CB radios are a trusty companion when we head bush. Whether we’re going remote or just taking off for a weekend, their utility is hard to fault. For vehicle convoys, they’re a great way to keep in touch with fellow travellers while on the road. If one of your companions leaves for a spot of bushwalking, the CB in their pocket and the CB in your rig create insurance against becoming lost or snake bite.
And a polite discussion over a short-wave radio sure beats volleys of barked directions between driver and travel partner when it comes time to reverse a rig into a tight space — it’s no wonder CBs are sometimes called marriage savers.
More broadly, CB radios help you keep in touch with the world around you. Listen to Channel 40 and you can find out about road conditions from truckies using the same roads as you. On remote tracks, you’ll find roadside signs with recommended channels to monitor in the event someone’s bogged or in some other difficulty. And if that someone is you, then your CB may be the thing that gets you the assistance you need, as quick as you need it.
The distance our CB conversations can travel is dependent on a many variables. These include the quality of the product, quality of installation, antenna choice, mount location, power output, terrain and even atmospheric conditions. But you should expect around 5–25km range. As radio waves work on a line of sight, you’ll generally get as much range as you can actually see. And if you’re struggling to get the distance you need, head for higher elevation.
Under Commonwealth radiocommunications legislation, we’re generally not authorised to use certain channels. These are channels 1–8, 22, 23, 31–38, 41–48, 61–63 and 71–78. The reason is they’re reserved for specific uses. For example:
Channels 5 and 35 are legislated for emergency use only and fines can be issued for their improper use. The maximum penalty for the misuse can be up to two years prison or $165,000 fine.
Channel 22 and 23 are reserved for telemetry and telecommand and can’t be used for voice. So, if your CB is fitted with a GPS, this is the channel from which it will send geo-location information to another CB that’s coded with the same tech. If not, stay off channel.
Channels 61–63 are reserved for future allocation.
Other channels are reserved for repeater stations. Think of areas that are so large — or with undulating country — where talk on one channel simply can’t be heard by the intended recipient. The repeater station on a nearby mountain retransmits your conversation onto another channel that can be received at a location beyond your visual range.
Although there may be restrictions on channel use, there’s still plenty of bandwidth open for general use. The Channel Allocation table to the right shows which channels are available for recreational purposes.
KEEP IT BRIEF
While CBs are convenient, it’s worth remembering they use open channels, so, anyone can be trying to use the same channel you are. Therefore, it’s important to observe some common courtesies. After all, this isn’t ‘open mike’ night at a comedy club where you get to ramble to an unwitting audience.
A Golden Rule of CB etiquette is to keep it short and to the point. This can be a real issue because some people use their CB like a form of security blanket, constantly talking with their convoy about every insignificant observation.
The issue is the CB radio is often the only reliable means of communication on Australian farms, rural roads and highways. So, at any point, someone may have a greater need than you to use the bandwidth you’re monopolising. And the jackaroos and jillaroos on nearby properties aren’t interested in listening to you babble.
If someone breaks into your conversation, ask them to repeat what they said to determine if you need to give the channel over to them. If there’s too much competition for bandwidth on the channel you’re using, have a pre-arranged set of channels that you’ll move to, say 9, 39 and 79.
Public profanity is an offence in every jurisdiction in Australia, be that at your local supermarket or on the airwaves. The problem of foul language exists among CB users and it gets worse the closer you get to the city.
When it comes to talking on your CB, lead by example. If you hear inappropriate language, remind the offender that there are ‘ducks on the pond’ and to keep it clean. In the main they will. While some will ignore you, others may simply have become careless with their language and your reminder may help reset their moral compass. For the one percenters who become aggressive or harassing, remember they are acting illegally. If you have enough information (name, vehicle, rego or direction of travel), dial 131 444 to get the local Boys in Blue on the job. And for the truckie who just sounds like he needs a gentle kick up the butt from his boss, dial the phone number on the back of the rig to ‘Report my driving’.
Avoid getting involved in caustic or threatening language yourself. The kids in the car absorb your language, and lowering your own standards does no-one any good. Simply advise your convoy that you’re moving to your pre-agreed alternate channel. No need to tell the world what that channel actually is. Then stay quiet for 15 minutes so the offender can’t find you on an all-frequency scan.
There are rules for radio communication and how we’re expected to talk and respond to each other. Because only one person can speak at a time, each CB operator needs to know the rules.
For example, when you respond to a radio check, you need to do so in a way that provides relevant information and is easily understood by the transmitter. So, consider providing information about your location, so the operator knows how far they’re transmitting. And tell them whether their voice is clear or distorted. For example, “Loud and clear from the Dog on the Tuckerbox” or “Weak and distorted, McDonalds Gundagai.” A response of “Yeah mate, gotcha” is not helpful.
