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Do i really need a GMRS license?

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ethanh100

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So I have been looking to spend around $70 for a pair of walkies that are capable of gmrs bands and have a few questions about licensing. So i plan to use these out on the water ( I live in CT so the long island sound) as I sail a hobie 16 boat and I kitesurf, and I always want to have a form of communication in an emergency. For sometimes that I go out, regular FRS would be suitable I think, but I will often find myself needing the higher power for longer range, which would be under gmrs. So if I were to broadcast unlicensed, how easy would it be for me to be recognized as a unlicensed operator, and if I were caught, what kind of fines are expected? I would like to get a license, but $70 seems silly for something I am not using all the time, especially if its easy to get away without it. Thanks!

Oh and what kind of range can I expect out on the water for FRS frequencies? thanks.
 

mmckenna

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FRS/GMRS and "Emergency" shouldn't be used in the same sentence, especially when water/boats are involved.

The likelihood of finding anyone that can really help you is slim to none.
Most users are running PL/DPL tones so they don't have to hear other people.
Those that would be specifically listening (think the old REACT groups) are going to be using repeaters.

I used to have a GMRS license, commercial radios running 35 watts, proper antennas, etc. and I could rarely raise someone else when needed. Even on the REACT repeaters you couldn't get help.

On the water, in a boat, you should be using VHF Marine band. Not only will you be able to reach the USCG in an emergency (and they'll really answer and send help!) you can also talk to other boaters.

Benefit to Marine VHF is that as a recreational boater you DO NOT need a license. Also, many of the radios are designed for wet environments. Some higher ends ones are submersible. Places like Bass Pro Shops, Cabela's and even West Marine will have basic VHF marine portables in the $70 price range.

FRS/GMRS is the wrong tool for the job. Please, please do not put your own safety on the line with FRS/GMRS radios for what you are doing.
 

mmckenna

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Oh and what kind of range can I expect out on the water for FRS frequencies? thanks.
Not much. The issue you'll run into is that even on your boat, you'll be at best a few feet above the water line. If something happens and you end up in the drink, it'll even be worse.

Using a "distance to horizon" calculator you can find on line, you can figure this out pretty easily.
So, you go overboard or you boat takes on water. You are now in trouble and in the water. At most, you're going to be able to get your radio about 2 feet in the air. At 2 feet high, the distance to the horizon is 1.7 miles. That isn't much. Someone with another FRS radio, on the same channel, with no PL/DPL tones set, volume turned up, paying attention, etc. would need to be within a few miles of you. Since the UHF frequencies used by FRS and GMRS are line of site in most cases, you would need to be able to see the other user (or more accurately, your antenna would need to be able to "see" their antenna) to be able to communicate.
Again, slim to none are the chances.

VHF Marine, specifically VHF Channel 16 is another story. USCG has an extensive radio system that covers almost the entire coastline of the continental USA. Their system is specifically designed to hear a low power radio, in the water in the worst conditions. They do this by having antennas on top of mountains, high towers, buildings, etc. They would not only be able to hear you, but in many cases they can ascertain your position. They'll answer you and dispatch resources depending on your needs.
Other plus is that most boats/ships are required by law to monitor VHF channel 16. That means that a ship/boat in your area would hear your call for help and in some cases get to you faster than anyone else.

No license. No service charges. No legal issues. No dead ethanh100's.

As for GMRS, yes, a license is required.
The chances of getting caught are slim to none. The FCC is way to understaffed to care about GMRS. It's very rare that any enforcement actions are carried out regarding unlicensed GMRS use.

But, as I said, wrong tool for the job.

If you are really serious about your safety and getting help, check into a Personal Locator Beacon. It's a small device that you'd carry. When in trouble you turn it on and it sends a signal with your GPS position up to a satellite and back down to a rescue coordination center. They run about $225 each with no service charges involved. Drawback is that their batteries are sealed in the units and it requires sending them in for battery replacement every 5 years or so. And, it's not cheap, I think last time I did it, I ended up paying about $75.
 

DHAS12

Member
Joined
Jul 2, 2013
Messages
198
Location
Kingman Arizona.
So I have been looking to spend around $70 for a pair of walkies that are capable of gmrs bands and have a few questions about licensing. So i plan to use these out on the water ( I live in CT so the long island sound) as I sail a hobie 16 boat and I kitesurf, and I always want to have a form of communication in an emergency. For sometimes that I go out, regular FRS would be suitable I think, but I will often find myself needing the higher power for longer range, which would be under gmrs. So if I were to broadcast unlicensed, how easy would it be for me to be recognized as a unlicensed operator, and if I were caught, what kind of fines are expected? I would like to get a license, but $70 seems silly for something I am not using all the time, especially if its easy to get away without it. Thanks!

