UHF Radios for Travelling Australia

🎙 Best UHF Radios for Outback & Caravan Travel Australia

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Travelling with a UHF Radio while exploring Australia is an important topic that often comes up when people are getting set up for a big trip.

For short range communication between other vehicles, a UHF radio for outback and caravan travel in Australia is an essential tool to have with you. It’s the main system that outback drivers, farmers, station workers, truck drivers, mining staff and emergency workers all use.

You don’t need any licence or prior experience to install and use a UHF and they can be purchased at a relatively low cost. The main two UHF channels that you will need to have tuned in are Channel 18 (for caravanners and campers) and Channel 40, which is used by Truck Drivers and for highway driving.

So, which are the best UHF radios for outback and caravan travel throughout Australia? The most reputable and popular UHF brands to go for include GME, Uniden and Oricom. Let’s explore further.

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Safety Reasons to Travel with a UHF Radio

There are a multitude of safety reasons to travel with a UHF radio in your vehicle. Not just so you can talk to other drivers, but also in the case of needing assistance in an emergency. Read on for more reasons why you should have a UHF radio for travelling Australia.

Communicate with Truck & Road Train Drivers

Communicating with truck drivers with the UHF makes for a much less stressful travel experience for both parties.

Don’t be afraid to sing out to a truck driver on the UHF radio to let them know that you’re aware of them behind you. You can let them know that you’ll drop back in speed when they want to overtake. They’ll give you the heads up when they’re ready and will make the judgement call, so you don’t need to worry about that.

If you can pull over as far as you safely can without dropping off the side of the road, reduce your speed and let them do their thing, they will very much appreciate that and continue on their merry way.

Burke & Wills Roadhouse, Four Ways QLD
Road Trains at Burke & Wills Roadhouse, Four Ways QLD

The same applies when it comes to road trains in the Outback.

Being such a big vehicle with travel time limits in place, road train drivers do not like to lose their speed if they don’t have to. Quite often you’ll see one coming up behind you on a long, straight stretch of road. It only takes a second to chat to the driver and let him know that you see him and you’ll slow down if he wants to overtake you.

Or, if you want to overtake a road train and there’s plenty of space to safely do so, call out to the driver first so that they know. They might even advise against it if they don’t feel that it’s safe. Be aware that those road train trailers can swing out like snakes with every little bump and sometimes overtaking one is just not wise.

Van Towing Weights Explained →

Communicate with Other Drivers

One of the most common uses for a UHF radio while travelling in Australia is having the ability to easily communicate with other drivers who are sharing the road with you.

People can let you know when they’re about to overtake so that you can adjust your speed accordingly. Similarly, you can let other drivers know that you’re going to overtake, so they are aware and don’t freak out or get annoyed with you.

Being able to let someone know that there is something amiss with their set-up or vice versa can be a very important safety issue. Maybe your back tyre looks a bit flat, or the bikes are coming loose on the back of the caravan. You might notice that someone else has left the step out on their camper or the door has swung open.

Loose awning
Loose caravan awning, which came unclipped on the highway

I remember driving through southern Outback Queensland when a car came up beside us and was pointing at the caravan. A quick look in the side mirror revealed that one end of the caravan awning had unclipped and was starting to open up and flap in the wind.

Why didn’t we hear the other driver calling out on the UHF? Because we’d turned the radio volume down a little earlier on as the conversation was getting a bit colourful for the kids in the back.

Many accidents and incidents can be avoided on the road with a simple conversation between vehicles with UHF radios.


Get the Heads up with Oversized Loads

It’s really important to be aware when oversized loads are travelling along in the opposite direction to you. If the load is wider than their lane, you will quite often need to pull over on the side of the road and wait for them to pass or at least be able to drop your left-hand wheels off the road as you pass by each other (for smaller oversized loads).

Having said that, depending on if you’re towing and what the landscape and condition of the road is, it can take a bit of time to find somewhere safe to pull over or to pull partway off the road. As soon as you hear of that oversized load coming, you want to start looking out and get yourself organised.

Oversized Load, Wind Propeller, Hughenden QLD
Waiting for a Wind Turbine Propeller to be delivered, Outback QLD

There will always be a pilot with an oversized load, which is the car or ute that escorts the truck. That can sometimes include a police escort, depending on the size of the load. It’s the pilots job to go ahead of the load and keep calling out the truck’s arrival on the UHF so that other drivers on the road are aware and have time to act accordingly.

An Oversized Load Fail!

Unfortunately, we had a very scary experience where the pilot for a 9-metre-wide load (with a huge mining bucket on the back) didn’t call it correctly. We found ourselves driving up a mountain range as the oversized load was heading straight down towards us – and that load took up the majority of the width of the road.

