5 – 25 miles. But as most serious radio hobbyists know, there are ways to increase their distance and during certain atmospheric conditions, radio signals can be reflected in a way that makes it possible to communicate with people over 1,000 miles away.

But in general, with a properly tuned radio and antenna, you should be able to achieve communication distances ranging up to 25 miles.

How to Increase your Radio’s Distance

Now we are getting into a gray area of the law, because technically you aren’t supposed to use things like radio amplifiers, and there are some pretty strict rules dictating how much power you can legally use to transmit your signal.

On the keeping it totally legal front, the best suggestion I have is to focus on your antenna. A good antenna can make even a bad radio transmit better, but a good radio paired with a bad antenna is a recipe for disaster.

Cobra 29 LTD Classic

On my mobile rigs, I use a K40 Magnet Mount Antenna. Right out of the box you’re not going to find a much better mobile antenna, and with a few adjustments, you can easily tune this thing to optimize it for your needs. If you’re using a cheap Walmart style Antenna, I guarantee using something like the K40 will extend your range and significantly improve your signal.

Another way to slightly increase your range is to look for a radio with Single Side Band (SSB) mode, something like a Galaxy DX-959. Radios that offer SSB as an option will allow you to transmit a little bit further, but since most of the radios sold today are AM only, you will not be able to talk to as many people using SSB. That being said, for communications with other family members who have radios with that mode, there may be a benefit to buying a dual mode radio.

What about Amplifying the Signal?

As far as radio amplifiers go, they are illegal. That being said, most truck drivers have them and you can usually find them sold at Truck Stops throughout the country.

CB FREQUENCY / CHANNEL INFORMATION

CB transmissions take place on 40 shared channels from 26.965 MHz to 27.405 MHz in either AM mode or Single Side Band (SSB) mode.

Here is a complete list of the CB Channels with their corresponding Frequency:

CB Channel Frequency Frequency Use
Channel 1 26.965 MHz
Channel 2 26.975 MHz
Channel 3 26.985 MHz Unofficial Prepper CB Network (AM)
Channel 4 27.005 MHz Used by many 4X4 clubs
Channel 5 27.015 MHz
Channel 6 27.025 MHz You’ll hear many operators using illegal high-power amplifiers
Channel 7 27.035 MHz
Channel 8 27.055 MHz
Channel 9 27.065 MHz Channel 9 is the universal C.B. emergency channel
Channel 10 27.075 MHz
Channel 11 27.085 MHz
Channel 12 27.105 MHz
Channel 13 27.115 MHz Often used in some areas for marine use & recreational vehicles.
Channel 14 27.125 MHz Frequency for many walkie-talkies. FCMA (Federal Motor Coach Assoc) heard here
Channel 15 27.135 MHz
Channel 16 27.155 MHz Used by many 4X4 clubs
Channel 17 27.165 MHz Used by truckers on the east-west roads in California
Channel 18 27.175 MHz
Channel 19 27.185 MHz Unofficial Trucker channel (but probably where you will find most of them hanging out)
Channel 20 27.205 MHz
Channel 21 27.215 MHz Used by truckers for North-South routes in some areas of the country
Channel 22 27.225 MHz
Channel 23 27.255 MHz
Channel 24 27.235 MHz
Channel 25 27.245 MHz
Channel 26 27.265 MHz
Channel 27 27.275 MHz
Channel 28 27.285 MHz
Channel 29 27.295 MHz
Channel 30 27.305 MHz 30 and up are often used for SSB operation
Channel 31 27.315 MHz
Channel 32 27.325 MHz
Channel 33 27.335 MHz
Channel 34 27.345 MHz
Channel 35 27.355 MHz
Channel 36 27.365 MHz
Channel 37 27.375 MHz Unofficial Prepper 37 (USB)
Channel 38 27.385 MHz Unofficial SSB calling channel, LSB mode
Channel 39 27.395 MHz
Channel 40 27.405 MHz

Additional CB Resources & Radio Suggestions

If you are just getting into communications, Ham Radio for Dummies is actually a really good book. Even if you don’t plan on taking the next step into Ham Radio, the book will give you a good general grasp of how radios work, how antennas work, and can help you increase the range and reliability of your equipment.

