How To Program Your Radio for BC’s Backroads

How To Program Your Radio for BC’s Backroads

In the last couple years the BC government has changed the radio frequencies used on all the forest service roads (FSRs).  They used to post the frequencies used so that you could type them in to your handheld radio.  With your radio programmed you are able to communicate with other users of the road, ie. logging trucks.  The radio system is primarily there as a safety procedure to prevent collisions on BC’s narrow backroads.  The cryptic system that they are now using takes away that safety tool if you are not prepared.

Pavillion Road Sign

I was caught off guard in 2015 when the radio frequency was removed from the West Pavillion FSR which I use to access some of my claims.  A sign that mentioned the change was in place but it did not state the new channel.

I found a decent map online that shows which FSRs are using each channel.  This map also shows all the FSRs which is cool.  You can look around without having to pull out your backroads map book.  Here is a link to the map, Chilliwack FSR Map.


This post will help you program your radios for BC’s new RR radio system.  You will need a few things for this:

  • A Radio
  • Programming Cable
  • A Computer
  • Radio Software

I am using a Baofeng UV-5R programmable radio.  I can’t say enough good things about this radio.  It is inexpensive (~$30), powerful and has lots of memory channels.  The coolest feature is that they are field programmable too.  More on the Baofeng UV-5R here, Gear Review: Baofeng Handheld Radio.  This guide works for other radios such as a Kenwood or Motorola, although you might need different software.

The cable that I’m using is a FTDI 2-pin Kenwood style.  It works for Baofeng and Kenwood radios.  For this post I’m using my laptop running Ubuntu linux.  But this guide will work with Windows too.

The software is really the key to the whole programming procedure.  There is an excellent open source program called CHIRP which stands for CHInese Radio Project.  CHIRP was designed to make it easy to program cheap Chinese radios such as the Baofeng, it also works on just about any other radio out there and its free.

OK lets get started.  The first thing that we have to do is get a list of frequencies.  I found them on a government website, but I’ll save you the trouble and post them right here.
ChannelsYou need to download and install CHIRP, on Ubuntu all you have do is run this command:

sudo apt-get install chirp

That will download and install the latest version from Ubuntu’s repositories.  If you are running Windows or Mac you can download CHIRP from their website here, CHIRP Site.  Installation is easy, just run the .exe file and you’re good to go.

Next start up the program, on linux you need to run it as root (AKA administrator) you can do that with the following command:

sudo chirpw

OK, now that CHIRP is started you have a few options.  You can clone your radio’s existing channels and modify them.  You can start a new file or load in an existing one.  Lets start one from scratch.  Click on the File menu and select “New”.  In my example I added a couple extra channels at the top.


It’s a pretty straightforward application.  The window functions a lot like a spreadsheet, there is a row for each channel and different parameters are defined in each column.  The BC RR channels are pretty basic so you can ignore most of the columns.  The RR channels are simplex, that means that they use the same frequency for transmit and receive.  Most public channels are simplex.  They have no carrier tone or any other funny business.  So we just have to enter the frequencies and the name.  Leave the rest of the settings at the default values.

After entering all 35 channels you are ready to load them onto the radio.  To do that first connect the programming cable to the radio.  It plugs into the port where you can add an external microphone.  See photo below:

Radio Plug

Make sure the radio is turned off when you connect the cable.  Otherwise it could shock the memory and wreck the radio.  The software will need to know which serial port you have connected to.  In linux you can get that information with the following command:

dmesg | grep tty

Look for the line that looks like this:

[147117.481257] usb 2-3: FTDI USB Serial Device converter now attached to ttyUSB0

That is telling us that the programming cable is on port “ttyUSB0”.  In Windows the easiest way is to look at your serial ports in the device manager.

Now you can upload the channels to the radio.  Turn on the radio with the programming cable attached.  Then choose “Upload to radio” from the Radio menu in CHIRP.  You’ll be prompted for the serial port, in my case ttyUSB0.  You will also need the radio make and model.

Once you hit OK, the upload will begin.  You’ll get a nice progress bar to show you how its going.


That’s about it.  Make sure that you turn off the radio before you disconnect the programming cable.  Now you’re ready to hit the back roads and communicate with other travellers.

Update on Laws Regarding Programmable Radios 2021

There has been a lot of feedback about this post stating that Baofeng radios are illegal, you need a license, and things of that nature. We were recently contacted by a representative of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED, formerly Industry Canada) and we’ll share the factual information here.

First of all, it’s not illegal to program your own radio in Canada. ISED wants you to have a license for the channels that you are using though.

