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Copy That! Here’s How to Use CB Radio for Survival

The Citizens Band Radio Service, commonly referred to as CB, is a form of radio communication that can be used for both business and consumer purposes. It has become a popular option for civilians in particular because it is incredibly easy to use and no license is required to operate it.

Communication devices will be incredibly important in an SHTF situation, but you also won’t be able to rely on the cell phones or the internet if the power grid goes down. For this reason, you’ll need to fall back on other devices that allow you to communicate with the outside world. A good CB radio is one of these devices.

BRIEF HISTORY OF CB RADIOS

The CB radio originated in 1945 when the Federal Communications Commission (abbreviated as FCC) developed and regulated several radio services to allow citizens to communicate with one another via radio band. The very first CB radio was built in 1948, though the ones back then had less range than the ones made today.

For many years, CB radios were the only viable two-way radio system that people, who needed short range radio communications, could use. Electricians and carpenters could communicate between their job site and the primary office, and truck drivers talked with one another while on the road as well.

Today, most truck drivers still use them to share updates on slow traffic or road work. A lot of people pursue communicating via CB radios as a hobby. Preppers and survivalists commonly stockpile them to use for emergency communications in the event the power grid goes down.

CB RADIO MODES

There are two separate kinds of CB radios, handheld and mobile. Handheld CB radios resemble walkie-talkies, while mobile radios are typically mounted inside vehicles like the ones that truck drivers use. Both kinds operate in the same way. CB radios operate on forty different shared channels either in Single Side Band (SSB) or AM mode.

SSB mode is only found on higher end and more expensive models. SSB has greater range and far less noise than AM radios. The downside to SSB mode is it is incompatible with AM mode. You can only talk with others also using SSB mode. The AM mode can communicate with either mode but has more noise interference.

AM mode has less range and power than SSB mode. Maximum power level for AM mode is only four watts while SSB mode, in contrast, has power of up to twelve watts. Under current FFC rules, it is illegal to raise the power output of a CB unit via a power amplifier or by modifying it internally.

The frequencies and channels of CB radios are not assigned to a particular person or organization, except that channel nine that is reserved exclusively for emergencies. Since all of the channels are shared, you have to give channel nine a priority since it may be the only way someone can effectively communicate an emergency to you and/or to others.

CB RADIO CHANNELS AND FREQUENCIES

Like we’ve mentioned, CB radios have forty channels. Each channel is differentiated from one another by their frequency. Remember that Channel nine is the emergency channel, and that Channel nineteen is the channel most often used by truckers.

Channel 1: 26.965 MHz Channel 9: 27.065 MHz Channel 17: 27.165 MHz Channel 25: 27.245 MHz Channel 33: 27.335 MHz
Channel 2: 26.975 MHz Channel 10: 27.075 MHz Channel 18: 27.175 MHz Channel 26: 27.265 MHz Channel 34: 27.345 MHz
Channel 3: 26.985 MHz Channel 11: 27.085 MHz Channel 19: 27.185 MHz Channel 27: 27.275 MHz Channel 35: 27.355 MHz
Channel 4: 27.005 MHz Channel 12:  27.105 MHz Channel 20: 27.205 MHz Channel 28: 27.285 MHz Channel 36: 27.365 MHz
Channel 5: 27.015 MHz Channel 13: 27.115 MHz Channel 21: 27.215 MHz Channel 29: 27.295 MHz Channel 37: 27.375 MHz
Channel 6: 27.025 MHz Channel 14: 27.125 MHz Channel 22: 27.225 MHz Channel 30: 27.305 MHz Channel 38: 27.385 MHz
Channel 7: 27.035 MHz Channel 15: 27.135 MHz Channel 23: 27.255 MHz Channel 31: 27.315 MHz Channel 39: 27.395 MHz
Channel 8: 27.055 MHz Channel 16: 27.155 MHz Channel 24: 27.235 MHz Channel 32: 27.325 MHz Channel 40: 27.405 MHz

CB RADIO RANGE

The range of your CB radio can be increased, even though it is designed for more local and short range communications, if the signal is bounced off of the ionosphere. This will send, or skip, a message thousands of miles. As a result of this, sometimes you may send or receive a transmission across the entire world even if it’s not intentional.