I’ve been asked a lot about what CB Radios are the best. While you could spend thousands of dollars at your local truck stop on a tricked out rig that goes far beyond what you really need, I suggest going with a brand like Cobra. I’ve been using Cobra Radios for as long as I can remember; I have a Cobra Electronics 29 LX as my base rig at home and a Cobra LTD 29 Classic as a mobile rig in my truck. My truck setup is over 20 years old, so I know these things last and I know they can take a beating.

55 Comments

  1. CBs have become quite popular again. We use standard VHF while fishing though that is dying more and more as people now use cellphones to communicate, which often work pretty far offshore. Though it’s required to have by the coast guard in the charter industry, and always a good backup!

  2. Butch
    January 13, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    If one were to want to get their C.B. radio illegally tweaked
    how would they go about doing that?

    • Damian
      April 27, 2012 at 12:28 am

      They would go about doing that illegally, however it’s only illegal if you get caught;)

    • Big Man
      May 13, 2012 at 7:24 pm

      CB Radio is ok for a few miles. Then you HAVE to lean on a Ham Radio Operator to get any kind of distant communications… Tweaking a CB won’t help as well as a decent antenna. DR-DIPOLE.COM makes a great survival antenna for the Ham Radios and for CB. Spend your money on a GREAT Antenna, not 20 or 30 more watts that won’t get you an extra couple of miles… Good luck.

      • Tom
        October 22, 2013 at 12:19 am

        http://youtu.be/MerNwhklCHI

        Those few miles are in the thousands with a decent radio and good antenna. I’ve worked almost every State from my truck, except Hawaii. Alaska, Ireland, England all from a pickup truck in Maine.

        • ashton harvey
          December 7, 2013 at 1:05 pm

          is it true that if you run enough power into a home base station that it can go as far as a ham radio?

          • dale
            August 1, 2014 at 6:55 am

            yes.. I have a radio base with power and it don’t take much power for a base 200-300 watts is plenty.. I have talked from one end of the usa to the other.. even Cuba, so yes you can do a lot even with not so much power.

          • cliff
            March 17, 2015 at 2:52 pm

            what type of antenna are you using? I know I’mp a ham n3xim and you cber’s are more friendly then 99% of hams these repeaters they brag about talking here and there.

        • Jeffery Windercott
          December 14, 2014 at 5:19 pm

          I don’t know if it is your understanding of English or geography that is lacking, but FYI; Ireland and England are not part of the USA.

      • Marcus Dean Adams
        January 4, 2015 at 10:28 pm

        I reliably communicate well over 100 miles to locals here in eastern Kentucky, with ground wave, not skip, and with a barebones factory condition radio. I’m not saying ham radios aren’t useful since they can ride off government owned repeaters, assuming those are operational when you need them, but CB radios are good for a heck of a lot more than just “a few miles” if you know what you’re doing when you erect your antenna.

        • Bee
          June 24, 2015 at 8:29 pm

          I would love to know more about erecting antennas for well over 100 miles!!

          • Prelusive
            February 13, 2017 at 8:09 pm

            All I can tell you is if you erect that much, you’re supposed to see a doc after 4 or 5 hours… : /

        • George
          December 19, 2015 at 10:17 pm

          So where do I find a government owned
          repeater?..

          • Kc1echEnter your name...
            April 12, 2016 at 7:58 am

            To my knowledge, 2m, 10m and 6m repeaters are club owned or privately owned. The government doesnt own shit

      • RC
        October 26, 2015 at 2:51 pm

        will any of this work if the power grid is down, and all tv, phone, cell service is off?

        I’m looking for communication with family & friends under abnormal conditions, and a range of between
        25-50 miles. Can anyone shed some light on this?

