FRS/GMRS Tutorial:

In 2010, the FCC (10-106) proposed to remove the individual licensing requirement for GMRS and instead license GMRS “by rule” (meaning that an individual license would not be required to operate a GMRS device). This proposal is still pending.

FRS is "Family Radio Service" - GMRS is "General Mobile Radio Service" and both services are regulated in the United States by the Federal Communications Commission - the FCC. This is a simplified tutorial. FRS/GMRS services can be very complex if the advanced features are used. I am only discussing the most simple and most frequent use of theses radios. These simple procedures will almost certainly be the only ones employed in the context of CERT. The contents of this tutorial is a summary of my personal understanding of the FCC rules and does not relieve any other individual from understanding of and full compliance with the rules for lawful operation of the FRS/GMRS radio equipment as determined by the FCC.

License Issues:

If you operate a radio that has been approved for both FRS and GMRS, and if you limit your operations to the FRS channels with a maximum power of ½ watt effective radiated power, you are not required to have a license. (Note that some dual-service radios transmit with higher power on FRS channels 1 through 7; these radios can be used without a license only on FRS channels 8 through 14.)

1) Amateur Radio Service frequencies are restricted by the FCC for use only by those individuals who have been issued an "Amateur Radio License". Frequencies permitted are dependent on the class of license awarded (Technician/General/Amateur Extra).

2) FRS frequency transmission does not require a license (some restrictions are discussed below)

3) GMRS frequency transmission requires an FCC license (the licensing process is different entirely from those used by the FCC for licensing Amateur Radio Operators). If you purchase an FRS/GMRS radio new, it should have come with a license application and information on how to comply with the FCC license process requirements. These licenses are issued to an individual with one GMRS specific call sign for one fixed fee, currently $60 ($12 per year). The license is renewable after 5 years after another fee payment. The licensed individual may allow other individuals in his/her immediate family to operate under that license.

4) Amateur Radio Service licenses are issued free of charge except for a small (usually $5 to $15) administrative charge paid to the Volunteer Licensing Examination organization after successfully passing an examination. The license if good for 10 years and is renewable without paying and additional fee.

FRS/GMRS Channel Issues:

1) 22 fixed channels are more or less standard for equipment sold as FRS/GMRS radios, although there are some variations in number of channels and channel numbering schemes among equipment manufactures.

2) In the standard 22 channels, channels 1 through 7 are shared by the FRS and GMRS services

3) Channels 8 through 14 are FRS only

4) Channels 15 through 22 are GMRS only

5) All FRS/GMRS channels defined by any specific radio represent frequencies within the range authorized by the FCC for these services and all are in the UHF (ultra High Frequency) spectrum and all use FM (Frequency Modulation).

Radio Frequency (RF) Output Power issues :

1) FRS operation is restricted to 500 milliwatts (0.5 watt) of RF power out

2) GMRS operators can transmit at up to 5 watts. The actual power out is a function of how the manufacturer builds the radio and it typically varies between 1 watt and 5 watts.

3) On channels 1 through 7, the FRS/GMRS shared frequencies, manufactures typically restrict RF power to 0.5 watt. If an unlicensed operator uses these channels with a radio that is not so restricted, it is up to the operator to ensure that the radio is not transmitting more that 0.5 watt by selecting the "Low Power" setting.

4) GMRS channels are restricted to no more than 5 watts and typically the manufacturer will provide low, medium and high power settings with low being 0.5 watt and high being no more that the 5 watt maximum for the GMRS radio service.


1) Range of successful communications using FRS/GMRS radios is primarily dependent on two factors: RF Power out, and line of sight obstructions

2) UHF/FM signals do sometimes "bounce" off of obstructions such as buildings and hills, but in general the power is absorbed by obstructions.

3) The typical range of FRS (0.5 watts RF power out) is 0.3 to 1.0 miles depending on the terrain.

4) The typical GMRS range is longer because of the higher RF Power out, but varies widely depending on the same factors. Up to 5 miles is a good general rule of thumb, but may be much less depending on the terrain.

5) Extreme cases such as transmissions between a station with an unobstructed line of sight to a distant very high point are possible, but not common.


Words to the Wise:


* CERT Team Members who expect to be effective at communicating with an FRS/GMRS radio should become licensed by the FCC so the high power settings can be lawfully used.

* Fees are charged every 5 years for being a licensed GMRS operator which average about $12 per year.

* There is no license fee for an amateur radio license.

* With the introduction of inexpensive imported dual band hand held HAM radios, the gap between the cost of a HAM radio and an FRS/GMRS radio has narrowed substantially and at the low price point a HAM radio may even be cheaper.

* No study or test is required to obtain a GMRS license, but the Technician Class Amateur Radio License is not daunting and there is no morse code requirement any longer. Many of your teammates have taken this step.

* So -- why not take the plunge and become a HAM?