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Baofeng UV5R - Every ham should have one, but not as their only radio.    
In the last several years there has been an influx of cheap Chinese radios making their way to our shores. One of the most popular with hams is the Baofeng UV5R. This article will describe why every ham should have one of these radios in their communications tool kit.

The UV5R is cheap, coming in at about $25 for the HT with standard battery, rubber ducky, ear phone, and desktop charger. The radio covers VHF HI and UHF bands from 136-174MHz and 400-520Mhz with 128 memory channels, repeater offset, dual watch, pl, and dcs. Baofeng combines that with a transmit power of 1 watt low and 4 watts high.

The radio has a nice solid feel and a tough case. It also has a full compliment of accessories to make it even more versatile.

The price makes this the perfect radio to carry when you might accidentally damage a hand held, like climbing a tower and dropping it, or around the water where it might be dropped or you might fall in and flood it.

With 128 memory channels which are easy to program via CHIRP software this radio will cover the communications needs of most hams in the VHF/UHF range.

In addition the radio is FCC approved under Part 90. This is the single best reason that every ham should have it in their kit. Officially marketed as a commercial radio for part 90 land mobile services,
think fire, police, ambulance, taxi and such.

The part 90 approval is very important to 2 segments of hams.

The first is the ham who works in a job where he has to make use of a part 90 radio. This means that he can either carry one radio that will do double duty, or his ham rig can back up his official radio.

The second segment is the ham who serves his community in times of need providing emergency communications. If this ham is working with a served agency or Non-Governmental-Organization which is part 90 licensed he can, upon approval of the license holder, come up on the assigned commercial frequencies to pass traffic directly to them as the situation requires.

It is important to not that as of this writing all commercial land mobile FM in the United States of America has switched to 2.5 Khz deviation, so if you are a volunteer firefighter, before bringing up your UV5R on your volunteer fire fire department's channel make sure you have set the deviation to narrow for that channel.

Why should a fine cheap chinese radio not be your only radio?

Well for starters in emergency preparation the old adage is if you have one, you have none, and if you have two you have one.

These radios have some weaknesses and quality control issues. I first purchased one at the ARRL National Convention in Hartford a couple of years ago. The reverse sma connector needed to be tightened repeatedly, but I thought the issues were eventually solved with a little lock-tite on the retaining nut. Living in New York City it is pretty easy to hit a repeater with very low power, so I did not realize until comparing the radio to a friends unit that she was hearing and hitting the repeaters better than me. A quick check against an output meter showed my radio was putting out 1/10 the power of her radio. Opening the radio up showed the antenna connector to be no longer soldered to the circuit board. Soldering it back seemed to fix things all up and the radio seemed to be at full power on both VHF and UHF. I was once again in possession of a working radio. My joy did not last long. A few weeks later the radio stopped producing power on UHF, but VHF still worked. Well it was cheap, so I just bought another.

I have since gotten reports from other hams of antenna connectors not soldered to the circuit board.

The UV5R also seems to overheat when operated for prolonged periods on the DC adapter. The over heating causes the radio to blank it's display and stop transmitting.

If you live in a high RF zone like New York City you may find it impossible to receive if you move up to a better antenna or even on the rubber ducky in certain areas. The radio has no tuned circuits in the front end and it's wide band operation means that it gets overloaded by off frequency signals very easily. With the radio connected to my mobile antenna and my car within one mile of a local repeater I was unable hear the repeater. At first I thought the the repeater was off the air, then I swapped out the mobile antenna for the rubber duck and bingo I could hear the repeater. The 10db difference in gain and having the radio inside the steel cage of the car attenuated whatever strong signal was overloading the receiver to the point where I could hear the repeater.

One other point that needs to be mentioned is that these radios are not part 95 or Part 80 accepted. This means they can not be used on FRS, GMRS, or MURS, which are all Part 95 services. They are also illegal to use on the Marine Band which is governed by FCC Part 80.

Just because a radio can operate on a frequency does not mean it is legal to do so!

So while the UV5R, and similar radios are good to have in your tool kit they should not be the only VHF/UHF radio in your kit.


Brett Wynkoop

Brett Wynkoop - posted on 3/2/2021
Since I wrote this article the UV-5R has lost it's part 90 certification making it useless for legal interoperation with emergency services that use part 90 radios and frequencies.

I have also had 2 of 4 UV-5R radios purchased fail such that they were useless, and the stock rubber duck of one fail, making 3/4 of the radios I purchased in a 2 year time not useful pieces of communications equipment.