        Thanks,

        RC

        • Mrs Rojas
          November 19, 2015 at 8:45 am

          RC
          Did you find a radio for your family? I am looking for the same with up to 100 miles plus.
          Come back RC

      • Me
        March 17, 2016 at 7:43 pm

        CB Radio talking distance depends on how much money you want to spend or how much you are able to spend.

      • Tony
        August 22, 2016 at 6:16 am

        Well on my ranger 2950 sec gen I get to speak as far as Italy and different places in home and in car great hobby….

    • mic
      September 7, 2013 at 11:08 am

      Has a cb and a linear amp. Most truckers use linear amps to push the cb power up higher. Mine is 400 watts and is considered small by most truckers. I know of a guy who has 1,500 watts. On my 400 watt model I can talk approximately 50 miles consistently and further depending on weather, skip, propagation etcetc. Have talked all the way to California and Im in Georgia but thats not consistent.

      • John M
        December 6, 2013 at 6:59 am

        The legal limit is 4 watts, right? Are you saying truckers pump out 100-300 times the legal power limit? Or am I misunderstanding how the numbers work

        • DanEnter your name...
          January 17, 2016 at 6:31 pm

          Yes, and noone ever knows it uless they happen to be driving close to me out in the desert somewhere. At that range it might override your speakers or other electronic devices but I don’t think it could cause damage. I had a Galaxy 99 converted 10 meter that operated at around 30 watts. Mounted on the floor of my truck I had a Texas Star “Sweet sixteen” 1600 watt linear amplifier. I could turn it off and on depending on where I was. I never ised it near heavily poulated areas.
          Illegal? Umm yeah, I guess. Used responsibly, it’s not harmful to anyone and as far as I know, noone ever seems to complain about it so…

    • Bobby
      October 24, 2014 at 11:25 am

      Just go to any truck stop, get on ch 19 and ask where the nearest cb shop is. Go there and ask them to pump up your output and they will to as much as your radio can accomplish without a kicker. You can also ask them to install a kicker and they’ll give you the pros and cons of it. Decide on your own then at least you’ll have more information to make your decision.

    • Sasquatch08
      November 14, 2014 at 8:03 pm

      Here’s the deal.

      The FCC does not regulate CB frequencies any longer. You needed a license in years past but with the gas crisis and nationally imposed 55mph speed limits it became a fad to form convoys and run police speed checkpoints en masse or evade them. This caused tons of people to apply for CB licences so they could join the convoys. So many people applied for licenses that the FCC just gave up.

      HAM bands still require a license.

      It is illegal to modify your CB to broadcast at more than 4 watts, and is also illegal to broadcast using a HAM radio on CB frequencies. However, both of these things are common.

      The way the FCC goes about finding people who illegally operate a HAM radio is to get complaints and then use a truck with proper gear to find them. Yes, they do this. My old next door neighbor got busted by a truck like this a few years back for operating a HAM shack on CB frequencies.

      Now, if you want more than say nine miles out of your CB you’re SOL without making illegal modifications. With a good antenna, and a good transceiver that’s been peaked and tuned (set up to run to the absolute max legal wattage and tuned) by a pro you can get max 12 miles over open, level terrain. Usually more like seven to nine. If you “crossfire” the radio and use two good antennas you might be able to boost your max range by a few miles, but you’ll never see more than 15.

      IF you want to go further you have to illegally modify the setup to broadcast at more than 4 watts of power. This can be done and regularly is. The chances you’ll get caught doing it are very, very slim but I still wouldn’t recommend doing it due to the illegal nature of the activity.

      You can always put a mobile HAM in your car, but be prepared to pay through the nose to do it compared to a CB. Also, to legally use the radio you will need a HAM operators license which will require a book, some studying and taking a test. If you pass the test, you cannot use that radio to broadcast on CB frequencies. If you choose to do such a thing, while still slim, the chances of getting caught are greater than the chances of getting caught boosting your CB signal simply because the FCC still cares enough to pay attention to HAM radios and you’ll stick out like a sore thumb with an antenna farm on top of your vehicle.