Most of the regulations in the Radiocommunication Act depend on two principles.
1) Radio spectrum is a limited resource
2) Prevention of “Harmful Interference”

ISED likes to state that the radio spectrum is a limited resource. What does that really mean? Well, there is a limit to the number of frequencies that can be used in a particular area without having overlapping signals. Spectrum management is important in congested areas to maintain quality for all users. This is one of the main goals of ISED. They regulate a lot of radio stuff beyond VHF frequencies on backroads, including cell towers, police and military communication, maritime communication, aviation, and other wireless transmissions. Managing wireless radio is important for our society to function properly. Calling it a “limited resource” is a little weird but management of the frequencies that are being used is important.

According to the ISED representative that contacted us the reason for most of the regulations is to prevent harmful interference. This is the definition that was provided by ISED:
“Radio interference is an adverse effect that could degrade, obstruct or interrupt the use or functioning of a radio. Radio interference can happen for a variety of reasons, and most of the time they are unintentional. In certain situations, the interference can be harmful.

Public safety agencies are critically dependant on their radio systems to provide services to the public. When their radio systems are interfered with, the ability to protect and serve the public is impaired, leaving human lives and property at risk. Non-public safety operations can be negatively impacted by degradation or repeated interruptions to radiocommunication systems. In some cases the interference may not be harmful, but it could still reduce the quality and usability of a radio system. When providing access to spectrum and regulating its use, ISED seeks to maximize the economic and social benefits that Canadians derive from the spectrum, and minimizing interference is a key part of this objective.”

The Radiocommunications Act defines harmful interference as follows:

harmful interference means an adverse effect of electromagnetic energy from any emission, radiation or induction that

  • (a) endangers the use or functioning of a safety-related radiocommunication system, or
  • (b) significantly degrades or obstructs, or repeatedly interrupts, the use or functioning of radio apparatus or radio-sensitive equipment;

OK, that’s some background on the laws. So what does that have to do with Baofeng radios and using them to communicate for safety reasons on BC’s backroads? The short answer is nothing.

If a radio is programmed correctly it won’t interfere with other radios and won’t cause “harmful interference”. A Baofeng radio is fully capable, and often much more capable, than a Kenwood, Icom or Motorolla that you can purchase from a certified radio shop. We’ll see some of the specific laws below.

Radio equipment in Canada requires licensing. There are two areas where a license is needed. The radio itself needs to be certified, this is usually done at the manufacturer level. Radios that aren’t certified by the manufacturer are required to have a license issued for its use. The criteria for obtaining such a licence is available here: RSS-119 – Land Mobile and Fixed Equipment Operating in the Frequency Range 27.41 – 960 MHz.

Baofeng radios cannot be licensed in Canada because they allow the user to program frequencies with external controls. That goes against Section 3.2 of the Radio Standards Specification

3.2 Transmitters With External Frequency Selection Controls
In order to prevent radio interference caused by end-user transmissions on unauthorized frequencies, transmitters with external frequency selection controls and/or frequency programming capability shall conform to the following:

  • (a)Transmitters with external frequency selection controls shall operate only on authorized channels which have been preset by the manufacturer, equipment supplier, service technician or maintenance personnel.
  • (b)Transmitters with frequency programming capability must have at least one of the following design characteristics, which prevent the user from altering the preset frequencies:
    1. Transmitters with external controls available to the user can only be internally modified to place the equipment in the programmable mode. Furthermore, while in the programmable mode, the equipment is not capable of transmitting. The procedure for making the modification and altering the frequency program is not available to the user of the equipment.
    2. Transmitters are programmed for frequencies through controls that are inaccessible to the user.
    3. Transmitters are programmed for frequencies through the use of external devices or specifically programmed modules that are available only to the service technician or maintenance personnel.
    4. Transmitters are programmed through cloning (i.e., copying a program directly from another transmitter) using devices and procedures that are available only to the service technician or maintenance personnel.

Since the Baofeng radios cannot be licensed use of these radios contravenes subsection 4(1) of the Radiocommunication Act which states:

4 (1) No person shall, except under and in accordance with a radio authorization, install, operate or possess radio apparatus, other than

  • (a) radio apparatus exempted by or under regulations made under paragraph 6(1)(m); or
  • (b) radio apparatus that is capable only of the reception of broadcasting and that is not a distribution undertaking.

According to ISED violation of Section 4(1) can carry a potential fine up to $250. Although that is really just academic since they don’t actually enforce that law.