Oh and what kind of range can I expect out on the water for FRS frequencies? thanks.
Marine Radio would be the way to go for what you need.
 

n5ims

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Joined
Jul 25, 2004
Messages
3,859
While a marine radio is something you should consider, it may not be the best tool for the emergencies being bantered around in this thread. First off, the marine radio will generally only work well while you're still in the boat, and that boat is still upright. Capsized and your radio will probably not work due to the water (it may still work, but what about the power feeding it?) and even if it does, your antenna will be in the water and at best not radiate very well. It'll be good for the "we're still afloat, but taking on water" or "the boat's OK, but my buddy appears to be having a heart attack" type thing though. You'll also have to know where you are to allow help to arrive quickly, something that's not always very certain after a day of drinking while boating or just sailing around for fun.

What you should have on your boat for real emergencies is an EPIRB (What is an EPIRB?), which is specifically designed for boating emergencies. Generally they're designed to transmit on frequencies that officials and other boaters monitor for emergencies, are self-contained, often can automatically activate when submerged in water, and something marine radios generally lack - the ability to float. Most often (but be sure to verify this prior to purchase) they have GPS built in so your position is reported very accurately (generally within 50 yards or so).

While I agree with the others that indicate you should use the correct tool for the job, the EPIRB is probably the best tool for the job in your situation. Although the linked web site indicates that they typically cost around $600 and up, this is pretty old information and costs have gone down. A simple web search will find them for under half that, and with proper shopping, should be available for less than that.
 

mmckenna

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A portable VHF radio would be the right tool. Since most Hobie cats have no electrical system, permanently installing one would not be realistic.

EPRIBS are an excellent choice, but for inland waters a VHF radio can be faster. The time to get the GPS position up to the SARSAT system can take some time. That can result in an up to 30 minute wait time. 30 minutes is a long time when you are wet and cold.

The benefit of using a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) is that they don't need to be assigned to a specific vessel. They are small enough that they can be attached to ones life jacket. You can also use them on shore when camping, hiking, etc. PLB's and EPRIBS are mostly the same thing, just designed for different uses.

Ideal, but expensive, scenario would be to have a portable VHF radio and a PLB. Given budget constraints, the VHF will be a more valuable tool.
 

SpugEddy

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Ethan, I'll only add 2 cents to the thread based purely on
experience.

To directly answer your question, the answer is:
If you broadcast on FRS or GMRS without a license and there
are licenced users within hearing distance they "may very well" call
you out and ask for a callsign or ask you directly if you are licensed.
Now, finding you is another story. If they take exception to you
transmitting w/o a license they may threaten but until you become
a complete nuisance, probably do nothing more than tongue wagging.
GMRS is unfortunately becoming nearer to CB in the fact that it is
somewhat unmonitored. Businesses using it are much more susceptible
to fines penalties since they are easy to track. Catching Ethan, who uses it every
other weekend while out on the water and is on his way home 4 hours
later, is much different. Understand that I don't condone unlicensed use,
but I don't condemn either. What you do is YOUR business and none of mine.
I personally am licensed.

FRS is not what you want to use because of poor performance.
GMRS is going to be "your" preferred band.

Next. Fines? Penalties? I have no idea what can happen. It depends
on how far the FCC is willing to take it. (That's if they even decide to
investigate it)

I will side with mmckenna on the marine band though. If you're on the water,
then Marine band is where you should be in the event of an emergency.
The Chinese radios will do this for you along with GMRS as well. Meaning,
GMRS to communicate with your friends and switch to Marine band in case
of emergency
 

RFI-EMI-GUY

Member
Joined
Dec 22, 2013
Messages
4,517
The FCC often issues fines for as much as $7,000 to $10,000 for unlicensed operations. Why would you even think of operating on GMRS without a license? A license is about $1 a month.

Sent from my SM-T350 using Tapatalk
 

ecps92

Member
Joined
Jul 8, 2002
Messages
11,858
Location
Taxachusetts
Plenty of Companies sell the Waterproff Packs, specifically designed for VHF Radios
https://www.westmarine.com/buy/west...for-electronics--P003_090_010_526?recordNum=6

Work quite well for Canoes, Boards and sinking boats

Using anything other than VHF Marine when on the Water is inviting Disaster.
Hell even the USCG moved away from advertising *CG for Cellphone users

While a marine radio is something you should consider, it may not be the best tool for the emergencies being bantered around in this thread. First off, the marine radio will generally only work well while you're still in the boat, and that boat is still upright. Capsized and your radio will probably not work due to the water (it may still work, but what about the power feeding it?) and even if it does, your antenna will be in the water and at best not radiate very well. It'll be good for the "we're still afloat, but taking on water" or "the boat's OK, but my buddy appears to be having a heart attack" type thing though. You'll also have to know where you are to allow help to arrive quickly, something that's not always very certain after a day of drinking while boating or just sailing around for fun.

