Tips on How to Best Configure and Use Your Baofeng UV-5R
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably either just purchased a UV-5R or are about to do so. Congratulations on a good choice.
Like any other professional grade two-way radio, the UV-5R has an enormous amount of flexibility and versatility in terms of how you can program and use it. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. You can’t just take the radio out of its box, charge up the battery, and start using it. Although it comes with 21 simplex channels pre-loaded, you’re not likely to use any of them, and so you’ll need to program in and name the channels you want.
Furthermore, you’ll quickly discover that the provided manual is far from well written.
But, never fear. Solutions to all these issues are readily available. Let’s go through them more or less in some sort of sensible sequence.
1. Radio Firmware
Do you have a recent level of firmware in your radio? There are some relevant improvements and bug fixes in newer firmware levels, and it is easy to check.
Turn your radio off. Press and hold the ‘3’ key, and while holding it, turn your radio on. Release the ‘3’ key.
Your display will show the firmware level in the radio. It will say something like
You want your radio to be version 297 or higher. This software has been out since about Nov/Dec 2012, and if your radio has a lower version firmware, that means you’re getting old stock. More to the point, earlier version firmwares have some bugs in them, and – most to the point – the firmware in your radio can not be updated.
We’d recommend that if you get a radio with an earlier firmware, you contact your seller and ask for an exchange for a more recent version radio, or simply return it if they can’t/won’t/don’t offer an exchange.
This is one of the benefits of dealing with Amazon (the link takes you straight to their UV-5R page) – not only do they have great prices, and fast free shipping if you’re a Prime member, they also have great return policies.
At the time of writing (April 2013), we are still occasionally hearing of people getting stuck with old stock radios. Don’t let it be you.
2. A Decent Manual
Okay, so your radio does have recent firmware in it. Great.
Now let’s fix the dreadful manual by getting you a very much better manual. Click the link to download an improved Baofeng UV-5R manual. This improved manual was written by one person and then edited/annotated/corrected by a second, and between the two of them, is by far the best reference work for the radio currently available.
Here’s a second link to a great ‘cheat sheet’ for the keyboard programming options the radio comes with (written by the same guy who annotated the excellent manual above). Grab a copy of that, too.
3. Software to Manage Your Radio
Okay, so now you have an up-to-date radio and a great manual and keyboard (as in ‘the keyboard on the radio itself’) programming ‘cheat sheet’. The next thing you need is good software to program and manage all the radio’s settings and the 128 different channels that can be stored in its memory.
This assumes you have already purchased a programming cable for the radio that connects between a computer USB port and the radio’s mike/speaker connector. If you haven’t done so, you’ll, about now, be discovering just how essential this is! Here’s a link to the programming cables on Amazon. Go and get one.
Note that some cables are for the baby brother of the UV-5R – the UV-3R Don’t get that – it uses a different connector.
And there’s no need to pay extra money to get the cable and software. Just get the cable, because the Baofeng software it comes with is only slightly better than the Baofeng manual the radio comes with. Again, you’re going to replace the inferior provided software with very much better, and free, software.
Once you have your cable, go to the CHIRP website and download their software. There are versions for PCs, Macs, and Linux.
The CHIRP software will enable you to program both the radio’s general settings (things such as squelch levels, backlight settings, scan mode, and so on) and also the specific settings for each of its 128 memory channels. You’ll find this amazingly easier and more straightforward than struggling either with programming the radio from its own keypad, or through the Baofeng software.
Here’s a great guide to what the various CHIRP fields mean for programming the channels.
4. Choosing Your Frequencies
Now for the fun part. There are 128 memories in the radio, and you can load frequencies of your choice into them. But what frequencies will you load in?
We suggest programming some FRS/GMRS/MURS frequencies into the radio, plus some ham frequencies too (assuming you’re a bona fide licensed ham). These are discussed below.
We suggest you use some sort of standard frequency numbering scheme – although you can (and should) also program frequency names, it is helpful to have some sort of self-interpreting channel numbers, too.
For example, we have channels 1 – 9 for high priority high usage ‘general’ channels. These include the standard national calling channels (eg 446 MHz) as well as a few local repeater channels that give good coverage, and our own group’s calling channels.
We then have channels 11 – 24 for FRS, 25 – 29 for MURS, 31-8 and 41-8 for GMRS simplex channels, and 51-58 for GMRS duplex channels. We have channels 61 – 99 for various other repeaters and specific channels for specific services, then channels 100+ for ‘interesting’ local channels we like to monitor (public safety, etc).
The reason for naming channels is so that when you hear a transmission on an unfamiliar frequency, its name might give you a clue as to what you are hearing.
