Baofeng UV-5R: Basic Setup & Emergency Frequencies

A Baofeng UV-5R connected to another antenna in front of electrical equipment

Baofeng UV-5R: Basic Setup & Emergency Frequencies

Guest Post by Travis Noonan. Author bio below. Photo credit.

We’ve said it before, communication is one of the most important factors to consider when packing your bug out bag.

Emergency communications are often crucial when disaster strikes: Cellular networks get overloaded and become unavailable, infrastructure fails, and internet connections go dark. That means you need a proper emergency radio.

The Baofeng UV-5R Emergency HAM Radio

We’ve covered one of the most popular HAM radios on the market previously: The Baofeng UV-5R.

Read our full Baofeng UV-5R review and walk-though in this tutorial.

If you're into prepping, you've got a Baofeng!

Baofeng UV-5R Product Review and user guide image

It’s water resistant and reasonably reliable. It has enough battery life to provide emergency communications for days, even weeks with an extended battery.

Most importantly, it’ll give you access to a full band of emergency frequencies, which we’re giving the low-down on today!

Amateur Radio Disclaimer

“HAM”, or amateur radio, requires an operator’s license to broadcast under normal conditions (you don’t need a license to receive transmissions or to “listen in”).

Transmitting with a HAM radio without a license (and call sign) is a federal offense. Rest easy: In times of disaster, enforcement is usually nullified.

Those rules are in place for a reason though, airwaves can become overcrowded. It's a good idea to learn them and proper protocol.

Learn how to get your radio license in this tutorial.

Again, we don’t recommend transmitting on any of the listed channels or frequencies in this guide without a license unless you’re in a true emergency situation, in which case it is acceptable to do so.

Making Programming Easier

Programming via the buttons on the radio is possible, but very slow. For small changes to menu items, or to plug in a frequency for temporary use it's fine.

But when you want to program in dozens of channels, with names, your going to want a computer to assist.

The way to do that is with the CHIRP software and a USB programming cable.

Download the CHIRP program. It's easy to use, its like a big spreadsheet more or less.

A special USB programming cable is required. Get the one below, there are knockoffs out there that don't work, they don't have the correct chipset:

Baofeng programming cable


Avoid the cheap knockoffs. Been there done that and they don't work.

You can also download a greatly improved version of the Owners Operating Manual here.

Baofeng UV-5R Radio Diagram

First, let’s get familiar with all the buttons, knobs, and screens on this thing:

Baofeng UV-5R Radio Diagram showing all the buttons and their functions

Commands, Keys & Buttons

PTT (PUSH-TO-TALK): Press and hold to transmit, release it to receive.

SIDE KEY1/[CALL]: Press to activate the FM radio. Press it again to deactivate. Press and hold to activate the alarm button. Hold again to deactivate.

SIDE KEY2/[MONI]: Press to turn on the flashlight. Hold the key to monitor the signal (temporarily disable squelch).

[VFO/MR] BUTTON: Press to switch between pre-programmed channel mode, and frequency mode.

[A/B] BUTTON: Press to switch the frequency display. This will determine which of the two displayed frequencies you’re transmitting and receiving on.

[BAND] BUTTON: Press to switch the band you’re operating on, which is wither VHF (136 mHz) or UHF (470 mHz). While the FM radio is activated, press to switch the FM radio bands (65-75MHZ or 76-108 MHZ).

[*SCAN] KEY: Hold the button for two seconds to start scanning for active channels (channels that are transmitting). The radio will automatically stop at a frequency if it detects activity. While the FM radio is active, hold to search for radio stations.

[#”KEY”] KEY: Press while in Channel mode, press to switch between High and Low transmit power. Press and hold for two seconds to lock and unlock the keypad. This is useful for when the radio is on and you want to receive communications, but you want to store the radio without button-mashing any settings.

[MENU] KEY: Press to enter the main menu and to select and confirm settings (acts as “ENTER” key).

ARROW KEYS: Press and hold the UP or DOWN arrow keys to dial the frequency or programmed channels up or down while not in the menu. Use the arrows to navigate the menu, too.

[EXIT] KEY: Press to cancel a function or exit a menu or screen.

How to Enter a Basic Emergency Frequency:

You can use the UV-5R almost immediately. It only takes a moment to turn it on and set up a basic frequency or channel to transmit and receive. Since this is likely your first time using the radio, let’s go over basic setup first.