As soon as we heard the pilot calling over the UHF, “there’s a caravan coming and he’s got nowhere to go,” we saw the huge load coming at us down the hill without a moments notice. All we could do was to drive off the side of the road through the bushes and hold our breath. I wish we had a dash cam to record that moment (we got one soon after)!

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There are many factors that I’m thankful for in that situation – luckily our set-up was lifted and we had the clearance to pull off. Luckily my partner was an experienced driver, was quick to react and was scanning to find an escape route without crumbling under the pressure. Plus, we were very lucky there wasn’t a drop off to the side of the road because we literally had nowhere else to go.

Needless to say, the airwaves went very quiet after that moment. The pilot had not done his job properly in being far enough ahead to warn and instruct oncoming traffic.

So please do not travel Australia, especially in the rural and outback regions, without a UHF. Although the communication that day wasn’t good, I’m still thankful we had one because we were aware that we were in an area of high over-sized load traffic.

Movement of Mining Equipment

You’ll know when you’re coming into a busy mining area with lots of equipment being moved around because you’ll be constantly hearing about oversized loads over the UHF radio. The airwaves will definitely be busy!

You don’t want to find yourself in that precarious situation we’d found ourselves in due to lack of communication (not from lack of having a UHF).

International Coal Centre, Blackwater QLD

Tom Price in the Pilbara, which is a heavy mining area, is notorious for lots of oversized loads and many travellers report that they simply would not travel through that area without a UHF. In fact there are many parts of Western Australia, which are heavy with big loads and road trains, so a radio is essential.


Accidents, Road Works & Road Conditions

You know that annoyed feeling you get when you’re driving along then all of a sudden the traffic just stops, for no apparent reason? Well, when you’ve got a UHF radio for travelling Australia, you can generally get the inside scoop pretty quickly with what’s going on.

Often times when there are roadworks in place, the traffic may be banked so far back that you haven’t yet seen any signage for it. On that note, getting the heads up that there are roadworks ahead will give you plenty of time to slow down or adjust your speed, without having to slam the brakes on as you round the next corner and notice the traffic has come to a stop.

UHF Radio
Roof-mounted UHF Radio

Another scenario is when there’s an accident up ahead and you may end up being stuck for a while. When you’re able to get the information on what the situation is, it helps you to make a decision on whether you need to adjust your travel route or if your estimated time of arrival will be pushed back.

Staying in the loop with other road conditions is also vital. Think dust storms, flooding, fires, road closures, landslides. You might set out thinking that none of those circumstances will apply to you, but you’d be surprised at what situations you can come across as you travel in Australia.


Announcing Yourself

There are many single-lane bridges and narrow sections of road that wind around corners, especially on mountain ranges. Many of these difficult sections will have a sign at both ends stating which UHF channel to tune into and that you need to announce yourself.

So, if you find yourself in a scenario such as this, you’d tune your UHF radio to the allocated channel and say something like, “white 4WD entering single-lane bridge, heading south bound.” This just gives anyone at the other end a quick heads up that someone is on that section of road and they will need wait until you’ve gone through before they proceed.


UHF Radio for Emergencies

A UHF radio gives you an additional form of communication for those parts of rural and Outback Australia that have no phone reception.

If you find yourself in need of assistance, or there’s an emergency, you can put out an SOS call over the UHF radio in the hopes that someone is within range nearby and can help in some way.

Hopefully someone will hear the call and has a satellite phone. Or they may be a local who can quickly get in contact (or escort you to) the nearest hospital, police station or fire station.

In this instance, having a UHF radio while travelling Australia could very well save your life or someone else’s life.

Don’t forget to have a well-stocked First Aid Kit while you’re travelling. These pre-made kits from Survival are brilliant! Also, check out our FREE First Aid Kit checklist (printable).

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First Aid Kit
Snake Bite First Aid Kit
Snake Bite Kit

eBay First Aid Kits →

Ambulance Fees for Travellers →

Additional Uses for a UHF

There are a range of additional uses for a UHF radio while caravanning or travelling Australia. When you’re travelling in a convoy, chatting over the UHF is the easiest way to stay in communication with each other. Just avoid the popular stations (such as channel 40), as you don’t want to clog up the airwaves with regular chit-chat.

Handheld UHF’s are great for the kids to take with them when they’re off exploring or wandering around the campground. It’s an easy way for them to stay in contact with you and yell out if there’s an emergency. You can have your radio switched on in the car beside your campsite (with doors or windows open), while the kids have the handheld one.

