Two Way Radio 101: Operating Guidelines for Using Two-Way Radios During Camping and in Emergencies

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Many people, when looking for cool camping gadgets, will opt to purchase a lot of fancy consumer electronics or will spend all of their money on things they believe they should have while leaving out things which can play a very important role in survival. The fact that we all have cellular phones which have the capability to act like computers and GPS devices makes many people forego purchasing new devices for communication. Two way radios, however, are the perfect addition to any camping kit, bug out bag, or emergency kit. Ignoring them is something which should be avoided at all costs.


Two way radios have quickly become one of the most prevalent means of communication when camping or during emergencies. Cell towers simply do not have the capability to reach out to many unpopulated areas. Compounding that fact is the possibility that, during an emergency, they would simply not be able to function the way that the normally would. Since many people do not have landlines (and the landlines that are still connected may be damaged), it is important to establish a means of communication. This is one area where two way radios can excel.

What are Two-Way Radios?

Two way radios are radios which have the ability to both receive and transmit a signal. This is in stark contrast to the way that broadcast receivers or broadcast radios work, where they either receive signals or transmit them but do not do both. This type of radio allows the person using it to have conversations with others who are on the same radio frequency. These are typically going to be mobile and they will have a stationary base on which they can be charged for use. They will also have a number of portable configurations. These radios have a number of unique names, including walkie talkies, handie talkies, or other names like hand held radios.

These generally operate in a half-duplex mode. The operator can talk or list but cannot do both of those actions at the same time. Generally, there will be a push to talk or a transmit button which activates the transmitter on the radio. When that button is released the receiver becomes active automatically. This is different from a cell phone insofar as it is not able to do both at the same time. Cell phones are full-duplex, meaning they can do both at the same time.

Conventional radios are going to be operating on fixed channels. With radios that are able to utilize multiple channels, they will only use one at a time. This channel is something which is selected by the user via a channel selector that is located on the control panel of the radio. If the radio operates via a multi-channel mechanism, each channel will likely be used for a different purpose. One channel might be used by a specific department and another could be used by a different department. Motorola typically refers to channels as modes on many of their radio models. This is something which can become a bit confusing to users who are not altogether familiar with the terminology.


Trunked radio systems use a form a system logic to automatically pick the radio frequency channel. This works because of a protocol that helps to accurately define the overall relationship between the radio backbone and the radio itself. This allows channel assignments to happen without any manual configuration by the user. These will allow for multiple conversations to take place on a single channel at the same time. IF the system is digital, time slows are also managed for single channels. The entire purpose of this is to allow the carrying of multiple conversations at the same time. Radios are generally going to be related by groups that have a hierarchy. These are virtual channels which might disappear or appear as conversations take place.

Another aspect of this whole thing are simplex versus duplex channel systems. Simplex channel systems use the same single channel for transmission and for receiving. This is something which is common on aircraft, marine, and Citizens Band radios. These are generally going to be legacy systems which have been in use since the mid-1930s in the United States. These are older units and they simply do not function as well as some of the duplex systems that exist. With that being said, they are still reliable and are still widely in use today.

Duplex channel systems receive and transmit on different, individual, channels. This helps to make systems where the equipment cannot be used without the assistance of other things such as bases, stations, or repeaters. The most common form of this in the United States uses a repeater configuration which allows retransmission of the signals that are being received by the mobile units. This base will usually have some sort of large antenna and a big power source to accomplish its goals. As stated previously, these can be either half-duplex or full-duplex, depending on how the mobile units are meant to function. The downside to this is that if the radio cannot reach the repeater, it cannot work properly.

Basic Operating Guidelines

There are a few things which must be kept in mind when learning the basics of two way radios. One of those is the fact that they are not able to transmit and to receive at the same time. This means that when you are using it, if you have the transmitter activated, then you will not be able to hear anything that anyone else is saying. If you have the receiver activated then you will not be able to transmit anything at the same time. This is a distinction which simply cannot be overstated.