Note that these radios are not ideally suited for scanning purposes – mainly because their scanning rate is too slow. By the time they’ve cycled through 100 or so channels and returned to channel one, more than 30 seconds has passed. This means you can miss entire conversations. If you really want to scan multiple channels, you should get a separate standalone high-speed scanner, or at the very least, get multiple UV-5R radios and program each one to only a limited number of channels.
4.1 FRS/GRMS/MURS Frequencies
In several of our other articles about handheld radios we’ve discussed the grey legality of using these radios as FRS/GMRS/MURS radios. It is up to you how you personally resolve this issue, and perhaps suffice it to say that if you wanted to program the channels in to your radio so you could at least monitor and listen to the channels, that would be perfectly legal. It is only if/when you transmit that you possibly trespass to the dark side of the grey area.
The good news is that the CHIRP software has these frequencies already available for you to copy in to your radio. Go to Radio – Import from Stock Config and select the frequencies you want and decide which channels to import them to.
You’ll see that CHIRP has the eight GMRS repeater frequency pairs in its stock configuration. That is great for using the radios with GMRS repeaters, but if you wanted to transmit/receive on the frequency paired channels in simplex mode (ie both transmitting and receiving on the same frequency) you’d want to import the frequencies a second time and edit them to simplex using the transmit frequency, then a third time and edit them to simplex using the receive frequency.
Note also the first seven of the FRS frequencies are the shared FRS/GMRS frequencies.
Our article Explaining the Confusion of Frequencies and Channels with FRS & GMRS Radios provides some much-needed clarification on these matters.
It is helpful to have all these frequencies programmed if you want to scan/monitor the frequency bands to pick up on other people nearby. But if you’re only interested in using the radios for your own use, then you don’t need every last frequency entered and maybe it keeps things simpler to just have a few frequencies stored in memory.
4.2 Ham Frequencies
Find out who your local frequency coordinator group is. If you have a copy of the helpful and annual (but not always up-to-date or complete) ARRL Repeater Directory you’ll find listings to local groups in the front; a bit of ‘detective work’ through Google and the ARRL site will often get you to the appropriate groups as well. Hopefully the frequency coordinating group has a website and hopefully you can download a set of repeater frequencies from them.
The CHIRP software also links you to some online services (Radio – Import from Data Source) that have many of the local frequencies already in suitable format for you to automatically transfer over to your radio. If you do this, it pays to check the data with the local frequency coordinator group if possible – generally the local frequency coordinator group has the latest and best information to refer to.
You’ll find it helpful to understand which repeaters you can access, and you’ll want to build up an understanding of the coverage areas of such repeaters. In the event of an emergency that does not immediately destroy such repeaters, they will be one of your preferred means of communicating with other members of your group, especially if some of the group are not within direct/simplex range.
Usually the repeater listings tell you approximately where the repeaters are located, so that gives you a good helpful start to understanding which ones might be relevant – both around your local normal area where you live and work, and on any routes from there to where your retreat is, and of course, repeaters in/around your retreat.
It is hard to know whether repeaters will remain operable or not in any sort of emergency scenario. If the repeater is only powered from mains/grid power (perhaps with an hour or two of UPS battery as backup for brief power cuts) then clearly, as soon as it loses power, it goes down, and it stays down until mains power is restored.
But if the repeater is solar-powered (and an appreciable number are) then it is much more resilient to interruptions in the normal world. You should find out about your local repeaters, and maybe join the appropriate groups/clubs that own and maintain them, and subtly lobby for making the repeater grid-independent.
You’ll actually find you have a fair measure of support for such concepts. While not all hams are preppers, many enjoy the thought of being able to participate and assist in minor regional emergencies – temporary Level 1 type scenarios, and within that concept, the idea of making a repeater as robust as possible will find plenty of support.
4.3 Other ‘Interesting’ Local Frequencies to Monitor
You can use resources such as www.radioreference.com and www.scannerstuff.com and www.mygmrs.com and www.interceptradio.com to get lists of local frequencies used variously by public safety, local, state and federal government, and all types of businesses from the local fast-food joint to mall security companies and just about every other type of radio user imaginable.
It can be interesting listening to some of these frequencies, and you might think of some tactical advantages to being able to monitor some of them as well – both while life is comfortable and normal, and in an uncertain future if things start to go suddenly very wrong.
However, remember that these radios are not fully featured when it comes to advanced scanning, and they can’t monitor digital or trunked frequencies at all. If these are things you want to monitor (and increasingly the more ‘interesting’ radio channels are on digital/trunked systems), you’ll need other equipment.
At the risk of stating the obvious, just because you have a radio that is theoretically capable of listening and transmitting on any particular frequency, that does not mean that you are allowed to do so.
4.4 Weather Frequencies
Not a separate function, but an often overlooked capability, is to program in the NOAA Weather Radio channels.