Camping in Sydney, NSW
Help the driver hitch up with a spotter outside using a handheld UHF

Many people often use them for reversing up the van and hitching up, so the spotter can quickly pass messages onto the driver.

You may even like to add a sticker to the back of your caravan, camper or motorhome with the UHF channel you usually sit on. That way people behind you can communicate if need be.

Extra UHF Uses:

  • Travelling in a convoy
  • Kids can use them around the campground or in the bush
  • Hitching up & reversing the caravan, camper or motorhome
  • Can aid in other navigational activities
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Types of UHF Radios

Handheld UHF Radio

A handheld UHF is a simple unit, much like a walkie-talkie, that either runs off disposable batteries or has a rechargeable battery. Handheld UHFs are good for communicating with a spotter who’s outside of the car, for using around the 4WD tracks, campground or in the bush.

Handheld UHF
Handheld UHF Radios (eBay) →

Handheld UHFs can also be used for talking to other drivers on the road, but be aware that a they won’t have as much gain (distance) as a fixed vehicle-mounted UHF unit. A major factor is that the aerial just isn’t going to match up to a quality UHF antenna on your car. You might only expect a 3km range with a handheld UHF.


Fixed UHF Radio & Antenna

A fixed UHF radio is a vehicle-mounted unit, which is permanently installed in the car with an antenna installed on your bull bar. You can easily switch it on and change channels as you’re driving. Grabbing the mic and pushing the button to talk on the road is easy.

UHF Radio
Fixed UHF Radios (eBay) →

The benefit of a fixed unit is that the gain is much more powerful than a handheld unit. A lower quality antenna might give you a 10 km range in the car (depending on the terrain), while a higher quality antenna may offer you more than that.

Before 2012, UHF radios only had 40 channels. These days they’ve got 80. You can still use the older units, but you may notice some distortion, crackling and low volume when you’re talking to people who are using a newer unit.


Pros & Cons of Each Unit

There are pros and cons for both the handheld UHF and the fixed UHF.

If your budget allows, I’d recommend getting both. That way you’ll have your permanent one in the vehicle, which will have a better gain (range) and the handheld for using round the campground or on the 4WD track.

*Mobile Devices: flip phone or drag table across for full view

PROSCONS
Handheld UHF• Simple
• No installation
• Can use it outside of the car
• No antenna required
• Battery operated
• Can get lost or broken
• Can slide around in the car
• Need to put it down somewhere when not in use
• Less range than a mounted unit
Fixed UHF• Permanently mounted, so you’ll never lose it
• Always accessible while driving
• Can drop/ hang up mic and get both hands back on the steering wheel quickly
• Can’t take it outside of the car
• Must be hardwired into the car
• Need a good antenna
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Best UHF Radios for Outback & Caravan Travel

Uniden 8060S

Uniden 8060S

  • Super compact
  • 80 channels
  • 7 LCD backlit screen colours to choose from
  • 3 brightness levels (day/ night)
  • Instant channel programming & recall
  • Auto squelch
  • Open and group scan
  • Dual speaker
  • 2 metre extension cable
  • Range – 18 km
  • Warranty – 5 years
UNIDEN 8060S
SpecificationsSize (H x W x D):
• 24 x 100 x 95mm

Weight:
• 196 grams
PriceeBay: From $308 AUD →

Uniden 8060S

Uniden 6060

  • Compact
  • 80 channels
  • 7 LCD backlit screen colours to choose from
  • Remote speaker microphone
  • Auto squelch
  • Open and group scan
  • Dual speaker
  • Warranty – 5 years
UNIDEN 6060
SpecificationsSize (H x W x D):
• 28 x 110 x 112 mm

Weight:
• 196 grams
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Oricom DTX 4200X

Oricom DTX 4200X

  • Compact
  • 80 channels
  • Loud & Clear enhanced speakers in microphone & transceiver
  • Heavier & larger microphone for comfort
  • LCD display
  • 5 brightness levels
  • Metal chassis
  • Slide-in mounting bracket
  • 2 metre microphone extension cable
  • Warranty – 5 years
ORICOM DTX 4200X
SpecificationsSize (H x W x D):
• 31 x 128 x 147 mm

Weight:
• 548 grams
PriceeBay: From $438 AUD →

GME TX3350

GME TX3350

  • Super compact
  • 80 channels
  • LCD speaker microphone
  • Dynamic voice control
  • Digital signal processing
  • 5 Digit Selcall with Quiet Mode (minimises background noise)
  • Warranty – 5 years
GME TX3350
SpecificationsSize (H x W x D):
• 23 x 102 x 87 mm