To transmit information, you only need to depress the button to talk and then say what you need to say. It will automatically be transmitted to anyone listening on the frequency that your radio is set to. If you want to listen to return communications, then you need to let go of the push to talk button and simply listen. As soon as the button is let go, you can hear anything that anyone else needs to say.

Motorolla Talk About Two Way Radios

Motorolla Talk About Two Way Radios

Channel selection is different on most units, but the documentation that comes with the unit will explain the basics. Typically, the menu of the radio will have a channel selection option readily available which is relatively easy to find. It is common to also have the ability to input a specific frequency for each channel so that you can pick exactly what frequency you will be broadcasting on. This is a method which allows people to communicate with different groups or different individuals very easily.

The channels that are available on two way radios are more like storage slots for different frequencies. You can store a frequency on a channel and someone else can do the same and switching to that channel will allow you to communicate with each other. This is a method of easily storing multiple frequencies. One potential use of this is communication between different departments in the same company. This allows specific information to be transmitted only to the people who need it while maintaining open lines of communication for anyone else who may be around listening.

This should be obvious but it bears mentioning nonetheless. You will want to charge your radios at every possible opportunity at a charging base that is made for those radios. That way you can always be sure that the radio will be in proper working order when you need it. You should also make a point of carrying some extra loose batteries that will fit in your device. This will allow you to continue communication even after the internal rechargeable batteries inside the unit have gone dead. Having a properly functioning unit is extremely important if you want to maintain communication in the field or during an emergency. When the power goes out, it is already too late for you to start charging the batteries for your unit.

Extra Tips

Even the best radio users can do themselves a favor by remembering some extra tips. Here is a brief list of things that you will want to keep in mind:

• Two way radios are not the same thing as HAM radios, though they do operate in a similar capacity. A HAM radio and its operations usually requires the obtainment of a license from the Federal Communications Commission. The association which is responsible for these radio operators is the American Radio Relay League, at least in the United States. They provide HAM radio operators information about how to build and operate their units. Not obtaining the FCC license means that you cannot legally transmit on this type of radio. Two way radios, however, are different insofar as anyone can use them without obtaining any sort of license.

• Many people will add things to their messages which are simply not necessary for good communication. You do not need to be polite or use manners when you are speaking on a two way radio. The communication and getting your point across is the key to success, not being nice. So if you are not sure if you need to say something, then simply do not say it. This is something which saves time and energy for everyone involved in the communication.

• Less communication is the best way to talk over two way radios. You need to keep your message short and sweet. Be brief. Be efficient. You should already know what you plan to communicate over the radio before you ever even start talking into it. You don’t want to tie up the channel while you are trying to determine what you need to say. This point is something which is also missed by a lot of people. Two way radios are not meant for idle chit chat or for long conversations. They are meant for short and quick communications between two individuals.

• There is no privacy when transmitting on open channels. You need to be aware of this if you are going to be transmitting any sort of personal information. Anything that you say over these channels can be picked up by anyone else who is listening to the same frequency. This is a big plus during some emergency situations or if you are sending out an SOS. In those situations you will want to reach as many people as you possibly can. With that being said, if you are having sensitive conversations you should be aware that anyone can hear what you are saying.

• Repeat information given to you back to the person who provided it. This will ensure proper communication between parties. Sometimes messages can get lost in the airwaves when they are coming to you. The most important thing that you need to do is make sure that you understand any important information coming to you. Repeating it back will give the other person the opportunity to correct any mistakes you may have heard.

Final Thoughts

Learning the basic operating guidelines for the use of two way radios is something which is extremely important prior to purchase. When you receive the units, you will have to know what to look for and how to test them in order to make sure that they work properly. In addition, understanding how to utilize the various functions of the radio and understanding what to look for on the packaging. If you do not know what the various aspects of the radio are, it can be extremely difficult to understand what the information and statistics listed on the packaging will actually mean.

Two way radios play an important role in emergency situations and they are a great camping gadget to have around. They help to foster communication between disparate individuals and they assist people in a variety of situations. Understanding the operating guidelines for two way radios can only help in that..