      If you want the simplicity of a CB but a much greater range, your options are all illegal, but as other further down have pointed out a truck stop is the place to find what you need in terms of parts, services and information.

      • Marcus Dean Adams
        January 4, 2015 at 10:34 pm

        You don’t have any idea what you’re talking about. I run a bare bones factory CB radio on an Antron A-99 antenna and I talk all over the eastern end of Kentucky, including to people on the river in West Virginia, all with ground wave, no skip, and this is mountainous terrain. Given, there are dead spots because of the mountains, but from base station to base station my range is anywhere between 50 and 150 miles, depending on what direction the other person is in (I have mountains blocking me on one side).

        • DeadEd
          December 3, 2015 at 12:47 pm

          Just wondering if that’s a CB made to be sold in the USA. Are there better ranges to be had by buying overseas? and does cloud-cover affect the range like it does with FM radio stations. Also:

          I know the power of a linear amp can cause the signal to slam so hard into nearby speaker wires that the audio (although unclear, inverted?) will blast out of the speakers (with the stereo on or off) so; in light of a new problem I have with an inconsiderate neighbor I would like to know if anyone knows of a way to affect someones speakers similarly without paying top dollar for a cb, linear amplifier, etc. I mean I don’t need broadcast quality transmissions, just enough interference to render a system useless… or at least their subwoofer, which I can hear as I type this.

    • Enter your name...Tom
      December 19, 2015 at 6:22 pm

      Find a CB radio shop located at or near a truck stop. Realistically, it makes more sense to invest in a linear amplifier. At about $1 a watt, you can get more bang for your buck. I mean, since both are illegal anyway.
      A good 102″ stainless steel whip antenna, properly matched to a well grounded radio with an amplified microphone is the best starting point. After that, I advise a linear amplifier.

  3. January 15, 2011 at 10:54 am

    Go to any decent size Truckstop ,Many have a CB shop, Take your radio in and tell the guy what You want to do. Any good radio tech can do the work, works best with the better quality radios,if Your in an area with several truckstops there may be several shops in the area, get on the radio and ask the Drivers who does the best work, if You listen to channel 19 You can hear the difference between the stock radios and the ones that work real good

  4. meives
    May 21, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    do you need a licence for a cb radio?

    • DJKulp
      July 17, 2013 at 9:58 pm

      during the 70’s, a license was required … that changed mid 80’s. For Citizen’s Band Radios. HAM radio still requires a license.

  5. Badger359
    May 25, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    You may consider applying the survival triangle or triad concept to the situation of “comms” or communications. 1/3 of your comms would be spread out this way. a)Ham radio “long range”, b)CB or SSB for mid-range and c) GMR’s for short range. Just a thought friends.

  6. Viktor Zimmerman
    August 14, 2011 at 4:57 pm

    Can you also transmit the CB frequencies on your ham radio and eliminating your CB radio?

    • Paul
      April 20, 2014 at 5:32 am

      You can but its illegal if the FCC checks your equipment. AM Transmitions sounds bad using a ham radio.

      • CBER
        October 5, 2014 at 12:17 am

        Not true I run a galaxy dx66v and it is a 10 meter ham set to cb frequencies and it is crisp and clear the nasty sounding ones usually happen when someone sets modulation too high cber

        • Michael
          November 29, 2015 at 9:36 pm

          A 10 meter Ham set to CB frequencies is strictly illegal. I studied for a week on hamtestonline.com and within a week I went and got a 100% on my Technician Class exam. I run a Kenwood mobile 281A mono band 2 meter radio and have a daily simplex range of 75+ miles. With the local linked repeater system I have a 200 mile range. Why cheat when being legal is so easy? My radio cost $135.00 and the 1/4 wave antenna ran me $18.00. That’s it. I hooked it to a power switching unit and use it as a base radio in my tiny apartment. 2 meter antennas are small, are easy to make should you desire to do so and can be made stealthy. (easy to hide.)It’s well worth the time to just become an Amateur operator, licensed and legal.