There are seven of them, in the VHF band. If you are getting low on spare channels, you could just program in the one or two for the areas you expect to be (the preceding link takes you to pages that list the locations and coverage areas for each transmitter); otherwise, it is easy to put all seven into your radio (and CHIRP has them preloaded to copy over – go to the Radio – Import from Stock Config option).
5. A Note on Frequencies
The Baofeng UV-5R series of radios will receive and transmit on FM modulated VHF frequencies between 136-174MHZ and on FM modulated UHF frequencies between 400-480/520MHz.
It will also receive only (but not transmit) on FM modulated VHF frequencies between 65 – 108 MHz.
First, to explain the UHF range. Many times the radios might be specified as having an upper range of 480 MHz, but (at least for the more recent firmware units) the upper range is actually 520 MHz. Trust us on this – we’ve tested to confirm.
Second, there is a problem with very inexpensive radios being freely available. Sometimes people buy them who, ahem, probably shouldn’t. We regularly see ridiculous claims from people on websites, saying that they have managed to modify their UV-5R radios to receive (and presumably transmit, too) on other frequencies – not just slight extensions of the official frequency ranges, but all the way up to 1 GHz and down to only a few MHz.
We’ve also read other people saying they have modified their radios to receive AM as well as FM signals.
Both these types of claims are physically impossible, and are outright utter nonsense. We can’t comment as to the mental health of people who make such claims, but the unavoidable electrical and electronic reality is that – no matter what you can get the display on the front of the radios to show – they will not work outside the frequency ranges they have been designed to operate on. We will concede that with increasingly poor performance, maybe you could extend the two bands by about 5% – 10% at each end, but beyond that, the circuitry just will not work.
And as for receiving AM signals on an FM radio, that’s also not electrically/electronically possible.
We all like to get something for nothing, but don’t risk damaging your radios by trying these nonsense modifications. They can’t work, they don’t work, and they won’t work.
6. Broadcast FM Radio
In addition to being able to transmit and receive on its two bands, the Baofeng UV-5R has a bonus feature. It also has a good quality extended FM broadcast band receiver in it, which allows you to receive but not transmit on both the regular broadcasting FM band (88-108 MHz) and also on the 65-88MHz frequencies too.
There’s not a lot of activity in the 65-88MHz part of the spectrum (that’s putting it mildly) and the radio only tunes in 100 kHz steps in this mode. However, the regular FM radio capability is convenient.
You can’t store FM channels in the radio’s memories, but you can use the scan function to jump from one radio station to the next.
7. Some Settings to Consider
The radio has a lot of configurable options, either through keyboard programming or via the CHIRP software. Most items can be left at their default setting, and the per channel items for each channel can be configured as is needed.
There are a few settings to consider, however.
The squelch setting can be varied from 0 (squelch off, you get all background noise all the time) up to 9 (very high squelch, only strong signals punch through).
The radio is set to a default value of 5. Different people have different approaches and opinions about squelch, and you should adopt an approach that reflects your needs.
If you only want to use your radio for local communications, then set the squelch level for one or two numbers lower than the level necessary to ensure that it always ‘opens’ when receiving signals from the furtherest away place with the poorest radio signals that you want to receive from. By having a higher number squelch setting, you’ll be less troubled by other weak signals, especially ones that many times are too weak to really understand.
But if you want to hear the other guy’s transmissions before he hears yours, and if you want to be sure to pick up even very weak signals, just for the knowing that there are other people out there, even if still some distance away, then set your squelch down to 1 or 2.
We generally have our squelch setting at 1, and find that we can understand most of the transmissions that come in. We want to know who else is using radios out there, hopefully before they know about us.
7.2 Dual Frequency
If you have a lot of people in your group, and if you are using your radios a lot, it might be sensible to have multiple channels, plus a master emergency channel. Then you could have everyone in one team using one channel, and everyone in a different team or tasking unit using a different channel, and the two different sets of users not interfering with each other.
At the same time, you’d also have both teams having a second global channel on their radios, so if there was any sort of emergency or community wide broadcast, everyone would get it on their second channel.
7.3 CTCSS, DCS, etc
There are ways to code the radios so they send specific inaudible tones or other types of signaling with every message they send out, and also so they will only play through the speaker messages they receive with specific tones on them, too.
This is a very dangerous and widely misunderstood set of capabilities. They are useful and sometimes necessary when using a repeater – repeaters are commonly configured so they will only rebroadcast a message if the incoming message has an activating tone associated with it. The repeaters are configured this way as much to cut down on repeater to repeater interference as for any other reason, although they are sometimes also used as a small measure of access-restriction too.
But for regular use within your community members, adding these types of tones seems to often result in someone’s radio being mis-configured and the person not hearing any messages, and his own messages in turn also not being heard.
So generally we recommend you keep all these settings off.