Reset/“Zero Out” The Radio

To setup the radio, ensure the battery pack is snapped to the back of the transceiver. Thread the antenna onto the antenna post and tighten. Turn the radio on by rotating the volume knob clockwise. It’ll click, the radio will beep twice, and then a voice will state “Frequency Mode” or “Channel Mode”.

TIP: You should zero out (reset) the radio to its default settings to ensure there are no preprogrammed settings which may interfere with emergency communications:

  1. Press MENU.
  2. Use the up and down arrows on the keypad to navigate to menu option 40.
  3. Press MENU again to select “ALL”.
  4. Press MENU a third time to select “SOURCE?”.
  5. Press MENU a fourth time to reset the radio.

Select your preferred language

The radio will reset and default to a Chinese voice. To select your preferred language:

  1. Press MENU.
  2. Navigate to menu option 14.
  3. Press MENU again to select the language selection.
  4. Use the arrows to locate “ENG” for English (or your preferred language).
  5. Press MENU again to confirm the language selection.
  6. Exit.

Use the UV-5R as an FM radio

The UV-5R’s most simple function is acting like an FM radio for your favorite stations. This is useful during disasters, when emergency broadcasts and information are put out through local radio stations.

To enable FM mode, just press the orange “CALL” button on the size of the radio. Scan each station available by repeatedly pressing the */”SCAN” key.

Enter, save, and use an emergency frequency

You can enter a frequency and start receiving and transmitting simply by typing the appropriate numbers on the keypad. For example, typing in 162.400 will key you into the NOAA weather broadcast. Typing in 151.940 will key you into the most common national emergency channel.

We want to program some emergency channels so we don’t have to remember all the digits to every frequency we might use. To save a frequency and make a new channel:

  1. Press VFO/MR to put the radio into Frequency (VFO) Mode.
  2. Press the A/B button to select the top frequency. Note the arrow to the left of the frequency on the display, indicating your selection. All programming must be done using the top frequency.
  3. Turn off TDR/Dual Standby (it should be off but confirm it is).
    • Press MENU.
    • Press 7.
    • Press MENU to select the menu option.
    • Use the up and down arrows to select “OFF”.
    • Press Menu to confirm.
    • Exit.
  4. Type in the frequency you want to save using the keypad.
  5. Press MENU.
  6. Navigate to option 27.
  7. Press MENU again to enter the channel selection.
  8. Select the desired channel (000 to 127) by pressing the up and down arrows. We recommend starting at channel 1, then 2, and so on. If a channel number has “CH-“ in front of it, that channel already has a frequency saved.
  9. Press MENU to save the frequency to the selected channel.
  10. Exit.

You can now select the saved frequency by pressing VFO/MR to select Channel Mode, and then pressing the up and down arrows. The radio will cycle through all the saved frequencies’ channels. While in Channel Mode, the display will show two of your saved frequencies, and the channel each frequency is saved on.

Delete a saved frequency/channel

Deleting a frequency or channel is even easier:

  1. Press MENU.
  2. Navigate to option 28.
  3. Press MENU to enter channel selection.
  4. Select the channel/frequency you wish to delete.
  5. Press MENU again to delete it.
  6. Exit.

Search for active frequencies and transmissions

You may find yourself in a disaster situation with no known frequencies or channels. If this happens, you can still use the UV-5R to pick up emergency communications by using it to scan the airwaves:

  1. Press VFO/MR and ensure the radio is in Frequency Mode.
  2. Press and hold the */”SCAN” Key.
  3. The radio will scan through frequencies rapidly, stopping when it hears a transmission.
  4. To set the number of frequencies the radio jumps with each scan, press MENU.
  5. Navigate to option 1: “STEP”.
  6. Press MENU to enter the step selection.
  7. Use the up and down arrows to increase or decrease the amount of the step.
  8. The lowest step (2.5K) is the slowest and most thorough search. 50K is the fastest and least thorough frequency search.

Change the radio’s operating band (VHF or UHF)

The Baofeng operates in two bands: Very High and Ultra High Frequency. Only one of two bands can be monitored and used at a time. To switch between bands:

  1. Press MENU.
  2. Navigate to option 33: BAND.
  3. Press MENU again to enter the band selection.
  4. Use the up and down arrows to select VHF or UHF.
  5. Press MENU again to confirm.
  6. Exit.

