This morning on Twitter I saw a conversation about using two-way radios on an allotment. In the course of my job, I am frequently asked about radios suitable for use in the outdoor environment such as the large a garden or allotment.
Whilst out walking, I am seeing more and more people carrying and using small walkie-talkie radios to talk to each other. On the surface this may seem like a great idea as it appears to allow people to keep contact with each other or could be used in an emergency to gain help and assistance.
The major problem is that expectation is all too often dashed by reality, and this can lead to dire consequences. The purpose of this blog is to show some of the advantages of these radios but more importantly to highlight some of their failings.
Firstly, all of the radio spectrum across the world is strictly controlled and, in the UK, administration of the radio waves is delegated to the Office of Communications (OFCOM). Anyone who operates a radio must be licensed by OFCOM with two exceptions – citizens Band (CB) and PMR466.
CB is not appropriate to walkie-talkie communications. Therefore, we are looking at PMR446 (personal mobile radio, 446 MHz) which uses part of the UHF radio spectrum that is open without licensing for business and personal use. It uses low power (500mW) so depending on surrounding terrain, range can vary from a few hundred metres (in a city) to a few kilometres (flat countryside) to many kilometres from high ground.
What are some of the advantages?
- Relatively cheap
- Very easy to use
- Pre-programmed radio frequencies
- No contracts or call charges
- No licence required!
and the disadvantages!
- Lower power, so their range is short (dependant on terrain)
- Their popularity means the channels can often be congested
- Not suitable for emergency use
- If users are too far apart they may suffer interference from other two-way radios within range
They are designed to keep in contact with your friends and family when you are in close proximity only. A good example of their use is when you are out in the potting shed and want get hold of someone in the house, maybe for a cup of tea or to be called in for dinner.
DO NOT rely on them for emergency use. They are not monitored by the Emergency Services and on the allotment, you could not rely on them to make contact. Do not rely on them as your only means of communications.
Please do have consideration for others on the allotment who do not want to hear demented children shouting into radios all day long. Used sensibly and with respect and they can be a useful tool – but they are not a toy!
How good are they?
When I am working on my allotment, I can get reasonable two communications with home. I am able to have a proper conversation without having to ask for repeats. However, my allotment is approximately 500 metres from my house in a straight line. Between the allotment and the house is about 200 metres of dense trees and a couple of houses.
If I go to an allotment site at the other end of the village (the village has 6 allotment sites), a distance of 1 kilometre over some higher ground, the conversation now becomes very ‘scratchy’ and repeats are frequently required.
So please bear in mind that they will not have a great range and can be influenced by obstacles such as hills, trees and conurbation. However, if used around an average garden or an allotment plot close to your home, then they are an ideal means of casual communications.
How can I got hold of them?
There are plenty of cheap and cheerful walkie-talkies advertised on ebay and Amazon (other online retail outlets are available), and that is where they should stay. If you are spending £10 – £30 you are wasting your money. Always go to a reputable radio dealer.
One of the radios that I would recommend is the Midland XT50 Adventure Edition. This is a handy twin pack designed with the outdoor hobbyist in mind. But don’t just take my word for it have a look around the internet and see what is available.
Please by all means take walkie-talkies out on your garden/allotment with you but know their limitations and be sensible with their use. They are not toys and should not be used as such.
In addition to being an experienced outdoor adventurer, gardener and allotmenteer, the author has been a licensed communications specialist for the over 50 years both as a Radio Amateur and as a professional in the RAF. He has operated HF and V/UHF radios from some of the most inaccessible summits and remote locations in the UK. He currently works as a senior sales consultant for one of the country’s largest hobby radio equipment dealers.