Weight:
• 158 grams
PriceeBay: From $420 AUD →

GME TX3520S (UHF Radio)

GME TX3520S

  • Compact
  • 80 channels
  • 5 Digit Selcall with Quiet Mode (minimises background noise)
  • Remote head (view LCD display with base unit mounted out of sight)
  • Backlit LCD display
  • Metal chassis
  • LCD speaker microphone
  • Dynamic voice control
  • Warranty – 5 years
GME TX3520S
SpecificationsSize (H x W x D):
• 29 x 128 x 117 mm

Weight:
• 450 grams
PriceeBay: From $529 AUD →

GME XRS 330C

GME XRS 330C

  • Super compact
  • 80 channels
  • Wireless bluetooth
  • App control
  • Clip-in microphone mount
  • 2 watt speaker
  • Create & share scan lists
  • Professional grade microphone
  • Range – 20 km
  • Warranty – 5 years
GME XRS 330C
SpecificationsSize (H x W x D):
• 23 x 87 x 102 mm

Weight:
• 158 grams
PriceeBay: From $443 AUD →

GME XRS 370C

GME XRS-370C

  • Compact
  • 80 channels
  • Wireless bluetooth
  • App control
  • Magnetic microphone mount
  • Metal chassis
  • 2 watt speaker
  • Create & share scan lists
  • Professional grade microphone
  • Warranty – 5 years
GME XRS-370C
SpecificationsSize (H x W x D):
• 29 x 128 x 117 mm

Weight:
• 450 grams
PriceeBay: From $531 AUD →

Icom IC-410 PRO

Icom IC-410 PRO

  • Heavy duty
  • 80 channels
  • Active noise cancel mic
  • White backlit LCD screen
  • Automatic repeater
  • Shock & vibration resistant
  • Silent stand-by with CTCSS & Selcall
  • Front mounted speaker
  • Warranty – 5 years
ICOM IC-410 PRO
SpecificationsSize (H x W x D):
• 40 x 150 x 117.5 mm

Weight:
• 800 grams
PriceeBay: From $478 AUD →

Icom IC-410 PRO

Crystal DB477D

  • Heavy duty
  • 80 channels
  • 7 multicolour controls & displays
  • Mute Out (mutes car stereo when receiving)
  • Full aluminium die-cast chassis
  • Duplex range extension
  • Channel scanning
  • Warranty – 3 years
CRYSTAL DB477D
SpecificationsSize (H x W x D):
• 30 x 112 x 155 mm

Weight:
• 800 grams
PriceeBay: From $189 AUD →
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How to Use a UHF Radio

UHF Radio Channels

It’s important to be using the correct channels on your UHF. Being a public communication system, there are guidelines in place to manage how each channel is being used.

Here are the main channels that you’ll need to know and what they’re used for.

Common UHF Channels:

  • Channel 10 – 4WD convoys, clubs and National Parks
  • Channel 18 – Caravan and campers convoy channel
  • Channel 40 – Truck Drivers and highway driving
  • Channel 5 & 35 – Emergency use only

Below are all of the UHF Channels in Australia.

UHF Channels
1 – 4Duplex – Repeater Output
5Emergency Use Only
6 – 8Duplex – Repeater Output
9General Conversation
104WD Convoys, Clubs & National Parks
11Call Channel
12 – 17General Conversation
18Caravan & Campers Convoy Channel
19 – 21General Conversation
22 – 23Data Only
24 – 28General Conversation
29Pacific Highway (QLD & NSW) – Brisbane to Sydney
30General Conversation
31 – 34Repeater Input
35Emergency Use Only
36 – 38Repeater Input
39General Conversation
40Highway Channel & Truck Drivers
41 – 48Repeater Output
49 – 60General Conversation
61 – 63DO NOT USE – Reserved for future use
64 – 70General Conversation
71 – 78Repeater Input
79 – 80General Conversation

What are UHF Repeaters?

The purpose of the repeater is the extend the distance of the UHF transmission by receiving and automatically rebroadcasting a transmission. This is done by using an antenna in a high location (on a hill or top of a tall tower). So, the transmission range might go from 10km up to 50km using the repeater.

If you’re heading off the beaten track or find yourself in an emergency without a good signal, using a repeater might be worth a try to maximise your UHF radio range.

Check out the really great video below, which explains in simple terms what repeaters are and how to use UHF repeater stations.

Get organised for your off-grid trips with this full map and list of UHF repeaters in Australia.


UHF Etiquette & Rules

To make sure that the UHF channels are used in the right way across the board, there are some rules and etiquette in place to keep us all on the same page.