According to ISED, for a radio using RR and LADD channels, a radio license is required. ISED will only issue a radio license for a radio that is certified and meets the certification requirements. A certified radio should display an IC number on its label (usually this is next to the FCC number). The conditions of use for RR and LADD channels are noted here: RR — British Columbia Resource Road Channels and B1 — Western and Northern Canada Mobile-Only Frequencies.

An ISED radio license costs $42.65/year per radio and is valid from April 1 to March 31 (the following year). This is a flat fee and not dependant on the number of channels.

Operating without a license can theoretically face fines if ISED finds out that you are doing so and has your contact information. You can see the potential fines under the Administrative Monetary Penalties (AMP).

According to the AMP penalties, operating without a license carries a potential fine of $1,000 for the first offense and up to $2,000 for the second offense.

Here’s the kicker though and this is really important, ISED depends on “voluntary compliance”. I asked the representative from ISED for evidence of fines that have been given out in the past and he confirmed that they don’t actually give out fines. They have no means to enforce these laws and do not check what radios people are using. There have been rumors on certain 4×4 groups that ISED sets up roadblocks on FSRs to catch people with illegal radios. Those rumors have been confirmed to be false by the ISED.

It seems odd that the FSR roads are open to the public but the Canadian government is limiting access to radio use by means of a licensing program. It’s also odd that they go out of their way to prevent users from using an inexpensive field-programmable radio. ISED’s explanation of “harmful interference” is ridiculous. In reality, you are protecting yourself and other road users by having communication available.

In summary, there are laws regarding field-programmable radios but they are not enforced. Similar to how there are laws regarding downloading movies or consuming fake maple syrup (actually, that law was repealed in 2019).

To get set up with a compliant radio in BC will typically cost about $1000 for something like a Kenwood NX1200 plus programming costs. Plus $43/year for the rest of your life. In contrast, you can get a BaoFeng UV-82HP for less than $100 CAD which is a better radio and no additional costs. The truck-mounted version is also a very good choice (BTECH Mini UV-25X4).

When driving on backroads in BC it is essential to have a radio. There are loaded logging trucks coming around tight corners and they will not know you’re there unless you have an appropriate radio and are calling out kilometers. A programmable radio such as a Baofeng will not cause interference of any kind and will allow you to communicate safely for a reasonable price. If you’re the kind of person who loses sleep because they downloaded a movie off a BitTorrent site then you should probably get an ISED radio license and a certified radio. For everyone else, there are great options out there and you can use this useful guide to program your own radio.

It should be noted that there are serious radio laws that are actually enforced. Such as transmitting on police or emergency bands. Don’t ever do that, as a joke or otherwise. It is perfectly legal to listen on those channels but very much illegal to transmit.

Also keep in mind that RR and LADD channels are for professional use and your own safety, not for chit-chat or talking to your buddies. There are thousands of channels and if you have a programmable radio you can set a special channel for you and your buddies while keeping the RR channel open for legitimate use.

Introducing WCP Placer Mining Club

Introducing WCP Placer Mining Club

Hey guys, I am pleased to announce that West Coast Placer is starting a mining club.  There have been a number of inquiries from people who want to prospect and mine on WCP claims.  So we’re starting a club that will provide the opportunity for members to use our claims.

Club members will have access to all of West Coast Placer’s claims.  Currently that includes 12 placer claims and two mineral claims in BC.  Access to some of my partner’s claims is also available.  We have claims all over BC including the Tulameen, Similkameen, Fraser River, Cariboo and Kootenays.
Members will be able to work the claims as if they own them.  You can run a sluice, pans or whatever you want.  Of course members can keep all the gold that they find.
You will be able to camp on the claims in tents or with an RV (where accessible).  Family members are automatically included in your membership.  Gold panning is a great activity for the whole family, kids love it.  You can bring your friends too, the more the merrier.

There are a few obligations that will have to be met.

  • The first rule of prospecting club is you do not talk about prospecting club.  Just kidding I had to throw that in there.
  • Members must follow all the regulations regarding placer mining in BC.  If you don’t know all the regs don’t worry, information will be provided.
  • Activities will have to be recorded.  This will help with our reports to the MTO.  It’s not much work, just keep some notes on the work that you do.  Keep track of things like, hours spent working, size and location of holes, and take pictures.  This information will also be shared with the group.
  • If you plan on running a sluice or highbanker you will need to have a Free Miner’s Certificate.  If you need help getting one, just ask.

There will be an annual fee of $50.  Why a fee?  That is required to limit club membership to people who are truly interested.  $50 is pretty much free compared to similar clubs.  The others are looking for $300 and up.  We’re not interested in making money off of memberships.

