cb vs ham radio

CB vs. Ham Radio | Which One to Choose ?

If you’re new to the world of two-way radio communication, chances are you have come across ham radios and CB radios and wondered what sets them apart. While the both are two-way radios, they each have some key differences that make them unique. 

As such, this article is going to look at the main differences and similarities between CB radios and ham radios. In addition, we’ll explore how CB radios became so popular and why ham radios are popular with preppers.

Overview of Differences Between CB and Ham Radios


CB Radio

Ham Radio

Bands Single Multiple


11-Meter 10-Meter


40 N/A


Not required Required
Modulation AM, SSB AM, SSB, FM
Power 4 Watts (12W SSB) 1500 Watts
Range  Short Long

CB Radios

CB is a short form of Citizen Band. Ideally, a CB radio is a land mobile radio system that allows short-distance communication using two-way radios that operate on frequencies of 27MHz (shortwave band).

cb radio

Why Do People Use CB Radios?

Truckers use CB radios to communicate with each other and relay important information about routes or traffic. This can be helpful in making them choose more reliable routes.

On the other hand, people who fancy hiking trips also use CB radios. Though smartphones revolutionized telecommunication, CB radios are still far more reliable for short-range two-way radio communication.

How Did CB Radios Gain Popularity?

Hollywood is partly to blame for the hype around CB radios. Many of the movies and TV series like Chuck Norris always made the CB lingo seem cool and this trend hasn’t died till date.

Additionally, you do not need a license to operate a CB radio. This makes CB radios easier to access and operate unlike ham radios which will require you to get a certification from the FCC. 

Furthermore, CB radios offer plenty of channels that allow several people to communicate. This makes them fun and interesting to use as you can pick up interesting conversations whenever you’re bored with the regular FM or AM radio channels.

Ham Radios

In contrast, ham radios (also known as amateur radios) allow you to communicate much farther than CB radios. They require a license to operate owing to how powerful they are. Ham radio operators (popularly referred to hams) need to get up to three licenses before they can become elmers.

Why Do People Use Ham Radios?

Apart from the fact that ham radios allow people to communicate for longer distances, these devices are far powerful and use a broad frequency range. Whereas CB radios allow local and interstate communication mostly, ham radios allow people to listen to emergency broadcasts that whenever other emergency channels fail.

How Did Ham Radio Become Popular?

Ham radios are more versatile than CB radios. You can send messages in either Morse code, audio, and even as text or images. This has been made possible with advancements in computing since a few years back ham radios were only capable of transmitting audio.

In addition to being versatile, they pack in more power, and this makes them useful for preppers. Ham radios can handle up to 1500W of power whereas CB radios can only manage 12W on SSB. 

Ham Radios

Since there are various types of ham radios, different kinds have different power outputs. Some handheld ham radios, for example, can come with a rating of as little as 100W. However, with an amplifier and a powerful antenna, such a device can be amplified almost 5 times over allowing you to communicate farther.

Differences Between CB Radios and Ham Radios

So far, we have mentioned that CB and ham radios are two-way radios with some differences on power and range. Here are detailed differences between the two devices to help you tell them apart further.


The range of ham radio is better compared to CB radios, and this is primarily because CB radios are have a maximum power output of 4W. CB radios also run on frequencies around 27MHz while ham radios use VHF and UHF frequencies which relate to the 147Mhz and 440MHz frequencies respectively.

If you were use a CB in an area with a lot of obstructions, you will get a range of less than a quarter mile whereas a ham radio will probably give you a range that exceeds 2 miles. 

In open areas, CB radios can max out at a range of around 20 miles while a ham radio operating on the UFH frequency can easily manage 70 miles. Bump up the wattage and you could go over 200 miles without needing a repeater as is the case with CB radios.


Ham radios can operate at a maximum of 1500W of power as regulated by the FCC. If you do the math right, that’s over 300 times the power you will get from a CB radio. 

Not all CB radios have a power output of 4W though. If you go for an SSB CB radio, you can get up to 12W from a single radio. 

While you can technically boost your CB radio to go over the 12W limit, you might run into trouble with the local authorities. In addition, you would be causing harm to your body.


You will need an SWR if you get an antenna that is less than 8 feet if you want your CB radio to work flawlessly. This is because the minimum height of the antenna needs to be about 8.5 inches.

Not all antennas need to be physically 8 feet long thanks to the center coil which you can find in many modern antennas. However, this comes with a slight disadvantage since the more coiled the antenna is, the fewer the frequencies it can work with without needing an SWR meter which comes as an additional cost to you. 

Ham radios can get away without needing extremely long antennas or repeaters as is the case with CB radios. This is because signals from a ham radio can bounce off the ionosphere, and this makes them powerful even without a top-tier antenna. 

If you do have the cash for a good antenna, it would be wise to go for it since you can expect the range to improve drastically.

Other than power, range, and the need for good antennas, ham radios require a license to operate while CB radios do not. To get the license, you would have to sit for a written exam that assesses your knowledge of ham radios and some key FCC rules that everyone using the radio needs to know and abide to.

Is a CB Radio Better Than Ham Radio?

It would be unfair to compare CB radios with ham radios because they serve two different functions. While CB radios are ideal for short range communication and have up to 40 channels, ham radios are for superb for long range communication and serve a different group of people altogether.

Final Verdict

In summary, both CB radios and ham radios are useful two-way radios, but with a lot of differences when it comes to the number of channels that you can communicate in, the power of the devices, and the range. Ultimately, your needs will dictate which of the two is ideal for your particular use case.