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.
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:
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. You 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:
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:
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.
The rise in popularity of consumer drones has led to a considerable amount of confusion. The word drone has been misused by the media and manufacturers attempting to capitalize on the excitement that surrounds everything “drone”. A drone is a robot that has the ability to operate autonomously without direct control from a human operator. “Drone” usually refers to unmanned aircraft which are also called UAVs (more on that later). There are other types of drones too such as boats, submarines and ground based robots. For an aircraft to be considered a drone it must have an autopilot and have the ability to fly without user input. Many of the “drones” on the market right now do not meet that criteria. For example this is not a drone, Flymemo DM007 but it is marketed as one. This one is a drone 3DR Solo Drone Quadcopter.
There are similarities to real quadcopter drones though. The DJI phantom is a real drone, the difference being that it has an autopilot and can operate a flight pattern autonomously. Likewise “racing drones” are not drones at all. They are totally cool though and look like a lot of fun.
Quadcopters have been around for a long time and offer a stable platform compared to conventional R/C helicopters. The correct name for these non-drones is R/C quadcopter. Adding a camera does not make an R/C aircraft a drone either.
#2 You can’t just fly wherever you want
Commercial and Hobby use of drones comes with regulations. Like most laws it is the responsibility of the operator to learn and obey the regulations. In Canada the regulations are in a state of flux so it is important to keep up to date with the changes. Likewise in the United States new rules are currently being developed to register all recreational drones.
Canadian recreational users can be fined up to $3000 for an infraction of the recreational rules. Commercial operators are subject to fines up to $25,000 for flying without a permit or exemption. Any damage caused by reckless drone usage can also be charged back to the owner. Other laws also apply such as voyeurism and trespassing. RCMP have been investigating unauthorized use and have issued fines to non-compliant operators (CTV article).
At the present time both Canada and the United States do not have a licencing system for commercial drone operations. In both countries the existing laws consider commercial drone activity illegal and therefore an exemption or permit is required. In Canada this is called an SFOC or a “Section 333 Exemption” in the US. The Canadian laws are further ahead as there is somwhat of a streamlined system to apply with a clear set of criteria. Exemptions have been made for small drones provided that they have insurance and operate at a safe distance from airports, and buildings. This link has flow chart for the current exemptions, TC Exemptions.
Reckless drone incidents have risen sharply in the last two years with the increase in drone sales. There was an incident this summer where a recreational drone interfered with a forest fire fighting operation in Southern BC (news article). A disturbing amount of drones have been spotted at airports interfering with commercial air traffic as well.
#3 Confusing Acronyms
Following up on misconception #1 there are a lot of confusing acronyms and terms for drones and drone-like aircraft. The “proper” name for drones is actually UAVs or unmanned aerial vehicles. Some people will say UAS or unmanned aerial systems. These terms are a matter of debate in academic, military and regulatory circles. Drone, UAV and UAS essentially mean the same thing.
The terminology gets a little foggy when you start talking about RPVs which stands for remotely piloted vehicle. Many of the large military drones fall into the RPV class. The difference is that they are actively piloted by a human although the human can be hundreds or in some cases thousands of miles away. RPV’s are essentially big expensive R/C planes. R/C is another acronym that is part of the mix. As discussed in #1 R/C stands for radio control and refers to the hobby planes, helicopters and multirotors that are literally controlled by radio transmitters.
Modern drones developed from R/C aircraft and have many of the same components. One more acronym that is related to drones is FPV which stands for first person view. That is the technique used to fly R/C aircraft using a live video feed via radio link and video goggles. FPV is pretty cool stuff, check out the video below (be advised that they are likely breaking the law).