Finally, remember that because you are sharing forty channels with other people, you should use good etiquette. Never talk with another station for more than five minutes at a time and always wait at least another minute before you begin another conversation. This kind of etiquette ensures the smooth and open-handed communication between people.

STEP BY STEP PROCESS ON HOW TO SET AND USE A CB RADIO:

CB radios are incredibly straightforward to use and you should be able to get yours going in just a matter of minutes once you understand the process:

  1. Confirm that the power is on and that the antenna is connected.

When you purchase your CB radio, the antenna should be the factor that matters most. While almost all handheld radios sell with one, a majority of mobile CB radios do not and the antenna must be purchased separately. The antenna is also often what determines if the radio is an entry, mid-level, or higher end level radio. Conduct thorough research on as many models as possible before putting your money down.

  1. Tune in to a channel.

Keep in mind that channel nine is reserved for emergencies only, and in the case of mobile CB radios, channel nineteen is typically the channel that truckers prefer. Channels can typically be tuned in to by a knob on the device, while some CB radios will have a separate switch or button that you can use to quickly turn to channel nine for emergencies.

  1. Before you pick up the microphone, you’ll want to confirm that the mic gain control is on the maximum for the utmost clarity in the conversation.
  1. Enter the conversation by pressing the transmitter button and saying “Break”.

Wait for a break in the conversation before entering it yourself. The transmitter button is essentially the same kind of transmitter button that you would use on an ordinary walkie-talkie. Saying “break!” alerts other people on the channel to your presence and you can enter the conversation without interrupting anybody.

  1. Once the person or people on the other end of the line have acknowledged you, you can begin to speak.

From this point on you will speak into the CB radio much like you would on an ordinary walkie-talkie. Keep each of your spoken sentences as short as possible and use the ten codes when necessary to ensure smoother communication.

  1. To determine how well the signal is getting through, look at the signal meter.

Higher end CB radios will not only tell you the strength or weakness of the signal, but they will also inform you of how far you and the person on the other end of the radio are from one another.

  1. In the absence of a signal, turn up the squelch knob to cut off excess noise.

The background noise on CB radios can become incredibly annoying when there are no transmissions being made.

  1. Locate the ANL (automatic noise limiter) switch or button on your radio if you’re in more urban areas with more activity.

This way less disruptions will be made in the outgoing and incoming signals.

  1. Continue your conversation before switching to another channel, and then repeat the above process!

Note: when switching to a new channel, turn the squelch knob back down so that more stations will be available.

As you can tell, it’s an incredibly simple and straightforward process to use a CB radio. Here are two video links that demonstrate the process:

CB RADIO SLANG

You should understand basic CB codes or jargon that is commonly used. These codes, called the ‘ten codes’ because the number ten is placed before every next number, make communication clearer and shorter.

Here are some examples of “ten codes”:

  • 10-1: Poor reception
  • 10-2: Good reception
  • 10-4: Affirmative
  • 10-9: Repeat the message
  • 10-11: Talking too fast
  • 10-13: Advise weather/road conditions
  • 10-19: Return to base
  • 10-23: Stand by

There are also certain phrases in CB slang that mean different things:

  • Checkpoint Charlie: a police checkpoint looking for drunk drivers
  • Evel Knievel: police officer on a motorcycle
  • Miss Piggy: Policewoman
  • Gum Ball Machine: Police Cruiser/Vehicle
  • Flying Donut: police helicopter
  • Panda Bear: state trooper
  • Bear trap: concealed police checkpoint
  • Double Nickels: 55 MPH Speed Limit
  • Hundred Mile Coffee: Strong coffee
  • Credit Card Machine: two lane bridge, often denoting a narrow one
  • Fighter Pilot: a driver who often changes lanes

You can read the full list on Wikipedia.

CB RADIO FAQ (FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS)

There are some common questions that beginners to CB radios pose when using them for the first time, so hopefully any inquiries or concerns that you have will be answered here:

  • How Far Can They Reach?

CB radios were built for short range/local use, so mobile radios can typically pick up another signal from about fifteen miles away. Conditions such as number of people on the channel, buildings in the area, or terrain can interfere with the signal and increase or decrease range.

