Who can use a ham radio?

The simple answer is licensed amateur radio operators.

A few years back I rode in the AZT300. It is a self-supported bike race in southern remote bits of Arizona. After 8 days on the Arizona Trail, I came home with questions about emergency communications. What would happen if my spot GPS and I became separated? At the time I was not an amateur radio operator and sat there wondering what all the antennas in the distance were for.
Some were for radio and tv, but some are for the department of transportation, amateur radio, and GMRS repeaters.

How could people on the trail use these in an emergency situation?
Can you reach them with a HAM radio? Who can use a ham radio?

The real answer to the question, “Who can use a ham radio?” comes from the FCC test bank for the technician level ham radio license.

Derrick Perrin's bike on Mr Lemmon
Derrick Perrin’s Mountain Bike on Mt Lemmon, Arizona

FCC Question T2C09 – 12. Are amateur station control operators ever permitted to operate outside the frequency privileges of their license class?

  • A. Yes, but only when part of a RACES emergency plan
  • B. Yes, but only if necessary in situations involving the immediate safety of human life or protection of property
  • C. Yes, but only when part of a FEMA emergency plan
  • D. No

So if you are studying for your technician license you do not have a license at all. So this question is for everyone. The answer is “B”.

The key to the answer is that if all other communications have been tried then you ‘yes you, as in anyone without a license’ can use a radio to make emergence communication calls. Any radio, any frequency, any way how.
§ 97.403 Safety of life and protection of property. No provision of these rules prevents the use by an amateur station of any means of radiocommunication at its disposal to provide essential communication needs in connection with the immediate safety of human life and immediate protection of property when normal communication systems are not available.

We cant stress how important it is to have your license . Its really easy to study and test for your tech. Just do a search for the local amateur club in your area and there will be an old man there who would love to help you get setup.

How does this help on the trail?

Mountain Bike and a Ham Radio
Ham radio on a mountain bike

A good cheep radio like the BTECH UV-5X3 has 128 programmable channels that can be setup for everything from ham radio repeaters to Motorola Blister-pack family radio channels to a mix of other municipal frequencies.

2 way radio repeaters and how they work

Family – FRS & General Mobile Radio Service GMRS Bands

Just like the ham radio bands there are repeaters for the blister-pack radios. You can Google search you area for local GMRS repeater networks. Here is a video showing how to program these bands into your hand held radio.

Programming your HT for FRS and GMRS radio bands.

Do Your Homework – Read and find out what might save your ass on the trail.

So the main concept here is getting your hands on a radio and prepare by learning how it works and how you program it. I use chirp to program my handheld 2-way walkie talkies. The frequencies you put into the radio will be important. You can also program channels for scanning only. If you want to listen to the national weather service, you can do that.

Radio Frequencies I would use for the Arizona Trail.

The NOAA weather radio channels for the area

Santa Cruz County 155.71500 – County Emergency Services – EMS Dispatch 155.02500 – SCRUZ-ROADS – Public Works 155.23500 – Santa Cruz Valley USD – Schools


154.40000 – Fire Department – F1 – Dispatch 154.43000 – Suburban Nogales FD F2 – Dispatch


154.41500 – Fire Department – Dispatch

Sonoita Pima County

155.22000 Sheriff- Search & Rescue volunteers 154.17500 – Fire Department – Dispatch

Mt Lemmon

146.96000 – K7UAZ Ham Repeater 224.06000 – KA7LFX Ham Repeater 151.04750 – Air Evac Medical Helicopters 155.32500 – Air Eval Tuscon All FRS and GMRS including the popular repeater pairs. Any Municipal fire or EMS that operates on FM.

This is a short list of the frequencies you should be looking for. The little handheld radios are not that powerful. The best way to operate at long range is to have a clear line of site. Make sure nothing is between you and the receiver you are trying to hit.

There are ways to upgrade the radio by installing a better antenna, or a larger battery pack. As a bikepacker, or hiker you will have to weigh in on what is important to you.

I hope this helps stir up some ideas and other ways to stay safe on your next outdoor adventure.