#4 Drones will not be delivering packages anytime soon
There has been a lot media coverage recently about drone delivery systems. Amazon has been leading the charge with a media frenzy around what they call “Amazon Prime Air”. Just this week they put out a promotional video hosted by former Top Gear star Jeremy Clarkson. See the video below,
It looks cool, even plausible, but there are several major road blocks that need to be dealt with before drones will be landing in your back yard. First the drones require a system called Sense and Avoid. This is arguably the holy grail of modern drone development. Sense and avoid means that the drone can avoid collisions with unplanned obstacles, people and vehicles using onboard sensors and real time decision making. Great strides have been made in the last two years in this field but it will be a while before it is ready for the real world. Check out this ground breaking video from researchers at MIT,
In addition to sense and avoid systems delivery drones will also have to be reliable in all weather conditions. There are very few drones today that are capable of flying in rain, strong wind or at night. There are other reliability issues that need to be addressed such as battery life, and battery consistency. Not to mention dealing with militant anti-drone activists or simply kids that might throw plastic bags or rocks at delivery drones. Apparently it is legal to shoot down other people’s drones in the United States (see this article).
The last hurdle that needs to be cleared is regulation. Amazon, Google and Walmart have all been lobbying for a designated altitude to be used for delivery drones above cities. The proposal sounds like something out of a science fiction novel, and may one day part of the solution but it will take a long time. Currently drones are not prohibited within 9km (Can) or 5 miles (US) from an airport which is where the majority of customers live.
Drone delivery is not a new concept. In remote regions of Africa experiments are underway to deliver live organs and medicine between villages. Check out this TED talk on the subject. In rural Africa there is virtually nothing for the drone to hit, no conflicting traffic and so on. In areas like that drone delivery can already take place. Drone delivery services will be available in major cities one day but with today’s technology and regulatory climate it is nothing more than a publicity stunt.
#5 Most of the military drones are not killing machines
A widely held misconception about drones is that the US military drones are all weaponized killing machines. Coverage in the press gravitates towards the very controversial remote killing machines that the military certainly does posses. They have several models of weaponized drone, the main drone strike tool is the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper. The Reaper is a bigger, more powerful version of the Predator with the addition of weapons payloads. They also have F-16 fighter jets converted to drones and unmanned bombers. The Tomahawk cruise missiles which were made famous in Desert Storm are also basically kamikaze drones.
The first drone weapon was developed by the Nazis in WWII. It was called the V-1 Flying Bomb and was essentially an early cruise missile. The US has a long history of drone useage beginning after WWII with unmanned target drones. Miltiary forces all over the world routinely use target drones to for target practice every day. It is mind boggling that they build simplified drones that cost between $10,000 and $40,000 just to shoot at and destroy. These non-weaponized drones are used daily.
The drone age really took off with reliable photography drones in the 1990s. The most successful drone to date is the Insitu ScanEagle. The ScanEagle was originally developed in Oregon by Insitu to map tuna schools. They have been deployed in US military operations since 2004 and all they do is take pictures. The AeroVironment RQ-11 Raven is a small hand launced photography drone that can be rapidly deployed to take aerial photos. The Shadow, Blackjack and RQ-170 Sentinel are all photography drones as well. The Canadian military uses the Israeli made Heron UAV and the ScanEagle, we do not have any weaponized drones.
The Predator and Global Hawk are extremely successful long range, high altitude drones that collect aerial imagery and do not have weapons capability. I am not advocating in any way the use of drones for murder but the media promotes stories on the controversial killing drones in the headlines. This disproportionate reporting give the impression that all military drones are killing machines. In reality there are only a handful of killer drones while the overwhelming majority take photos and collect remote sensing data.
#6 Drones will not crash if their radio is jammed or lost
There has been some press lately about using radio jammers to knock out drones. There are even some start up companies marketing radio jammer guns. They look like some kind of futuristic weapons.
Radio jammers work by overloading a signal with random noise. The jammers that are being designed for drones use directional antennas and focus on the the frequencies often used by drones (2.4 – 5.8 GHz). Some drones operate on different frequencies such as 900 MHz which would require different antennas.
If tuned to the correct frequency range a jammer can definitely disrupt a drone’s radio link. That will not cause it to crash though. Just about every drone in operation today has a set of failsafe programmed features. One of the most important is a radio signal loss failsafe. What that means is that the drone is programmed to follow a procedure when signal is lost. Typically the drone will return to its take off point and hover or circle in the air until signal can be re-gained.
