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.

18 Comments

  1. msj
    August 2, 2014 at 11:02 pm

    I work about 40 miles from where I live. I work in a military industrial complex. I want to be able to communicate with home given another 9/11 type incident (my cell phone was useless). What do you recommend?

  2. Tom A
    August 4, 2014 at 9:38 pm

    I am working to establish procedures for militia groups to communicate after any event where the need for militias to become active occurs. Realistically, a national network of committed CB operators who are already in possession of mobile cb radios with SSB (Single Sideband) capability and small amplifiers that will enable them to reach out from 50 miles up to 250 miles or more. Certainly, after any event where life and property are in danger, many of us will risk upsetting the FCC. More to the point, if the SHTF and anarchy breaks out, the FCC will not even be a consideration.
    I am a licensed Ham Radio operator and I have a mobile 10 Meter band radio as well as a decent CB Radio with SSB and a few small linear amplifiers ( 200 watt, 300 watt and 450 watt). In an emergency situation, these radios become my lifeline. In my bug out bag I carry a Hummingbird Marine VHF HANDHELD and four small personal radios with range of about 2 miles. The marine radio is because I live in Florida and that radio could be a wealth of information in emergency. The personal radios are for squad movements
    I will be putting together my findings and presenting them to the militias for review very soon. I am always interested in hearing opposing points of view, additional plans, criticism etc., as long as it is constructive. The goal is to establish a ready network capable of disseminating information across the country in the event the grid goes down or another event occurs and normal channels are shut down.

    • Gus
      August 14, 2014 at 7:58 pm

      can I run 500 w from car with one battery ? what do I need ? thanks

    • James
      September 6, 2014 at 9:11 pm

      Yours is the 1st intelligent post in this thread! But I would caution the reliance on those kickers you’ve got. In SHTF you may not have the power to run them. I think SSB in the 10m & 11m bands is the most likely solution. You can talk a great distance on 11m SSB with 12-30 watts. I’d opt for the President Lincoln II or the YetiCom Optima as both have very stable SSB. And since CB will be the most common radio out there, you can still talk short range on those channels also. Your squad movement radios should be highest quality FRS/GMRS with upgraded antennas and lots of code words for stealthy communication within your group. You must also have a backup plan for radio silence should the need arise. Radio signals are very easy to detect and track. Regardless of who your enemy is, whether it be government, terrorist, or just another group after your supplies, you must be able to go “Code Zebra” to avoid detection. There’s a reason why red lens flashlights and small signal mirrors are still around. But they aren’t much good unless you know Morse Code or some kind of code to flash messages to group members. So it really depends on how prepared you & your group want to be. But getting back on topic, the mode of communication with the best chance for success will be CB for local area and SSB for extended range. Your next issue will be powering your electronics. I recommend a homebrew solar panel made from taking the solar cells out of several solar landscape lights and wiring them together on a piece of fabric that can be folded up and stuck in your pack. You only need enough of these tiny panels to generate 6 volts for most handheld devices. Make one for each group member’s pack. You can make a larger solar array for the SSB radio or just combine the group’s already made panels together to get the voltage/amps you need. As for a power supply, you can toy around with R/C car batteries to get the voltage you need from 2 of these batteries wired together. Cordless drill batteries might also work. I saw a guy wire two 7.2v R/C batteries together to get 14.4 volts for his SSB radio. But he had to charge the separately. I have two 12v cordless drill batteries wired together to double the amps instead of the volts. I use a 7amp charge controller between the landscape solar cells and the batteries. It was the smallest charge controller I could find, and not an MPPT, but it works and I can keep the batteries wired together at all times. Ideally you want a 13.8v battery pack with 14v to 16v of solar charge current going into the charge controller. This setup will power your SSB rig 4-10 hrs a day depending on power output and not using a kicker with the radio. Your radio cannot be tracked when your are listening, only when you are transmitting. So even during Code Zebra you can still listen for any talk on the airwaves to hear whats going on around you/your group. One way communication is better than no communication at all. For antenna I recommend a thin wire half-wave dipole strung between 2 trees. It works great, lightweight,rolls up very compact, easy to setup. A better setup might be a dipole made with aluminum tubing as it won’t require a Balun or a antenna tuner, so less things to carry.

