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.

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.

Chirp_setting

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.

Cloning

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.

Fraser River Unexpected Rock Climbing

Fraser River Unexpected Rock Climbing

In April I went to check out two claims in the area North of Lillooet, BC. These two claims are close to the one that I wrote about in my Southern Cariboo Prospecting Trip.  On the way up the Fraser Canyon I stopped at the old Alexandra bridge to get a peep at a claim that I have on the other side of the river.  The old bridge is part of the original Cariboo wagon road that serviced the gold rushes of the Fraser and Cariboo.  The Alexandra bridge that stands today was built in the exact same spot of the original bridge from in 1861.  The current bridge was completed in 1926.  There’s a lot of history here.

Alexandra Bridge 2 Bridges

In the second photo you can see the latest bridge in the distance that replaced the old suspension bridge in the 1960s.  The old bridge has an open grate for a bridge deck.  I’m not afraid of heights but it is a little hard to trust a bridge that has been decommissioned.  There has to be a reason right?

Long way down

Once again I travelled up the West Pavillion forest service road to do some gold panning.  This time though the road frequency had been changed, and the new one wasn’t posted yet.

Pavillion Road Sign

There were some phone numbers and a website posted but this area is outside of cell range so that is not really helpful.  I had a my trusty Baofeng but it wasn’t any good without the proper channel.  Here’s a link to the new posted channels for the area, FYI.  According to that site the new channel is 150.11 MHz.  Fortunately it was a quiet day on the road and I didn’t see anybody.

Claim #1, other viewClaim #1

I got to the first claim later that day.  I found a nice camp site near the dirt road and eagerly began hiking down to the river to take my first samples.  It looked pretty steep on the topo maps and with my prior experience in the area I was expecting it to be.  The maps were accurate and it was at least as ugly as I had imagined.  Loose gravel and significant slope on the way in.  I was hoping to find a more civilized route up once I got down to the river.

SamplesApril

I managed to get a couple samples before the light started to fade.  The samples that I take consist of two full pails each, and partially processed on site.  I use the pyramid pan to concentrate that down to about 1L and store the samples in a waterproof zip lock bag for the hike out.  It takes at least an hour to excavate each test hole in this area due to the abundance of large rocks making up the beach.

RockClimb1

My hope of finding a “civilized” route was not fulfilled, I marked the climbing route in the above photo.  I was faced with either hiking up the super steep talus slope or rock climbing up some exposed rock.  I chose the rock climbing.  I must mention that I am experienced with rock climbing and don’t recommend this course of action if you aren’t comfortable.  Its not exactly safe, especially with a backpack loaded with a pick axe, shovel, 5 gallon pail, samples, gold pans and all the other prospecting gear.  Not to mention no rope.

April Fraser Looking South April Fraser Looking North

I made it up OK, with a little bit of a gut check at the top, then hiked the rest of the steep slope up to the camp for some well deserved beer and food.  Little did I know that was just the beginning of the unexpected climbing on this trip.  On the previous trip to this area we thought that climbing ropes and gear might be needed for these claims but it was impossible to tell until you come over the edge towards the river.

AprilClaim2 Canyon AprilClaim2

The second claim was just down river from a small canyon.  This is a good thing for trapping gold but it does not make for easy access.  It all looked good on the way down but it dropped off steeply as I descended towards the river.  Pretty soon I found my self perched on top of what was a near vertical drop.  I spotted a line down but I couldn’t see the whole path.  At this point I was committed.    The further I descended the worse it got and next thing I knew I was reverse rock climbing down to the beach.

Claim2Beach

Once again I hoped that I would find a better route up.  This time around I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.  I had a whole day of sampling to do so I’d worry about climbing out when the time comes.  I managed to get three good samples from the beach and inevitably the time came to climb out.  I knew the way in was very dangerous and didn’t know if I even could climb back up.  The photos below show the route to the beach.

Claim2ClimbDownClaim2ClimbDown2

I spotted a route to rock climb out but it was nasty too.  It looked like solid rock with good holds so I went for it.  It turned out not to be solid and almost every hold I grabbed broke loose and slid down the slope.  I got to a point about 3/4 the way up the rock climb section where I was certain that I was screwed.  No way up and no way down.  Not a good feeling.  After several minutes of gathering my courage I decided I had no choice and went for it.  Once I was on top and able to walk on my feet I was relieved and more than happy to hike up the rest of the steep slope to my camp. I didn’t get a great picture of the route up from the beach.  The photo below shows the approximate route.Claim2ClimbUp

I’ve gotten myself into these sort of situations more times than I’d like to admit.  Honestly though the unexpected situations are one of the most exciting parts of prospecting.  At the time you are terrified and wonder how you ended up in this situation but afterwards those are some of your best memories.  Without a sense of adventure who would go out to these places looking for gold?  As luck would have it, these claims actually had some decent gold.  The trouble is how am I going to get in there next time?