Drone’s can lose signal for a lot of reasons and it has happened to me on numerous occasions. They also have failsafe procedures for loss of GPS signal, battey power, etc. The definition of drones comes into play again here. Radio controlled aircraft such as R/C quadcopeters which are often mis-labelled as drones will crash when signal is lost. That is true of any non-autonomous R/C aircraft. Without receiving commands from the pilot they will all crash. So radio jammers are effective on R/C devices.
In recent months momentum is building for drone radio jammers to be installed in airports and other sensitive areas where reckless drone activity could be a nuisance. First of all they would not actually be effective against drones and second the jammers would overlap with commonly used aviation frequencies. So that is never going to happen. If commercial jet flights are concerned about having a cell phone powered up during flight how would they like high powered radio jammers operating in the vicinity?
Five years ago you rarely heard the word “drone”. When you did it brought up images of military air strikes and futuristic sci-fi movies. In 2015 drones have become commonplace and are starting to be used in many industries. A drone provides many advantages over traditional fixed wing data collection and the low cost makes it a practical solution to many problems. Hobbyists are also quickly getting into the game due to dropping prices. It is amazing how many people will drop $1000 or more on these high tech gadgets.
Drones, also called Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), are flying robots that are able to execute a task autonomously. They come in several different forms but they all have the same core components. The four critical drone components are Autopilot, Propulsion, Sensors, Payload.
The autopilot is the essence of what makes a drone. In order for an aircraft to be called a drone it must have the capability to fly without human intervention. The usage of the word drone has been misconstrued in recent years. Just because an R/C aircraft has four rotors and a camera does not make it a drone, it muse have autonomous flight capabilities. Autopilots are sort of the brain of a drone. They monitor all the information coming in from the sensors and send signals to the control mechanisms based on their programming.
The autopilot software functions much like a thermostat. For example if the drone’s alitutde is set at a certain number the autopilot will contol the aircraft to maintain that number. If the drone rises higher the autopilot will adjust the controls so that the drone descends, if its too low it will set the controls to climb. The autopilot operates in this way for hundreds of different parameters such as airspeed, altitude, GPS position, attitude (3D orientation), and many more.
The use of autopilots goes back to at least the late 1940s when experimental aircraft were able to operate completely by computer control. Modern commercial airliners actually employ autopilots that can control the aircraft from takeoff to landing, the only thing they can’t do is taxi. Every time you fly on a commercial jet you are riding a large autonomous robot.
For a flight to be successful the autopilot must have the parameters for the flight such as flight path, altitude, flight restrictions and settings stored in its memory before takeoff. Once in flight the autopilot will use the preprogrammed information to follow a flight pattern and land at a predetermined location. Watching an autonomous drone in action is quite an experience, they can give the impression that they are thinking for themselves.
Sensors on a drone connect it to the real world. They perform the functions that the eyes, ears, nose and other senses do in a human. A drone can only know what the sensors tell the autopilot, much a like a human’s concept of the world is based on what we can see, smell, hear and touch. For example a drone will not have any idea it is heading directly for a tree unless it is equipped with an obstacle avoidance system. The same is true of hitting the ground or a person who walked in front of the aircraft. The pitot/static system is used to measure the current airspeed and altitude. This sensor measures air pressure from a forward facing tube, as air speed increases so does the pressure. The static tube measures the change in barometric pressure which decreases with altitude. The pitot system also measures the wind speed by comparing the airspeed to the GPS speed.
Most drones have a GPS system which is the basis for autonomous flight plans, and in the case of very accurate GPS systems altitude can be measured. Drones also have a 3 axis accelerometer which monitors the aircraft’s orientation relative to the horizon. Accelerometers are also used in smart phones, they are the device that senses when you shake or tilt the phone. More complex drones have fancy inertial measurement units (IMUs) which use gyroscopes and other methods. Drones have servos which monitor and adjust the position of control surfaces such as ailerons, or rudders. Servos are electric motors that are calibrated to precisely place their control arm. There are countless optional sensors which can add new capabilities to a drone. Some optional sensors are altitude lasers or radar, trasnponders, voltage sensors, magnetic compass, and obstacle avoidance sensors.