But there is one possible alternative factor to consider. If you were to have any opposing force take one of your radios, they’d then be able to monitor and even possibly jam your communications within your group. The radio they’d have seized would have all your channels programmed into it.
If you configured vulnerable-to-being-taken radios to use some type of tone signaling, then this would (hopefully) not be intuitively obvious to the people who stole the radio. You could simply switch your other radios to another code (and there are hundreds to choose from) and that would probably be all you’d need to do to prevent the person with the stolen radio from listening in. Only if they had technical radio skills, and knew how to read the configuration of your radio and how to change it could they restore their ability to monitor your radio traffic.
Note that if you use these types of tones to selectively block unwanted radio traffic within your network, it will not prevent other people (ie OpFor types) who already have radio receivers tuned to the frequencies you are using, from monitoring your transmissions. They would of course not have any of these selective block features enabled and so would hear all your transmissions.
The recommendation to use the tones on your radios would only be beneficial if you were using unusual frequencies that any other people would be less likely to be monitoring. And, of course, if they did get one of your pre-configured radios, the recommendation again assumes (and assuming is never a good thing to do!) that they wouldn’t know either about ‘opening the squelch’ via the button on the side of the radio, or about reprogramming the radio to ignore the CTCSS or whatever control tones.
So it might be beneficial, but it sure isn’t a guaranteed solution.
7.4 Key Lock
This is an essential feature that we urge you to enable in your radios. Set the radio for automatic key lock any time the keyboard has not been used for a while.
When your radio is locked, you’ll still be able to use the on/off/volume control and the push-to-talk button (and the other two side buttons too). But all the other keys are locked. This is a good thing – it means there’s no way you can accidentally bump the radio and change its frequency or one of its other settings. If you don’t have the radio locked, you will inevitably be bumping it against things from time to time, so it may not be on the channel or setting you need it to be on when either you urgently need to contact someone, or someone urgently needs to contact you.
So set the radio to auto-lock. It is easy enough to unlock if you do need to change something – you just hold down the lock/unlock key for a couple of seconds.
7.5 Channel Frequency Step
If you wish to scan a block of frequencies (and remembering that these radios are not at their best as scanners due to slow scanning speed and lack of sophisticated scanning features) you should consider what frequency step setting you have. The radios can be set to move from as little as 2.5 kHz up to as much as 25 kHz for each step while scanning and tuning.
If you set it to 25 kHz and a sophisticated opponent is using nonstandard frequencies for his own radio communications, you might skip right past his frequencies and never detect them.
For this type of purpose, it is better to set the frequency step low.
7.6 Transmit Power Setting
The radio can be set to transmit with 1W or 4W of output power. This can be set channel by channel as appropriate.
Although a lot of the time we are focused on getting the best possible range from a radio, there are exceptions to this case. Generally we recommend you transmit with the least amount of power necessary. This saves your battery, reduces the amount of radio frequency energy and any effects it may cause on you, and also limits the distance at which your communications can be overheard by other people.
Sure, if you can’t be clearly heard at 1W, then by all means go up to 4W, because you have little choice. But if you are heard clearly at 4W, consider dropping down to 1W.
8. Other Information and Resources
The Baofeng radios are very popular, with the result there are lots of websites and user forums out there that discuss the radios.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that some of the participants on these forums seem like recidivists from the ‘bad old days’ of CB radios in the 1970s – the real reason the CB radio ‘craze’ died out (in our opinion) is because the airwaves became infested with idiots who jammed up the channels and made the participation of ‘normal’ people into an unpleasant and difficult experience.
Just as low-priced GMRS/FRS radios have sort of overwhelmed the FCC’s policing of the GMRS radio bands, the ready availability of low-priced HT sets like the UV-5R threatens to see the 2m and 70cm ham bands infested by such people, too. Fortunately – at least so far – the ham community has been vigilant at policing itself, and we hope that will continue to happen on the air, if not on the internet.
There is an excellent website at http://www.miklor.com/ that is focused on all UV-5R related issues. It is well worth your while to read all the way through it. The material is generally accurate and helpful.
There is an active Yahoo Group – http://groups.yahoo.com/group/baofeng_uv5r/ – that you might want to join as well. We’ve found that there’s a high proportion of nonsense messages in this group, alas; but if you can survive that for a few weeks, you might pick up some useful additional information, and it is easy enough to unsubscribe from the group again.
Currently there are 7700 members of the group, and at least some of them are very helpful and sensible. Others however clearly don’t know what a ham license is, let alone have one.
Your Baofeng UV-5R radios are capable of doing many things, and are flexible and versatile communication tools.
Hopefully the information on this page will help you configure them to best reflect the operational needs and situation in which you are using them. If you’ve not already done so, we recommend you also read through our article A Complete System for your Baofeng UV-5R Radio – this gives you details of other accessories that you should get to extend the use and functionality of your radios.