The great outdoors in Australia is ripe for exploration. Whether you’re creating your own adventures on undiscovered tracks or following in the footsteps of other 4WDing pioneers, it is important to consider safety. A significant part of this is ensuring that you can contact others for help if something goes wrong.
While mobile telephone coverage in Australia is usually reliable in cities and towns, it is often patchy or non-existent in remote and regional areas. The coverage percentages advertised by telecommunications companies refer to population rather than land coverage. This means that when Telstra promotes its reach as covering 99 per cent of the population, it must be considered that most of the nation’s population is based in coastal cities. Therefore, coverage in rural and remote areas, where populations are sparse, is not guaranteed. Ultra-high frequency (UHF) radio is a great alternative for road users to communicate with each other and emergency services.
Emergencies can happen quickly in the bush. One minute, you can be driving along happily and the next you can be stranded on a deserted track with no other vehicle to help with recovery. If you’re in a remote area with no signal, your mobile telephone may be useless. So, what do you do? Hopefully, you’ve prepared well and have food and water, a first aid kit, and a UHF radio.
A UHF radio is a hand-held device (CB radio) that accesses a range of frequencies from 300MHz to 3GHz. It consists of a handset, an aerial and a head unit. There are a range of CB radios available that can access UHF.
UHF radios are a useful safety tool for those venturing outside of heavily populated cities and towns. A UHF radio has many channels through which you can communicate with other drivers and emergency services. Some of these channels are for general chat, while others are for emergencies only, so it’s important to know what you’re doing.
As a rule, the extent of UFH coverage depends on your antenna type. Antennas are rated by their dBi (decibels-isotropic). In flat terrain, a higher dBi (e.g., 9dBi) should be more than adequate. This is because it works by line of sight. That means that the signal can travel about five to eight kilometres, without interruption. If your antenna can ‘see’ a point in the distance, its signal can transmit there.
If you’re in hilly terrain, with valleys and peaks, the transmission of the UHF signal will be affected. In these circumstances, a low dBi (e.g., 3dBi) will work better. Instead of working in a line-of-sight manner, low dBi antennas create more of a sphere-like field. It is possible to have both types of antennas or you can opt for a 6dBi antenna to cover all your bases.
There are several specified channels on the UHF network, including repeater channels. Repeater channels retransmit the broadcast to extend their range, which is particularly useful for emergencies. Channel 40 is the nationwide road safety channel, while Channels 22 and 23 are data channels only.
Channel 18 is reserved for caravan and camper convoys to communicate with one another, and Channel 10 is used by 4WD clubs, convoys and national parks. If you’re not in an emergency situation and are seeking a chat channel, turn to Channels 9, 12–17, 19–21, 24–28, 30, 39, 49–60, 64–70, 79 or 80. Many other channels are simply repeater channels. Channel 29 is a road safety channel for the Pacific Highway and Pacific Motorway. Channels 5 and 35 are legally restricted for emergency communications, so ensure that you respect these conditions.
Using UHF radio can help make life on the road easier. It can assist with travel and safety, so is well worth the investment.