  7. Brian
    August 16, 2011 at 8:34 am

    “Tweaking” a CB radio is illegal if it allows the unit to transmit with more power and/or transmit outside of the defined channels.

    Unless it’s a life, limb, or property emergency, transmitting outside of licensed ham bands is illegal when using ham equipment.

    Also, avoid expecting GMRS (or FRS) radios to be able to attain their advertised distances unless you and the other person are on mountain tops. Average range for a “bubble pack” radio is probably 1 mile in the city, possibly 2 miles in a suburb barring any significant obstructions (hills, tree, buildings, etc). If you add an external antenna to the device (licensed GMRS only), you can extend that a bit further. Also, Motorola 355R (I think) can access repeaters and thereby extend their range significantly (like tens of miles). We ham radio operators use repeaters quite often to talk distances in the VHF/UHF ham bands. You can also purchase old commericial hand helds and mobil units that can be reprogrammed to operate in the GMRS bands and also use external antennas.

  8. Desmond
    September 6, 2011 at 4:12 am

    Well I do know this about RADIOS’s
    Using a modified CB (Citizen Band radio) is against the law
    transmitting on CB with a HAM radio is against the law (it is Evan on the test for HAM)
    fmrs/gmrs I forget witch one is the licenced one but most who have them don’t have a license for them.

    The other thing is in an emergency ALL RADIO COMMUNICATION is legal (Property and life)

    FYI KF7KIP (Ham operator)

  9. sniper
    October 21, 2011 at 10:18 am

    FYI adding a linear amplifer to a CB dramatically increases the radio range… but yes it is illegal…

    items can be purchased at radio shack… or ham radio dealers

    also check ebay and amazon

  10. Kevin
    December 17, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    Better than CB radio is HAM radio. its the same thing but on a wider scale

  11. Pamela
    December 27, 2011 at 12:45 am

    Go to tenfourstore.com…. CB radios for way less then the cost of “radioshack….the dudes that work there are so young they dont even know what CB is …lol… i go to tenfourstore.com for all my CB needs … as in being prepared for the possible end of the world …LOL..i guess !!

  12. jimbillybob
    April 21, 2012 at 5:39 am

    Im gona get mah radio strong so i can get drunk and broadcast my stupidity to as many people as i can. This is mah neat toy. Who cares if it interferes with folks using other technologies like da internet. Da goverment cant tell me what to day out ta get meh. Go Wallmart!

    • Scott
      November 15, 2012 at 10:56 pm

      Hey Bimjillyboob…stick to your hillbilly inbreeding partys and leave the surviving to those of us that matter

  13. Mike
    June 14, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    Two-way radios are good and depending on your needs will determine which type to get.

    Citizen Band (CB) radios are legally limited to 4 watts output power.
    The newer General Mobil Radio Service / Family Radio Service (GMRS/FRS) radios need to have a license for the 5-watt GMRS channels; technically the FRS channels have a lower power output limited to 500 milliwatts (half a watt) even on the same GMRS radio so if you only use the FRS channels, you do not need a license; but they are included in the same GMRS radio… so to ‘legally’ communicate on all of the channels you will still need a license from the FCC, currently costing $80 for five-years, no test.

    Even the HAM hand held radios are mostly 5-watt power output, but they get to go further by going through local repeaters with increased power. Also, with the license, the HAM operator can legally increase the output of their hand held radio based on the frequency range the operate within.
    The HAM radios in cars and home base stations will typically have the higher output and longer range on their own.