The Propulsion System
There are a variety of propulsion techniques in use in drones today. The majority of drones use electric motors. The typical drone that most people would think of is a multirotor helicopter. These use electric motors with a propeller on each. Thrust of each motor is carefully controlled to maintain the correct speed, altitude and attitude of the drone. Small fixed wing drones often use electric motors too although usually just one. They are typically propeller driven as well and they work together with the control surfaces to make a flight successful. Electric motors rely on battery power and can fly as long as the batteries hold a charge
Gas or heavy fuel motors are used on larger fixed wing drones and are still usually propeller driven. There are a few drones out there using jet and turboprop engines such as the Reaper (armed version of Predator). Rocket engines have been used for decades in target drones. Targets were one of the first uses of drones by the military. Its hard to believe but military forces around the world routinely shoot target drones which cost $20,000 and up each. Gas or rocket drones run on a fuel source and their flight duration depends on how long the fuel lasts. Gas drones also have batteries for their electric components and some of them have an on board generator.
Payload is often the area where the most development work is focused. After all these robots are flying for a purpose. The most common payload is some form of a camera. The majority of drones out there are either taking photos or video. Most small drones consist of a multirotor with a GoPro camera on a gimbal. Mapping drones like the one used by WestCoastPlacer have a down facing high resolution camera that is triggered by the autopilot. Mapping drones also record the GPS position and aircraft orientation with each photo for use in processing. Different kinds of cameras can be used such as infrared, multispectral and hyperspectral.
LiDAR laser scanners are starting to be mounted on drones too. It has taken a long time to miniaturize LiDAR sensors to the point that a small-medium sized drone can carry one. Drone LiDAR sensors to date have not been able to provide classification so that a bare earth model can be produced.
Magnetometers are being mounted on drones too (Pioneer Exploration, GEM). These are geophysical sensors used to measure changes in Earth’s magnetic field. This sort of data is used in mineral exploration and location of land mines and submarines. There are many more payloads out there such as air quality sensors or wifi internet repeaters.
The Communication System
Another important component of a drone is the communication system. It is technically possible to operate a drone without real time communication since they fly autonomously however it is irresponsible and in most places illegal to do so. An unmanned aerial system will include some form or radio communication with the operator. The operator will have a radio link hooked up to a field computer with base station software to program the drone and monitor in during flight. On board the drone will be some form of two way radio system which will transmit data to the base station as well as allow the operator to issue commands. Telemetry data received from the drone allows the operator to monitor the flight and make sure that everything is working properly. Examples of telemetry data are things like airspeed, battery health or fuel level, position and orientation.
Typical radio frequencies that are used are 900 Mhz, 2.4 GHz or 5 Ghz. Range of a standard system is 5-10 km. Factors that affect radio range are frequency, transmit power, antenna choice and terrain. Some drone operators have had great success using directional and helical antennas. Some helical antenna systems are capable of communicating up to 100km away. Cheaper drones communicate via WiFi (also a form of radio) to a smartphone or tablet. WiFi range is limited to several hundred meters but can be extended with directional antennas.
Cellular modems are used in some drones utilizing LTE/GSM networks and can greatly increase the operating range. Essentially you can fly anywhere there is cell coverage. Satellite systems are also used which operate on a satellite phone network such as Iridium. Theses communication systems have virtually no limit on range but have slow throughput and expensive by the minute billing.
All the individual parts of drones work together to execute a flight and achieve the goal of the operator. New uses are being discovered for this technology every day. The low price and superior data quality make the UAV a powerful tool for collecting aerial data. In the coming years we are going to see drones used in more and more industries. It just makes sense.
Check out our drones page to see the drone services provided by WestCoastPlacer.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.