What you should have on your boat for real emergencies is an EPIRB (What is an EPIRB?), which is specifically designed for boating emergencies. Generally they're designed to transmit on frequencies that officials and other boaters monitor for emergencies, are self-contained, often can automatically activate when submerged in water, and something marine radios generally lack - the ability to float. Most often (but be sure to verify this prior to purchase) they have GPS built in so your position is reported very accurately (generally within 50 yards or so).

While I agree with the others that indicate you should use the correct tool for the job, the EPIRB is probably the best tool for the job in your situation. Although the linked web site indicates that they typically cost around $600 and up, this is pretty old information and costs have gone down. A simple web search will find them for under half that, and with proper shopping, should be available for less than that.
 
Last edited:

Sconnick

Member
Joined
Mar 5, 2014
Messages
82
At the risk of beating a dead horse, I will add my two cents of personal experience...

As someone who works in airborne law enforcement and has responded to countless "vessel in distress" missions, I can say that there have been many occasions when the parties involved had a marine radio and we were able to talk to them firsthand. This makes it easier to locate them if we don't have eyes-on yet, and it makes rendering assistance much more efficient (do we need to scoop them up with the aircraft, can they wait for marine assets, do they simply need Sea Tow, etc).

If help is really what you really want, then a marine radio is what you need. The PLB idea is great, too, but more pricey.
 

jonwienke

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VA
As others have said, if you're on the water, you want to use marine channels, not GMRS or FRS, at least for emergency use. That said if you wanted to use GMRS for non-emergency chatter between you and your friends, there's nothing wrong with that, provided you get a license.

If you're going to be using radios in boats, they should be waterproof, which will increase their cost. There's no point having a radio if it isn't going to work when you need it the most. I've tried these, and while I haven't submerged them for extended periods of time, they have handled getting splashed repeatedly while kayaking with no ill effects:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01CZU6402 5-pack
https://www.amazon.com/BaoFeng-GT-3WP-Transceiver-Programming-Pack/dp/B01CZU63WQ 2-pack

They are dual-band, and thus can be programmed for marine and GMRS freqs. Although they are not type accepted for GMRS, they comply with the power and bandwidth requirements of GMRS, and no one will care about the sticker inside the radio unless you're doing something really stupid and annoying on-air.
 

RFI-EMI-GUY

Member
Joined
Dec 22, 2013
Messages
4,517
Ethan, I'll only add 2 cents to the thread based purely on
experience.

To directly answer your question, the answer is:
If you broadcast on FRS or GMRS without a license and there
are licenced users within hearing distance they "may very well" call
you out and ask for a callsign or ask you directly if you are licensed.
Now, finding you is another story. If they take exception to you
transmitting w/o a license they may threaten but until you become
a complete nuisance, probably do nothing more than tongue wagging.
GMRS is unfortunately becoming nearer to CB in the fact that it is
somewhat unmonitored. Businesses using it are much more susceptible
to fines penalties since they are easy to track. Catching Ethan, who uses it every
other weekend while out on the water and is on his way home 4 hours
later, is much different. Understand that I don't condone unlicensed use,
but I don't condemn either. What you do is YOUR business and none of mine.
I personally am licensed.

FRS is not what you want to use because of poor performance.
GMRS is going to be "your" preferred band.

Next. Fines? Penalties? I have no idea what can happen. It depends
on how far the FCC is willing to take it. (That's if they even decide to
investigate it)

I will side with mmckenna on the marine band though. If you're on the water,
then Marine band is where you should be in the event of an emergency.
The Chinese radios will do this for you along with GMRS as well. Meaning,
GMRS to communicate with your friends and switch to Marine band in case
of emergency
Unlicensed GMRS operators are ruining the service for everyone. Thanks Uniden and Midland for creating this mess.
 

SpugEddy

Member
Premium Subscriber
Joined
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Messages
419
Location
Camden County South Jersey
Unlicensed GMRS operators are ruining the service for everyone. Thanks Uniden and Midland for creating this mess.
Agreed. Although I think it's pretty hard to ruin FRS. It's already
a free-for-all with kids toys that can be bought just about anywhere.

As for GMRS I kind of hold the radio manufacturers as having the majority
of the responsibility to let their customers know that the radio is designed
to transmit on Licensed Frequencies. A perfect example is: My mother
found some nice little radios on "clearance" at the food store. She bought
enough for all of the great grandkids and gave them as gifts. At 82 years
old she knows nothing of the ham, GMRS, FRS, MURS world. To her, they
were the very same harmless walkie talkie radios that we had as kids.
 
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