Nowadays, It is one of the burning question that people new to CB radio operations frequently ask, What is the range of a CB radio? OR another What can I expect for CB radio distance? Those are very good questions, but hard to answer. It is something like asking how long it takes to get from one side of Atlanta or any other large city to the another side. It depends on the time and situation.
It is difficult to say what the range of a CB Radio is just because there are many factor that effects CB radios’ range. One of the most important factor is your antenna. Some people say that you should be able to get one-two miles per foot of length on your CB radio Antenna if all other factors are configured perfectly.
The main variables that affects range are as follows:
- CB Radio Power Output
- Location and Environment
- Radio variables
- Portable/Handheld Radio vs. Mobile
- CB Antenna Type, Length, Height and placement
- Installation Quality
- Base Station vs. Mobile
- Increasing Range
CB Radio Power Output
The FCC allows a maximum of 4 watts of output power for CB radios to bypass signal interference with different devices, such as TV and emergency communication radios. That varies because a manufacturer can be punished for putting out a radio with excess power, so they provide output values between 3 and 4 Watts, and in rare cases, only 2 Watts.
Tuning your radio will support it put out the highest power.
Location and Environment
The range is determined mostly by where you are. If you’re at the highest Mt. Mitchell overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway in western North Carolina for example, you’ll achieve significantly longer transmit ranges and experience ranges than usual. On the other hand, if you’re winding through a heavily wooded valley lined with rock walls, your range may be just as far as you can see the vehicle ahead of you on the twisty road.
Those are true in the city also. If tall buildings surround you, you’re essentially in an urban canyon that reflects signals rather than passes them on. If, on the other hand, you’re in a desert area near Las Vegas or prairie in Kansas where there are flat, wide-open spaces, you’ll get the best range.
So, The principle here is clear: CB radio waves cannot transfer through solid objects.
The design of the CB radio, including the sensitivity of the receiver and the operation of the squelch, has an effect on radio range. Try to get a radio with a manual squelch, if possible. With a squelch, you can modify the sensitivity of your CB radio to adjust for varying signal strengths. You can get signals from farther away using a lower squelch level. The downside is that you’ll get extra background noise. On the other hand, higher squelch levels allow you to reduce the background noise, but you won’t receive lower transmissions. If you have a manual squelch, you’ll be able to tweak it to your liking.
Portable CB Radio Range
If you’re managing a portable CB radio while walking around in the shopping mall, your range may be as little as 100 yards only. If you use portable units for communication between two vehicles, you can expect about a one-mile range. There is a glimmer of hope for increased range if you change the antenna. You may be stuck with the standard short, inefficient antenna that came with the unit. However, sometimes you can substitute a longer antenna that might provide a little more range, especially if you can get height working in your favor. Sometimes if you move a few inches, you can get a clearer signal.
CB Antenna Type, Length, Height, and Placement
The taller your antenna is, and the higher up it is mounted, the greater its range will be. This is because a taller antenna has a lower angle of radiation, meaning the CB signal travels close to the ground for a longer distance.
There is general agreement that the most important thing that you can do to improve your effective range for both transmitting and receiving signals is to choose the best antenna, to properly tune it, to install it in the best position on your vehicle, and to provide the best possible ground plane and ground.
Long Range CB Antenna Types
Here are some range approximations for different types and lengths of antennas- please note that this is assuming that you have properly installed your system, tuned your antenna, have your SWR within an acceptable range and that you are on flat ground:
Single Fiberglass Antennas:
2′ Length: 2 – 3 miles
3′ Length: 3 – 4 miles
4′ Length: 4 – 6 miles
5′ Length: 5 – 7 miles
Dual Fiberglass Antennas:
2′ Length: 2 – 4 miles
3′ Length: 4 – 6 miles
4′ Length: 5 – 7 miles
5′ Length: 6 – 9 miles
Single Center-Load Antennas:
7 – 10 miles
Dual Center-Load Antennas:
10 – 12 miles
IC56 102″ Stainless Steel Whip:
Approximately 7 – 10 miles
Magnetic Antennas (mounted in the center of your roof):
3′ Length: 2 – 4 miles
4′ Length: 3 – 5 miles
5′ Length: 5 – 7 miles
Base Station Antennas (range can vary hugely on surroundings/environment):
Approximately 15 – 50 miles
No Ground Plane Antennas (generally 70% of the range you can get from a standard CB antenna):
2′ Length: 1 – 2 miles
3′ Length: 2 – 3 miles
4′ Length: 3 – 5 miles
Even if you have all of the best CB components for your system, the quality of the installation can play a huge role in the overall performance of your system. Here are some crucial items to consider:
Properly ground your antenna mount- your antenna mount should be grounded to your vehicle chassis. An improper ground can lead to not being able to properly tune your antenna and/or extremely high SWR readings.
Ideally, at least 2/3 of your antenna will stick up above the best part of your vehicle. At a minimum, you should try to have the top of your antenna at least one foot higher than the top of your vehicle.
Base Station Antennas
Base stations have an inherent benefit because various types of antennas can be used with the system, and they can be mounted higher and in stable locations. That, however, makes it difficult to estimate the range of a base station, which can vary from 10 to about 50 miles.
How can I increase CB range legally?
Although the FCC limits CB radios to a standard 4 Watts of power, there is an exception. If you want the best range, you may want a radio with single sideband (SSB) capability. SSB radios, such as the Cobra 148 GTL transmit at approximately 12 Watts, or three times the normal power. The potential drawback is that the receiver must also have an SSB radio.