TIP: Many emergency radio frequencies, police, EMS, government agencies, and rescue operations use the VHF band.

CTCSS and DCS (“private line” or PL communications)

Sometimes, one radio frequency will be used for transmitting and receiving by multiple operators. This is especially likely in a disaster scenario.

Many first responders, command centers, and rescue operations will stick to one frequency to ensure stable communications.

But in order to separate all the operators on a single frequency from each other (and to avoid sharing transmissions and crowding up the airwaves), two possible systems of tonal frequencies are used.

These tonal frequency systems are called CTCSS (Continuous Tone Coded Squelch System) and DCS (Digital Code Squelch). Both systems work largely the same, except DCS is digital.

  • CTCSS has 50 universal tones measured in hertz (67.0 Hz)
  • DCS has 105 universal tones measured alphanumerically (D023N)

To have a better understanding of this, consider a wireless phone and the cellular network it operates on. Think of the frequency itself as the network, and the CTCSS or DCS tone as the phone number. You must be on the network to transmit or receive, but you also have to “dial” the right number to communicate (the CTCSS or DCS).

There are universal, preprogrammed tones built into the UV-5R for both systems. You must know which tone the frequency in question is using, in order to transmit.

How to Program CTCSS and DCS to a Frequency/Channel

To program a CTCSS or DCS tone into a frequency that requires it (and save it to a channel):

  1. Press VFO/MR and put the radio in Channel Mode.
  2. Ensure you’re on Channel A by pressing A/B.
  3. Type in the frequency you want to save.
  4. Press MENU.
  5. Navigate to option 10 and 12 to set a transmitting and receiving DCS tone.
  6. Navigate to option 11 and 13 select a transmitting and receiving CTCS tone.
  7. Press MENU again to select the appropriate option.
  8. Use the up and down arrow keys to select the appropriate DCS or CTCS transmitting and receiving tones. In options 10 and 12, or 11 and 13.
  9. Press MENU to confirm your selection for each.
  10. Navigate to option 27 to store the frequency and the transmitting and receiving DCS or CTCS tones to a channel.
  11. Exit.

Now, the frequency you just saved should be on the display with either “DCS” or “CT” to the left.

How to Program a Repeater Frequency

HAM radios can only travel certain distances directly, usually a few miles. Repeaters act like “waypoints” for a transmission, hopping it from one repeater to next, extending your communication range. This is incredibly useful in a disaster situation because it allows you to reach much greater distances. Some repeaters allow transmissions to reach thousands of miles.

To program a repeater and transmit on its frequency, you’ll need to know some information about the repeater itself:

  • *Repeater frequency
  • *Shift (+ or -)
  • *Offset
  • *R-CTCS or R-DCS (rarely)
  • *T-CTCS or T-DCS

Some repeaters use different tonal frequency systems that are not CTCS or DCS, or none at all. Those other systems cannot be programmed into the UV-5R. They are not covered in this guide.

To program a repeater:

  1. Press VFO/MR and put the radio in Channel Mode.
  2. Ensure you’re on Channel A by pressing A/B.
  3. Type in the frequency for the repeater you want to save.
  4. Press MENU.
  5. Navigate to option 10 or 11 to input the R-DCS or R-CTCS (if applicable).
  6. Navigate to option 12 to 13 to input the T-CTCS or T-DCS.
  7. Navigate to option 25: SFT-D.
  8. Set the positive or negative shift for the CTCS/DCS (provided).
  9. Navigate to option 26: Offset.
  10. Set the appropriate offset (provided based on band).
  11. Navigate to option 27 and save your repeater to a channel.
  12. Exit.

Now, in Channel mode, you can select the repeater channel and transmit on the repeater in question.

Useful Emergency Radio Frequencies

Now you have a basic understanding and can program and use the UV-5R. Here are some useful emergency radio frequencies commonly used throughout the country:

NOAA Weather Broadcast Frequencies:

  • 162.4000 MHz
  • 162.4250 MHz
  • 162.4500 MHz
  • 162.4750 MHz
  • 162.5000 MHz
  • 162.5250 MHz
  • 162.550 MHz

Family Radio Service (FRS/GMRS) Frequencies:

The FRS/GMRS radio frequencies were adopted in 1996 to be used for family communication. Today, you know these frequencies already as “walkie-talkie” frequencies.