  3. citizen band
    September 10, 2014 at 11:09 pm

    A CB radio or “citizens band” radio is the perfect medium range communications tool. The average store bought 2 way radio usually operates on GRMS or FRS frequencies. These frequencies are limited to a few miles and are limited even further by buildings, tress, mountains and all obstacles. CB radios can obtain ranges up to 150 miles, sometimes more. CB’s operate on a different frequency than traditional consumer radios which allows them to obtain these extended ranges and makes them a preferable communications tools.
    Many people thought that CB Radios are extinct, but they’re still here and widely used to date. They are very useful and the cost to buy one is quite cheap as compared to the price of cellular phones. There usually used in business, industries, personal use and many more other applications.

    • KG4RYT
      September 12, 2014 at 12:17 pm

      You can pick up old CB’s for around $10.00 at flea markets, and yard sales. Best just to buy a one new for about $40.00 – $55.00. Get a magnet antenna and keep it for emergency and or road use.
      For the highway, no other radio comes close to it.

  4. Gurnis
    September 25, 2014 at 11:37 am

    The antenna is the most important thing with a CB. With a SolarCon A-99 mounted atop a 20′ tall roof peak, you will get out about 25 miles with no added power. Ideally you want the tip of the antenna about 65′ off the ground for maximum range using stock power. If you live in a mountainous area then ideally you want the antenna mounted on top of a ridge or mountain peak. No amount of mods or added power can overcome a poor antenna. But even a cheap CB can talk a long way on stock power with a good antenna setup. So put your money into the antenna, not the radio. If you feel that you just have to run more power then I recommend installing a RM Italy PCN 60 Stinger Board. This will increase power output to 25-35 watts. If you need more power then try the RM Italy AD 203 Stinger Board, which has an output of 150 watts PEP.

    But before increasing output power just remember that higher output means more drain on your battery. There are 1500 watt amps out there but that won’t be much help in a SHTF situation unless you have a huge 12v battery bank. And if you have to flee on foot, you won’t be able to carry much of a power supply. My base station is a mobile radio, connected to a SolarConn A-99 base antenna. But I also have a compact dipole tuned for the 11m CB band that weighs nothing and fits in a pocket. For a great “on foot” power supply I have two 13.2v cordless drill batteries that weigh 1 lb 6 oz each. and fit in a backpack. To recharge those batteries I have a compact homemade “flexible” solar panel made from solar landscape lights, with a small 7 amp charge controller. Each battery provides up to 5 hrs of CB listening and easily provides 1 hour of transmitting because my power output is only about 9 watts. So both batteries give me 10 hrs listening and 2 hrs talking per day. And I can recharge batteries while hiking unless I’m in a wooded area. And I can be on air in 10 minutes with my system.

  5. Bobby
    October 24, 2014 at 11:20 am

    Just thinking back to the late 70’s, early 80’s when I drove semi’s otr and used a 100 to 300 watt kicker. The problem I had and never resolved was while I could step all over the other traffic on 19, I did so at the cost of replacing expensive antennas quite frequently as they were not designed for that power output.

  6. RJ
    February 25, 2015 at 9:48 pm

    ok im fairly new to the home base CB Radio,i found an old Teaberry Model T in my basement and fogured id hook it up and see what happens, i made an home made antenna approx stands 13′ off the ground and i ran copper wire at the top in the shape of an “O” and turned the cb on went to 19 and just talked to someone 37 miles out from me very very clear, i have no amps no tweaks so is something going on that i should know about bc supposidly if i understand right im not suppose to b able to reach out that far…any input would be helpful thanks

  7. walter
    April 25, 2015 at 3:44 pm

    Im hearing voices in my speakers vents and windows
    Very specific to me and my kids

    Just move in the hood bout 6m ago its been happening since week one

    Thought i was going nuts

    Cb and a linear amp and a small ant could do that ive heard

    Ive narrowed the voices to nieghbors
    Very simiular
    In fact exsact
    Advice on recording or proving

    My kids are 9 & 8
    They say horrible things to them
    Asside from hurting someone which i think is a goal for them any advice

  8. Power Amps
    May 30, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    Just wondering what kind of range increase is typical by adding a 100 watt amp on a base station with 1/2 wave antenna compared to what the range would be with out the amp running at about 8 watts. Just asking.

