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Legality Vs Necessity

Is it legal to use a Baofeng Radio in the UK?

It’s an often asked question and the answers may surprise or annoy you depending on what camp you are in.

Most people who come to this site do so because they are preparing for something bad to happen and want to know how to protect themselves and their loved ones during a SHTF situation.

This site is about encouraging the idea that preparation is a life saving tool. IE, that having a radio properly programmed into useful frequencies and knowing how to use it, could potentially save your life.

This site is not about encouraging you to break the law.

So, what piece of equipment are we talking about. In as far as this site is concerned it is a Chinese made radio known as a Baofeng UV5R.

  • U – UHF
  • V – VHF
  • 5 – Output in Watts
  • R – Radio
Baofeng UV-5R

This radio is cheap, it has blown open the radio market worldwide. This market was dominated by the Japanese for many years. Brands like Yaesu, Kenwood and Icom are mainstays of the industry and rightly so because they are excellent quality items.

But they are expensive and often the process of being licensed to use them is too. Especially in the Marine space where the Royal Yachting Association has the market cornered on training and examining for the Marine VHF band. A one day course can easily cost £100 plus the cost of the exam & licence, another £60 and then the cost of the radio which can range between £80 and £400 for a handset.

Many people have decided that as they only kayak for a few days per year, they will not bother with the Marine licence. Putting themselves and others at risk in the event of an emergency.

PMR or Private Mobile Radio is a set of channels in the UHF part of the radio spectrum. 446 MHz (Megahertz). Radios in this band a free to use as long as you use equipment that is type approved for the purpose. This generally means a very low power output and a fixed antenna that can’t be changed.

Along comes the Baofeng. A lot of people have cottoned onto the fact that Baofeng radios can be programmed to use those frequencies. The output of a UV5R, even at it’s lowest setting, is well above what a PMR radio is capable of.

However on many evenings and especially at weekends, if you listen to PMR channels after businesses have closed for the day, you will hear people chatting away over long distances. Many of them are using the Baofeng and little, if any, enforcement is going on to deal with it. It isn’t just Baofengs that are being used. If you visit many of the 446 Facebook groups you will find a lot of people who are using re-purposed Amateur Radio equipment to talk to each other.

The reality is that whilst illegal, no harm seems to be caused. It seems to be like the old days of AM CB Radio all over again.

So what’s the problem?

Just one look at eBay and Amazon will show you a whole bunch of Baofeng radios available to you for a very reasonable price. A couple of clicks later and they are on their way to you. Unbox, slap the battery in and antenna on all within 60 seconds and it is difficult to resist the urge to press that transmit button on the side,

But the radios are programmed in a factory in China. They really don’t care what frequencies they put in them and they certainly don’t care about anything more than their profits. So there you are running around the woods playing paintball, or wild camping, or 4×4 driving. You start using the box fresh radios and subsequently find out you are sharing a frequency with a pretty annoyed Army Regiment. Believe me, they are going to be reporting you to Ofcom and there is nothing that Ofcom dislike more than someone interfering with a primary user.

In this day and age, nobody is going to effectively stop the trade in these radios, so if you are going to use them, you might as well use channels that aren’t going to upset anyone else. PMR for instance. Yes it’s naughty, but it’s not upsetting the Army.

As I said earlier in this article, I am not condoning unlicensed use of radios. I am merely being a realist.

There are precedents for this sort of thing in society. For example, we all know that there are plenty of drug addicts out there. When AIDS became a massive problem, needle exchanges started to pop up providing addicts with clean needles.

Example situation.

You are your buddies hire a boat and skipper for the day. You trundle off into the North Sea for a session of Man Vs Fish. The weather picks up and the skipper, who has been doing this for years, isn’t wearing his lifejacket. Over the side he goes. What do you do now? You might have a bit of an idea how to pilot the boat, but how good are you at man overboard drills? Despite never having touched a marine radio in your life, you pick up the microphone and shout for help. With luck you are on the right channel (16).

The RAF send a helicopter, the RNLI send a lifeboat. With luck the skipper is saved and all is well. Do you think anyone is going to be asking you for your radio licence?

Preparedness gives you the upper hand. Allow others to fish the skipper out. Use your radio skills to summon assistance.

That is PrepComms UK in a nutshell.

Prepare, educate, improvise, know how to use comms.

When the brown stuff hits the fan, it’s about what you can do, not the piece of paper in your pocket.

I am happy to assist you in gaining free training, pointing you in the right direction, teaching how to use a radio etc etc. I would love it if you became a Radio Amateur, the more people who gain their Ham Ticket and callsign the better.

If you’ve got this far you have done well. Want training? It’s free, visit Essex Ham.