Also remember that ‘skipping’ channels means you can send or receive messages thousands of miles away, although when this does happen it is usually accidental.

  • Is Channel Nine an Emergency Channel in All Countries?

No.  Channel nine is only an emergency channel in the United States because it has been designated such by the FCC. As a result, if you ever receive a message from another country (should the channels ever be ‘skipped’), you may hear radio traffic that is not emergency related on this channel.

However, in the United States channel nine is constantly monitored by rescue agencies and law enforcement units to pick up on any accidents or medical emergencies.

  • What is Squelch?

The squelch is the knob that will quiet down the background noise over the radio when there is not a signal. To make the noise go away completely, simply continue to turn the squelch knob. Unless a signal is present, the squelch will ensure that the receiver is fully quiet. Squelch knobs are typically present on other two-way radios as well.

  • How Does ‘Shooting Skip’ Work?

Shooting skip occurs when the Earth’s atmosphere bounces signals to a far location.  Under the right conditions, your message could be sent thousands of miles away or you could receive a message from a long distance away as well. This means it could be possible for a person in Florida to talk to a person in Oregon, for example.

  • Are Linear Amplifiers Allowed?

Under current FCC rules, you cannot use any additional modifications or power to boost the range or frequency of your CB radio, so linear amplifiers are not allowed.  This is because doing so interferes with the electrical devices and appliances around you, so your neighbor’s TV signal could become interrupted for example.

RECOMMENDATIONS

If this article has tempted you enough to consider getting one, here’s a few you should consider:

CONCLUSION

All in all, CB radios are widely available and a good option for emergency communications (previously covered in detail here by one of our guest authors).  While new models can cost between $50.00-$200.00, you can easily find older ones in good condition that are sitting around in thrift stores or garage sales and will be dirt cheap.

Sometimes, there will even be CB radios resting in older vehicles at junk yards. You can also find accessories at an abundance of places like electronic stores or online sites.

Are CB radios the only kind of communication device that you should keep on hand when preparing for a power grid down scenario? Absolutely not, since there are many other different kinds of radios and communication devices that will serve you well too. But a CB radio should absolutely be a part of your communications preparation, and now that you know how to use one, all you have to do now is go out, buy one, and test it out for yourself.

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About Nick Oetken

Nick Oetken
Nick Oetken is a prepper, outdoor enthusiast but, most of all, he is our in-house firearms expert. Look out for his articles on guns to find out which ones you need for your survival.

6 comments

  1. Did I miss a beat? Somehow felt you were selling some sort of wonder CB radio. I already know the drill. Just checking around for another CB radio if it suits me. Already have a real good one and it’s several years old.

  2. If I wanted to order a CB could you recommend the one I should buy? Thank you Very much!

  3. “Skip”, you left out the most important factor about it, as a general rule it is the one thing you could do without! Skip tends to drown out you local communications, so much so that you cannot talk to someone just a few miles away, because the skip signal is so much stronger. So if you are going to say, set up some what of a local network in your area, it would be best if everyone got a CB with SSB on their units to help get around that major issue. Oh also a nice big properly tuned antenna as high up as you can get it, the better range you will have, just make sure to ground things well when you put that lightning rod up in the sky.?⚡⚡⚡

  4. oldsouthpawgrunt

    Actually, there exist three types of CB radios: mobile, handheld, and stationary (or base station), which is what is depicted in the photo for the “SHTF Communications..CB Radio Basics” video.

  5. As an extra class ham operator, it is clear that you know very little about radio communications and RF propagation (what you call skip). You don’t even mention the layers of the ionosphere and the effect they have on propagation or the changes to the F layer of the ionosphere that occur during daylight and night time hours. Nothing about the frequency dependency that changes the propagation mechanics. Nothing about propagation mechanisms such as tropospheric ducting, sporadic E layer skip, back scatter propagation caused by northern/southern lights, EME techniques etc. I guess I need to go back and fact check some of your other posts about things that I don’t have the in depth understanding of, like I do of RF communications.

    • Congrats on proving Ham operators are generally egotistical Aholes. I got a ham extra and I run my homemade LDMOS amp at 3KW without band pass filters right in the middle of the extra only band portions when ever I find your type operating. Or if local I just drop it to a few milliwatts and transmit a carrier on your SSB frequency.

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