  9. Max
    November 15, 2015 at 10:36 am

    That is a ok for amount a mile or two if lucky. Get a texas ranger rci 936fc4. About 400 watts Or a icom. Dont waist money on low Watts.
    You have to in stall it “correctly” . no tweaked back yard wire job.

  10. Michael
    November 29, 2015 at 9:46 pm

    hamtestonline.com….. Look it up. In a week you can test for the Technician Class license and get a real radio. CB’s are limited to 4 watts legally. My 2 meter band Kenwood puts out 65 watts. CB antennas are big. My 1/4 wave magnetic mount is short. The repeaters in my area are owned by the local radio clubs and all have emergency backup power. With our linked system I can transmit outwards of 200+ miles clear as a bell. With internet based programs like echolink I can transmit to participating repeaters worldwide. In Southern Arizona I hear Echolink transmissions from England and New Zealand. Try that with an 11 meter band CB. It is so simple and cheap to get licensed to operate VHF/UHF. For Gods sake people get licensed and get a real radio. Mono band units are cheap.

  11. dynamocity
    December 16, 2015 at 12:38 pm

    If you are mounting an antenna on a mountain top, it should be mounted upside down with radials on top of you want do not want the valleys below in a dead zone. A 5/8 or .644 wave antenna will get out farther in azimuth than a 1/4 wave.

  12. Mandy
    March 30, 2016 at 7:45 pm

    My husband an I work about 4 miles apart and about 10-15 miles from our home in an urban (near work) and more suburban (near home) setting. What would be our best grid-down communication option(s)? Priority one would be the shorter 4 mile communication so I could meet up with the husband. Is there an option that would allow us to communicate with the kids at home from 15 miles out?

    I’ve looked on amazon and most reviews of portable CB radios are saying less than a mile on open road with full LOS. That doesn’t seem very useful.

    If you have specific products that you know would work I would LOVE the name/link to purchase. Also resource information (websites/books) on where to get started learning the BASICS about emergency communication would all be appreciated. I have been trying get the basics but when you don’t know the first thing about watts, frequencies and waves it all gets really confusing, really fast.

    Any help would be appreciated.

    • Chris
      June 6, 2016 at 3:17 am

      Mandy, go ham….just do it. Arrl.org Will get you started. Email if you want. Ku3hn. 73

    • the mAdmaN
      March 21, 2017 at 11:07 am

      Get SSB CB radios. I recommend the Uniden Bearcat 980SSB (it has both coarse and fine Clarifier control) or Galaxy DX 979 with optional Frequency Counter (if you like twiggling knobs you might prefer this radio but you will come to miss coarse/fine Clarifier). Depending on your local conditions you may be able to clearly communicate up to 30 miles. I have.

      Put up the biggest antenna you can at home and use good antennas on vehicles (I’ve had very good luck with a Wilson Trucker model). It will take some practice to learn how to use SSB but it’s no more difficult than tuning in a radio station with an analog knob.

      These are not cheap radios but they are the only way I can think of to allow you to avoid licensing if that is a concern. The Bearcat 980 ran me I think $170 at a truck stop in Montana in Fall of 2016. The Galaxy DX 979 and Counter I got through a radio shop online for around $200 or so over a year ago.

      The hardest part of CB is getting full use of your antenna. I have had the best luck with a heavy duty magnet mount I got at a local truck stop. It gives 1:1 SWR. Everything else I’ve tried gives awful SWR and I haven’t been able to figure out why.

      Good luck!

  13. Tim Wilkins
    November 13, 2017 at 9:25 am

    I drove a truck for over 20 years and I used a General Lee CB radio will they very good antenna which was grounded and I had the radio super tuned. When I turned it up I could talk just about anybody I wanted to it was very reliable and very clear I got compliments on it all the time which you don’t get usually with most radios.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*