When it comes to knowing what words and phrases to use, here are some common examples that you’ll hear. How many do you use correctly?
Over: ‘Over’ means “I have finished speaking and expect a reply” (kind of like “it’s your turn now”). The use of this word is required by radiocommunications legislation and helps ensure you don’t ‘step-on’ another caller — in other words, that you don’t try to transmit at the same time as the person you’re trying to talk with. Otherwise, both messages will end up garbled and no-one will know what’s going on.
‘Out’: This means “I’ve finished speaking and do not expect a reply”. This word should only be used by the person who initiated the conversation, not by other participants. It informs other users of the channel that you’ve finished, and they can have a conversation of their own.
‘Over and Out’: This is a contradiction of terms and shouldn’t be used unless you want to sound like a dingbat.
10-4: The phrase “10-4” comes from the ‘ten codes’ which originated in the Illinois police department in the late 1930s. The codes were used as a form of shorthand where 10-4 simply meant ‘OK’ or ‘I acknowledge your last message’. Through the years, different government agencies started to generate their own unique codes. Ultimately, in 2005 when the US attempted a national response to Hurricane Katrina, there was monumental confusion among responders all using different codes. As a result, the codes were killed off and plain speech now reigns supreme.
Roger: This word comes from Morse Code. On receipt of a message, the operator would send back a single letter ‘R’ to indicate ‘Received’. When the invention of short-wave radios came along, ‘R’ was expanded to ‘Richard’. But, during the First World War, it changed to ‘Roger’ as it could be heard more clearly when spoken by Allied forces with different accents.
Roger Roger: Get caught using this and you’ll look like a dill to anyone in the know. It originally comes from a 1980’s comedy movie Airplane! and was a joke on radio communication etiquette with some sexual innuendo thrown in. The joke was re-cast in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace to signify someone’s acknowledgment of information when in reality they had no clue what was going on. ‘Roger Roger’ has no place on the short-waves.
When you’re travelling with a team — be that in a convoy or with the entire family onboard — you won’t necessarily be together all the time. People go fishing, others duck into town and some just need some time alone. So you need to have systems because things can and do go wrong. These are routinely called Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).
Different people will have an array of CBs on board too, like the 5W in-car/caravan radio or the 1, 2, 3 or even 5W handheld you’ll take on a bushwalk or give to the kids when they want to walk to the end of the beach 3km away.
Things like conducting radio checks don’t just let the other person know that you can hear them. It also lets you know they’re safe, as do regular call ins.
Say someone is out walking. Your SOP might be to have that person call every hour, on the hour. The people with the handheld CB will not have the range of your in-car/caravan radio, but they might be able to receive your message. If they’re not responding to your calls, you might ask them to press the pressel switch (PTT button) three times if they can hear you. This can be heard when you have the ‘squelch’ on, and you can hear the static. Their presses will break the silence. If they respond, you know they can hear you. Or you could ask a series of questions of that group of fishers who left this morning, like, “Are you OK.” One long press of the switch for ‘no’ and three short presses for ‘yes’.
Your CB is more than a way to chit chat with the car in front of you, it’s a safety device.
This handy table allows you see at a glance the channels available for recreational use. It follows the traffic light colour system. Red for Bad, Orange for Caution and Green for GO!
Channel 1–4 Repeater Output Channels
Channel 5 Emergency Use Only
Channel 6–8 Repeater Output Channels
Channel 9 General Chat Channels
Channel 10 4WD Clubs or Convoys and National Parks.
Channel 11 Call Channel
Channel 12–17 General Chat Channels
Channel 18 Caravanners and Campers Convoy Channel
Channel 19–21 General Chat Channels
Channel 22 and 23 Telemetry and Telecommand Only (No Voice or Data)
Channel 24–28 General Chat Channels
Channel 29 Road Safety Channel Pacific Hwy between Brisbane and Sydney
Channel 30 General Chat Channel
Channel 31–34 Repeater Input Channel
Channel 35 Emergency Use Only
Channel 36–38 Repeater Input Channel
Channel 39 General Chat Channel
Channel 40 Road Safety Channel Australia Wide
Channel 41–48 Repeater Output Channels
Channel 49–60 General Chat Channels
Channel 61–63 Reserved for Future Expansion
Channel 64–70 General Chat Channels
Channel 71–78 Repeater Input Channels
Channel 79 and 80 General Chat Channels
THE GOLDEN RULES OF COMMUNICATION
- Clarity: Your voice should be clear and a little slower than normal. Speak in a normal tone and do not shout as the microphone will amplify your voice.
- Simplicity: Keep your message simple for intended listeners to understand. They might not know all the CB lingo you do.
- Brevity: Keep your message short and to the point.
- Security: Do not transmit confidential information (names, addresses, or where you leave your keys, etc). Remember, frequencies are shared, so you do not have exclusive use of the channel.