To program the UV-5R for GMRS/FRS, you can download and find all the frequencies here.

You won’t be able to type in the exact frequency, so use the up and down arrows to test the frequency until you find the strongest signal.

NOTE: The Baofeng UV-5R is much more powerful than a standard walkie-talkie, especially if you’ve upgraded it with a new antenna or grounding. Communicating on these frequencies will likely over-power other transmissions. Keep this in mind during a disaster scenario.

International distress frequency

The universally-accepted, global distress frequency for any emergency radio transmission is VHF Channel 16 (156.800 MHz). If you have absolutely no clue what emergency frequency to try – and if scanning provides no transmissions – then keying into this frequency is your best option.

This frequency is monitored 24 hours a day by U.S. Coast Guard and maritime personnel globally. If rescue operations (land or sea) are attempting to hail an emergency radio with no knowledge of the channel or setup, they will default to this frequency.

Two-Meter Band Frequencies

Many local radio transmissions and repeaters work in the 2-meter band, or 144.000 MHz to 148.000 MHz. Scan this range of frequencies during an emergency, and you will likely contact others.

Multi-Use Radio / MURS Emergency Frequencies

MURS is an American VHF radio band, not to be confused with FRS or GMRS. MURS essentially fills the gap between the UHF frequencies provided by FRS/GMRS, and the lower frequencies used by CB radios:

  • 151.820 – Unofficial MURS calling frequency
  • 151.880 – Recommended repeater frequency
  • 151.940 – Emergency channel often used by preppers
  • 154.570 – Older business/commercial frequency, still in use today
  • 154.600 – Older business/commercial frequency, still in use today

Other Useful Emergency Radio Frequencies

  • 156.050 – Port operations
  • 156.350 – Commercial use
  • 156.450 – Boater calling
  • 156.500 – General commercial
  • 156.700 – Port operations
  • 156.850 – State and local government maritime
  • 157.000 – Port operations
  • 157.150 – U.S. Coast Guard only
  • 157.125 – U.S. Government only
  • 161.825 – Public correspondence

If you want to program directly into the radio, and would like to watch someone actually doing it, here is a helpful video from NZRadioGuy


The UV-5R is an easy-to-use handheld radio that can be quickly programmed to transmit on emergency frequencies.

Remember, transmitting without a radio license is illegal under normal circumstances.

Don’t transmit on Ham frequencies without a license unless it’s an emergency. Stick to FRS, GMRS, MURS.

To get started with the absolute minimum information, turn on the UV-5R by turning the volume knob clockwise.

Press the VFO/MR button until the radio announces “Frequency Mode”.

Using the keypad, type in 151.940 to key into the most commonly used emergency radio frequency.

Use 156.800 if 151.940 doesn’t work.

Key into 162.400 to key into the NOAA Weather Service broadcast.

Scan the frequency ranges by holding down the * key if this frequency doesn’t work.

Where to Get One

BTW If you buy anything with the links we provide on this page we might get a small percentage of the sale. For more info click here.

We're a family run business. When you purchase via the links below it really helps us out, and we take our cut from the sellers end, your cost doesn't change. Your support is greatly appreciated!

BaoFeng UV-5R+Plus 5W Dual Band Two Way Radio images with accessories

BaoFeng UV-5R+Plus 5W Dual Band Two Way Radio

Typical Price: $27

An upgrade to the fantastic BaoFeng UV-5R. See our full Baofeng UV-5R review and walk-thru here.

The Baofeng UV-5R Plus is a compact, economical HT covering 2 meters and 440 MHz. This model adds a metallic rugged shell, which is more durable than previous models.

It has special VHF receive band from 65 - 108 MHz which includes the regular FM broadcast band.

Dual watch and dual reception is supported. Up to 128 memory channels.


Author Bio: Travis Noonan is a prepper, gunsmith, and retired military veteran. He spends his days writing about survivalism and teaching folks how to build tactical rifles at home using an 80% lower. He spends his spare time hiking the Appalachian Trail and bass fishing Pennsylvania’s many waterways and lakes.

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