Gear Review: Baofeng Handheld Radio

Gear Review: Baofeng Handheld Radio

Communication is essential for any placer gold operation to be successful.  It is also important for safety, in the event of an emergency communication can make the difference between life and death.

When out prospecting you are usually away from cell service.  So you need another way to communicate.  For person to person communication you can’t beat a handheld radio.  Even if you are within cell range radios are more convenient because of their field ruggedness and long battery life.

baofenguv-5r

The Baofeng UV-5R is an entry level dual band ham radio manufactured in China.  You can buy these radios for under $30 on Amazon.com!  In larger commercial operations, and even smaller ones, companies will use much more expensive radios such as the Kenwood TK-3402.  Those radio retail over $300 and have way less features.  Also to program a Kenwood radio you usually have to take it to a dealer.  You can program them yourself with the right cable and software but almost everyone brings them to a dealer.

BaofengFeatures

The Baofeng is a hidden gem.  After years of using much more expensive radios I had low expectations for a sub $30 Chinese unit.  I was blown away when I got these radios.  The biggest advantage that the Baofeng has is the ability to program radio frequencies on the fly.  When you roll up to a BC forest service road or active logging road they have the frequency posted at the start and you are supposed to call out the kilometers as you travel up the road.  The reason you want to do this is because there are large logging trucks and other equipment working up there.  When you are able to communicate with them you can prevent getting hit or trapped on a tight road with a logging truck.

You’ll wonder why other radios don’t allow field programming.  That is because you legally require a licence to transmit on many channels.  You could get in a lot of trouble with the Baofeng radio because you can program any channel that you want.  It is easy to listen in on police or ambulance channels.  I do listen to the police and other people some times for entertainment.  You can also transmit which is illegal.  That being said in the event of an emergency it would be worthwhile to contact help directly.

The range on these radios is also impressive.  They transmit at 4 watts, compared to the 5 watts of the commercial grade Kenwoods.  I’ve tested the range on the Baofeng radios at over 10km, they could potentially go further with good line of sight.  There is a dual watch feature which allows you to monitor two channels at the same time.  When you hit the PTT button it will transmit on the last channel that had activity.  There is a scan feature on the radio but it is very slow.

51hIZkiz13L

The stock battery will last up to 20 hours.  That is pretty decent, I wouldn’t expect any other radio to last longer.  I bought spare batteries for mine, they are also available for a reasonable price.  They are available for about $6.00 each at amazon.  The UV-5R features VOX capability which is usually only available on much more expensive radios.  VOX gives it the ability to trigger the PTT by your voice, basically hand free operation.

The Baofeng can easily be programmed to work with repeaters, such as the BC Forestry repeaters.  This feature adds to the versatility of this radio as an emergency communication device.  Programming on the handheld can be a little confusing although entirely possible.  I recommend using a PC and some free software.  There is a great program called CHIRP that makes programming these radios as easy as filling out a spreadsheet.  You can download CHIRP for free here.  There is also a great manual put together by the Chinese radio project.

51l3l5BpKkL

The UV-5R has memory for up to 128 channels.  It also has FM radio capability meaning you can listen to terrestrial FM radio stations.  There is a bright LED light included as well which is a nice feature.  The small form factor is kind of nice, I often forget I have it on me.  It has a belt clip but can fit nicely in a pocket as well.

In the box is the radio itself, the AC drop charger, the antenna, battery, belt clip, headset (works with VOX) and an english manual.

The Baofeng UV-5R is available on Amazon.com for an amazing price.

Baofeng UV-5R ($27.63)baofengSmalluv-5r

I’d also recommend:

Baofeng USB Cable ($5.99)

Extra Battery ($5.89)

 

Update:

Baofeng has released a new version of this radio with 8 watts of transmit power.  That gives it much more range than most commercial handheld radios such as the Kenwood TK series which operate at 5W and sell for over $300.

BaoFeng BF-F8HP ($62.89)