As a member you will also have the opportunity for instruction in the art of gold prospecting.  This is great for novice miners.  You can join myself and more experienced members on prospecting trips.  That is the best way to learn, you can watch youtube videos and read books all day but nothing beats hands on training.

The Map Lies

Members will have support from experienced miners.  You can even get help with your own MTO reports for your own personal claims.  You can ask advice at any time and we’ll try our best to get back to you as soon as possible.

As a member you will be entitled to a discount on the purchase any of West Coast Placer’s claims.  There will be more perks as the club grows.

Update 2021
The club has been active for 5 years, we have a good group of recreational miners. We are still accepting applications for new members.

If you are interested please send an email through the WCP contact form on this link, Contact Form. Explain why you want to join the club and we will consider your application. Not all applications will be approved.

We will not accept applications made through the comments section. See instructions above.

Mining the Ocean Floor with Robots

Mining the Ocean Floor with Robots

Mining under Earth’s oceans is just starting to happen.  We have gotten pretty good at mining deposits that are accessible by land but 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water.  To date no large scale mining operation has succeed under the ocean which means that it’s all virgin ground.

Amazingly the human race has spent more time and money exploring outer space than we have under our own oceans.  Over 500 people have been to space while only three have ventured to the deepest part of the ocean, the Mariana Trench.  We have better maps of the surface of Mars than the bottom of the ocean, although the ocean maps are pretty cool.


The same geological processes that happen on land also take place under the ocean.  There are volcanoes, mountain chains, faults and earthquakes.  All the same types of mineral deposits occur under the ocean such as epithermal gold, porphyry, and placer.  There are also diamond pipes, massive sulphides and everything else that we mine at the surface.


The ocean also has types of deposits that we can’t find on land.  One special mineral deposit is called Polymetallic Nodules.  These are concretions of metallic minerals that occur under the ocean.  The nodules grow sort of like stalactites do in a cave, over time layers of metallic minerals precipitate out of seawater and add to the nodule.  The growth of nodules is one of the slowest known geological processes taking place at a rate of one centimetre over several million years.


Polymetallic nodules are roughly the size and shape of a potato and contain primarily manganese as well as nickel, copper, cobalt and iron.  They can be found on the sea floor or buried in the sediment.  Nodules can technically occur anywhere in the ocean but seem to be in greatest abundance on the abyssal planes around 5000m deep.  Nodule mining would be similar to placer gold mining except under water.

Anouther resource that is unique to the ocean floor is Ferromanganese Crusts.  These are similar to nodules but occur as a coating on other rocks.  These crusts can be found all over the ocean with thicknesses ranging from 1mm to 26cm.  Ferromanganese crusts typically occur in the vicinity of underwater volcanoes called seamounts or near hydrothermal vents.  Crusts with mineral grades that are of economic interest are commonly found at depths between 800m and 2500m.

Ferromanganese Crust

Ferromanganese crusts are composed primarily of iron and manganese, hence the name.  Typical concentrations are about 18% iron and 21% manganese.  Cobalt, Nickel and Copper occur in significant quantities as well.  Rare earth metals such as Tellurium and Yttrium can be found in metallic crusts at much higher concentrations than can be found on the surface.  Tellurium is used in solar panels and is quite valuable.

Sea-floor massive sulphides (SMS) are a younger version of volcanic massive sulphides (VMS).  The two deposits are similar except that VMS are typically ancient and SMS are currently forming.  SMS deposits occur where superheated hydrothermal fluids are expelled into the ocean.  They typically form around black smokers near continental rift zones.  SMS are know to hold economic concentrations of Gold, Copper, Silver, Lead, Nickel and Zinc.


Black smokers create SMS deposits by expelling superheated sea water that is rich in metallic elements.  Cold sea water is forced through the sea floor by the pressure created from the weight of the water column above it.  The water is then heated to temperatures in excess of 600°C when it is brought close to the magma that lies below.  The heated water becomes acitic and carries with it a high concentration of metals pulled from the surrounding rocks.  Once the hot, metal rich, water comes into contact with cold sea water the metals crystallize and deposit on and around the black smoker.


Large scale ocean floor mining has not taken off yet.  Attempts have been made since the 1960s and 70s  but failed due to technological and financial challenges.  Small scale shallow ocean mining has been a lot more succesful in recent years.  A great example is the popular TV show Bering Sea Gold.  The miners in Nome Alaska are using modified suction dredges to comb the sea floor in shallow waters.

Currently proposed sea floor mining ideas are essentially super high-tech placer mining.  They involve ways to dig through the surface layers of the ocean floor, bring the material to the surface and ship it to a processing facility.  Its a lot like dredging but on a massive scale.  As mentioned above, normal hard rock deposits also occur under the ocean but no plans have been proposed to build open pit mines under the ocean.  That would involve all the challenges of building a mine on land with the added complexity of operating under the ocean.