  • Everything you say on air is public, so be respectful and courteous of other users.
  • Sometimes you’ll come across trolls and bad language (especially on channel 40), so be aware of that and just don’t bite back.
  • If you had to turn the volume down due to colourful language, don’t forget to turn it back up or you may miss out of vital information.
  • Keep general chat-chat to a minimum, so as to keep the lines open for all users. If you want to continue a conversation, consider moving it to one of the general channels.
  • If someone else is talking, wait a few seconds until they finish, then reply.
  • Call other drivers with a brief description, e.g. “Patrol & caravan calling road train ahead.”

Channel 5 & 35

The two channels set aside for Emergency Use Only are 5 and 35. By law, they are not to be used for general conversation and fines apply if you’re found using them in that way.

You may use the channel to request emergency help, as emergency services regularly scan the two channels for those call-outs. Once communication has been established, you should move to another general channel to continue the conversation. This allows that line to be freed up for anyone else who may need it.

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UHF Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need a licence for a UHF radio?

UHF radios are freely available to all Australians, so no, you do not need a licence to own or operate one.

What does UHF stand for?

UHF CB stands for Ultra High Frequency Citizen Band Radio.

How far does a UHF signal reach?

The general distance a UHF signal will reach is from around 5km – 20km and is largely dependent on your antenna and the terrain (travels less distance in hilly areas).

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Conclusion

Having the best UHF radio for travelling Australia, whether it be weekend day trips into the bush, road trips or caravanning and camping holidays, it’s an essential piece of equipment. Being able to easily communicate with other drivers takes a lot of stress out of the trip, as well as adding an important safety element.

If you’re planning a road trip in Australia, do yourself a favour and get a hard-mounted UHF radio installed in your vehicle, or at least grab a handheld UHF. Practice using it on the designated channels (without annoying anyone), so that you know what to do when a situation arises. It could just save your life or get you out of a bind one day.

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UHF Radios for Travelling Australia
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14 thoughts on “🎙 Best UHF Radios for Outback & Caravan Travel Australia”

  1. For those that want a Hand Held UHF, there’s no recommendations. For an in depth dive into UHF, both should have been tested and/or recommended.

  2. Great, informative article looking to do a trip from Melbourne to Broken Hill in September and will be buying an in car unit.

    Thanks for the info

  3. Have to say I never really thought of this before, but it makes perfect sense! Thanks for the summary, would be helpful to have a lingo guide. I would be completely clueless as to what and how to say. Your story with the 9m load coming ahead of you, really sounded scary! I’m sure it was unforgettable, and it is events like these that make travelling more fun right? =p

    1. That’s a good point, a guide for all of the common terms people use over the UHF. Yep, it was a scary moment that will forever be imprinted in my memory – but it makes for a good campfire story!

  4. This is fascinating! I really like the concept of UHF and that there are different channels for different purposes. It sounds like it really minimizes so many risks and just adds such an important layer of safety when traveling. I wonder if there is a similar system in the US. On the caravan trips I’ve done when we were growing up, I don’t remember having a UHF but we also were never in very remote areas.

    1. UHFs are such a huge safety device here in Australia for travelling. I definitely wouldn’t want to hit the road without one. I guess they’d be available in the US, but have never had to look into it.

    1. A Road Train is basically a big truck with 2 or more trailers, which moves land freight. They’re everywhere here in Australia once you get out of the cities, being such a vast country. Some of the Road Trains can be very long!

  5. With cell phones being so prevalent, I really never thought about the value of having a UHF radio. I have images of old time movies and CB radios! But I do see how truck drivers have a lot of information to share and it might be good to be able to communicate with them. And there have been many small bridges that I would have loved to announce myself before I crossed! I can see why you would want one for your caravan.

    1. Absolutely! Especially when it comes to overtaking long trucks on the rural highways, which are certainly not the best-kept roads in the country.

  6. It seems like a UHF radio is a must have for any road trip across Australia for sure. We used to use UHF or CB radios all the time in the 80s & 90s so while on road trips across the U.S. so it sounds like they are still very functional for safety while riding the roads with other types of trucks and rigs.
    It would seem that a portable UHF is very convenient especially if you plan on using it while hiking too. But I think A hard mounted UHF radio seems a bit more functional since you dont have to find a place for it in your cup holder or find an easy access point if you suddenly need it.

    1. Yeah I remember Dad having a CB radio in the car when I was younger and we used it all the time while camping and travelling. The hard-mounted one is definitely more convenient and has a longer range. But, I think a handheld UHF is good to have as well, they both have their uses.

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