    Since the FCC no longer requires the Morse Code for the HAM license, if you are technically savvy in electronics, there are practice tests and study services you can find online, so it might be worth your efforts to study and get your HAM license, if only to be the ‘communications expert’ in your extended family.
    QRT

  14. David
    May 16, 2013 at 6:33 pm

    In my area, Chanel 15 @ 27.135 MHz is where mud ducks like to hang out ( people trying to make the most of running legal power ). If You are frustrated about not being heard without running a linear, this is the channel to listen to. Perhaps you could add a “legal power” comment to channel 15 on your list of channels, it would be nice if we could spread the word through out the country that there is a place where 4 watts can be heard. thanks, David aka KG2LI

  15. peter nielsen
    August 24, 2013 at 10:43 pm

    can some one tell me can we transmitte on 27 mzh the oz channel

  16. Rattler
    December 20, 2013 at 6:22 pm

    I have been into CB for many years over 20. I have used it to contact mexico, CA,PA,Fl and many others this is done on SSB/LSB and bare foot. SSB/LSB use AM 10 meter spectrum there are a number of off spectrum channels that are open and unregulated just need to tune them in. you can even scramble and de-scramble for security vary easy.

  17. KG4RYT
    May 18, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    CB is a great survival radio. When the grid goes down CB will be king. I know i’m a HAM radio operator endorsing CB radio, but CB radio is best just because of the numbers they make a much better emergency radio. They are cheap, easy to use, and widely available. SSB is the best mode, but AM CB will do very well. Highway CB Channel 19 is king, try contacting someone on 2M 146.520 simplex about road conditions or any other traffic matter, When the grid goes down so do the repeaters. For off road CB is king, if you guys go off road in a 4×4 a CB radio is almost a must. Most amatuer rigs can not handle the abuse. FRS, GMSR useless.

    • chiefcrash
      May 29, 2014 at 11:16 am

      That may have been true before, but these days it’s swinging back to ham radio. No morse code test + $30 chinese ham radios = explosion of new hams (and preppers playing with radios)

    • the mAdmaN
      March 21, 2017 at 10:23 am

      I agree with KG’s comments regarding CB radios. I have had practical experience both on the Northern Plains where cell networks are spotty and in the Bighorn Mountains where cell phones are useless. A decent CB with SSB (I like the Uniden Bearcat 980SSB, 2nd choice Galaxy DX 979 – I have them both) and a good antenna (I like the Wilson Trucker models) are what I used to communicate up to 30 miles last summer (2016) at night on channel 13 USB. FRS/GMRS we were only getting about 8-13 miles, using either Cobra or Midland radios. These distances are from the rural Northern Plains, not perfect conditions but out of town. During a blizzard in December 2016 it was very useful to be able to talk to others on the road on channel 19. Truckers know what’s going on. I agree with CB in case of power outages and general societal failure too. There is certainly still a place for CB today.

  18. Emily Taylor
    May 22, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    I have a galaxy 10 meter CB that putts out around 200 watts. Though I’ll lower it to around 40 (maximum driver watter for my linear) or so watts when using an amp to run it at 600-800.

    Running a wire dipole or 24 foot Imax veritcal I can talk all over the state pretty good on AM, when I switch to using USB I can go all over the country. Any further and I use a Moonraker 4 which I was lucky enough to find new in box on ebay. I’ve talked on 27.555 to the bottom of chile, australia, and china still 5-9.

    Local and statewide ragchews are great.

    • Jason
      September 9, 2014 at 10:41 am

      10 meter is HAM. 11 meter is CB.

      • VE1CED
        January 20, 2015 at 6:04 pm

        I think he may have just been referring to the 10m import radios easily converted to cb. Like Mind numbingly simple conversion as they are made to be converted but cannot cross the border as a cb that puts out 200w and is not channelized so they market it as 10m ham.

  19. SNIPER
    May 29, 2014 at 10:14 am

    what about marine radios, since they use differant freqs, and everyone else is using cbs jamming up the airwaves and you need to talk is this a better option?

  20. Monty
    June 16, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    Is a cobra still a good CB set

    • Gurnis
      September 25, 2014 at 11:44 am

      Cobra & Uniden are both great brands. The Cobra is a bit easier to modify (or so I hear). If you want a handheld then the Magnum 1012 is another good choice.

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