Why is ocean floor mining possible now when it wasn’t 20 years ago?  The answer comes down to one word, robots.  The world of under water mining is the domain of autonomous drones and human controlled ROVs.  Robot submarines are nothing new, they have been around since the 70s and have been used to explore depths of the ocean that are very difficult for humans to get to.  UUVs or unmanned underwater vehicles are a little bit newer, they are basically an autonomous version of ROVs.  Ocean mining robots have just been invented and share a lot of the technology used in these devices and they look like something straight out of science fiction.

The Cutter

The first deep sea mining project is currently being developed off the coast of Papua New Guinea.  The project is called Solwara 1 and is being developed by a Vancouver BC mining company called Nautilus Minerals.  Solwara 1 is a copper/gold SMS deposit with estimated copper grades of 7% and gold grades in excess of 20g/t and an average gold grade of 6g/t.  The property sits at about 1600m depth.

Nautilus has developed a suite of underwater mining robots and a complete system to mine the precious metal and bring it to shore.  There will be the bulk cutter pictured above, an auxiliary and a collection machine.  Please take a moment and marvel at these amazing achievements of engineering.

Transporter Bridge TeessideTransporter Bridge Teesside
 After the robots dig up and collect the ore a custom designed Riser and Lift System (RLS) will bring the material to a giant ship that acts as the mine control center dubbed the Production Support Vessel (PSV).  The RLS is basically the world’s most powerful suction dredge.  It’s pretty complex, this is the description on the Nautilus Minerals website:

The Riser and Lifting System (RALS) is designed to lift the mineralised material to the Production Support Vessel (PSV) using a Subsea Slurry Lift Pump (SSLP) and a vertical riser system. The seawater/rock is delivered into the SSLP at the base of the riser, where it is pumped to the surface via a gravity tensioned riser suspended from the PSV.

Once aboard the Production Support Vessel the mined slurry will be dewatered and stored until anouther ship comes to take the material on shore for processing.  The removed sea water is pumped back down the RALS which adds hydraulic power to the system.  Pretty cool stuff!  Check out the video below for an visual explanation of how it will all work.


Ocean floor prospecting is not a good place to be gold panning or hiking around with a rock hammer.  It is also difficult to take usable photos due to poor light and lots of debris in the water.  So how do you explore for minerals in the ocean?  Geophysics and robots.

Geophysical exploration is not unique to the ocean.  The same techniques are used routinely on land to find every type of mineral deposit.  Ocean geophysics is also not new.  The main workhorse of mining exploration is magnetometry.  Which means mapping changes in earth’s magnetic field using a specialized sensor.  The technique was actually developed to detect enemy submarines during World War II.  Since then magnetometers and the science behind them have evolved into accurate tools to measure geology.

I’m using a proton precession magnetometer in the photo below.  There is some sample magnetometer data on the left.  Mag maps look similar to a thermal image except the colour scale represents magnetic field changes (measured in nanoTesla) instead of temperature.

Walk Mag in ActionSampleMag

Magnetometers are excellent tools for ocean mining exploration.  They are not affected by the water and are excellent at detecting metallic anomalies.  There are now underwater drones that can collect ocean magnetometer surveys without the need for human intervention.

Autonomous Magnetometer Drone
Autonomous Magnetometer Drone

Other geophysical techniques have been used in ocean mineral exploration.  Electomagnetics (EM) techniques are also great tools for exploration under water.  EM works in a similar way to magnetometry except that they emit their own source.  Conventional metal detectors are actually a small version of an EM system.  While mag passively measures Earth’s magnetic field EM measures the difference between a source and received pulse.  EM also works great for discovering metallic anomalies and is being incorporated into autonomous drones as well.

There are other types of ocean geophysics such as seismic refraction which uses a giant air gun to send a sound wave deep into the crust and measures the response on floating hydrophones.  Sonar and other forms of bathymetry can provide detailed maps of the ocean floor.  Bathymetry techniques can create imagery similar to LiDAR that is used on land.

Sample Bathymetry
Sample Bathymetry

Ocean mining is just in its infancy and some really cool technology is being used.  Advancements in the robotics have allowed mining and exploration to be completed without a person having into enter the water.  As technology advances further we will be able to explore vast areas of the ocean floor and discover immense mineral reserves that are presently unknown.  It is estimated that we have only explored about 5% of the ocean floor, who knows what we’ll find down there?