CB radios were extremely popular in decades past, but their use by the general public waned as popularity for cellular devices rose. That doesn’t mean that they died, however. In fact, they are still popularly used by those in more remote areas, truckers, marine vessels, and off-roaders.
Public use CB Radio channels are between frequency 26.965MHz and 27.405MHz by 10KHz increments for a total of 40 channels. Only channel 9 has a reserved use, though some have popular enough uses that they might as well be reserved. These channels are:
- Channel 4 (27.005MHz)
- Channel 9 (27.065MHz)
- Channel 10 (27.075MHz)
- Channel 13 (27.115MHz)
- Channel 14 (27.125MHz)
- Channel 16 (27.155MHz)
- Channel 17 (27.165MHz)
- Channel 19 (27.185MHz)
- Channel 21 (27.215MHz)
Additionally, certain channels might be more popular in different areas for different reasons. Keep reading for more information on CB radio channels, their frequencies, and their common usages.
What CB Radio Channels are Public Use?
There are 40 public use CB radio channels numbered 1-40. They start at frequency 26.965MHz and go up incrementally by 10KHz up to 27.405MHz. All of these channels are free for the public to use, though some have popular uses. Frequencies above and below these numbers are restricted and can only be accessed legally with very specific equipment and licensing.
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Which CB Radio Channels are Reserved for Specific Uses?
The only channel that is specifically reserved for one purpose is channel 9. All of the other channels have just become popularly used by certain groups of people. They’re usually truckers, but marine vessels also commonly use them as well.
Here are the channels that overall have some common popular use all over North America:
|Marine and RV
|North/West Highway Truckers
|East/West Highway Truckers
There might also be channels that are popularly used for different things depending on geographical location, but as a broad stroke, these are what are most popular.
Which CB Radio Channel is for Emergency Use?
Channel 9 (27.035MHz) is the channel reserved for emergency services and traveler assistance. It is not as frequently used as it was in the past due to the advent of cell phones, but it is still in use in many rural, mountainous, and more remote areas. While not often directly monitored by emergency services, it is still monitored by volunteer organizations and individual users who will then relay emergency information to these services using other methods.
Which CB Radio Channels are Commonly Used by Truckers?
Most of the 40 CB radio channels are free to use for anyone with a CB radio. Since truckers are the most likely people to have access to CB radios in their daily lives, most channels are going to have truckers on them in some capacity. However, there are a few channels that are most popular for truckers to use and are pretty much reserved for them in general, and therefore people who are not truckers accustomed to their handles and slang can be run off of them quickly.
These channels and their respective frequencies are as follows:
- Channel 10: 27.075MHz
- Channel 17: 27.165MHz
- Channel 19: 27.185MHz
- Channel 21: 27.215MHz
Channel 19 is so commonly used for truckers that many trucker radios come with a button specifically for it. However, in some areas of the United States, this is specifically reserved for east and westbound truckers as otherwise it would be far too busy of a channel with channel 17 being for north and southbound truckers.
Which CB Radio Channels are Commonly Used by RVs?
Some RVs still have CB radios, or have radios added by people who spend a lot of time in their RVs so that they can communicate with those around them. While this has decreased in popularity due to the popularization of cellular devices, radio communication can still be beneficial in areas without a lot of cellular coverage. Channel 13 is still relatively popular for RVs to use, though it does share this channel with marine vessels.
Which CB Radio Channels are Commonly Used by Marine Vessels?
Channel 13 is typically the channel for both marine and RV use. However, unlike RVs, many people on a marine vessel use other channels as well.
Channels 16 through 22 are popular for marine vessels for communication in their immediate area, with channels 21 and 22 being most popular on the West Coast. Channels 16 and 17 are commonly used by captains specifically to reach other captains, with channel 16 being most popular while in harbor.
Do note that these overlap with some popular trucker channels, so these might end up overlapping in certain areas and require moving to a different channel. It depends on which is more necessary in the area.
Which Channels Use SSB?
SSB stands for Single Sideband Modulation and is more efficient with its power and bandwidth, but they require more frequency stability and selectivity than standard AM receivers. These are not often used, especially with the popularization of cellular devices.
These are the channels that are more stable and thus more popularly used by SSB operators:
- Channel 16
- Channel 36
- Channel 37
- Channel 38
- Channel 39
- Channel 40
Not all of these channels are exclusively used by SSB operators, and anyone is welcome in them. Do note that some cheaper radios might have some difficulties reaching the higher channels, which is another reason why SSB radio operators gravitate towards them as these radios are a bit more powerful.
Can You Use Other CB Radio Channels?
Unless given proper permission, licensing, and equipment that can reach the other frequencies, the restricted channels aren’t going to be accessible. If somehow access is obtained and it isn’t government or permitted business related, it is not acceptable to participate in any way. Listening is typically fine as long as absolutely no interference is given into those channels, though many of them are in coded language. Morse code being one commonly used, especially in the government channels.
A typical radio is not going to be able to access these channels without modifications. Modifying radios to access these restricted channels is both dangerous and illegal unless given licensing to do so. The other option is a HAM radio, but these require licensing to operate.
HAM (Amateur Radios) radios are able to access radio frequencies above the standard 40 channels. Only licensed Amateur Radio operators are allowed to use them, and communication on these channels are exclusively in morse code. Voice communication is not allowed on these channels at all, so someone breaking the rules is quickly going to be reported with evidence. This can then lead to fines, firing, and likely further repercussions.
Read about Ham vs CB Radio.
If access has been obtained to these channels, most of them are fine with listening in as long as there is absolutely no interference. Poorly constructed systems to get into these channels can cause splattering, which is when they distort the frequencies and make it difficult or impossible for other users to use the channel. This is just as bad as trying to talk on these channels and will likely result in the same repercussions as talking.
Freebanding is illegal in the United States. This is when someone has illegally modified radios to grant access to the restricted channels. Some of these channels are allowed to be listened to, but any interference whatsoever is not allowed.
This is because many of these channels must be kept open in the event of emergencies. Additionally, chances are that the construction of these devices is poorly done, which causes distortion on the frequency and has a chance to disrupt important communications in what is known as causing splatter or splattering.
Penalties for freebanding include:
- $10,000 fine (or greater)
- Equipment seizure
- Suspension of licensing
- Notice of Apparent Liability
The best way to avoid accidentally freebanding is to always purchase radios from reputable sellers within North America that are FCC certified. Also, don’t try to make any unnecessary repairs or upgrades to the unit without consulting the FCC (Federal Communication Commission). That will ensure only the 40 public use channels are accessible and no problems will arise.
Are CB Radio Channels the Same Worldwide?
While similar channels and radio frequencies are used around the world, they aren’t always the same. Many of them have adopted American frequencies, with Canada being identical to the United States. In Europe, many use the same channel assignments but use FM radio frequencies instead of AM.
Some other countries—such as Germany—have more public use channels, whereas other countries such as New Zealand and Japan have their own unique systems that are entirely unlike the North American system.
Can You Use Foreign Radios?
While it is technically possible to use foreign radios outside of the country they were designed for, it is likely dangerous and illegal. Since their power is different as well as numerous other factors such as banding, frequencies, and other technical factors, foreign radios can allow access to restricted channels and even interfere with transmissions. This can in turn cause operators to lose their radios, licenses, and even be heavily fined.
However, some countries allow use from certain other countries. An example includes the United States and Canada, which have the same requirements, frequencies, and channels. If there is ever a concern about if a specific radio is legally allowed to be used, contact the FCC.
What are CB Radios?
CB radios are Citizens Band radios. It’s a short-range communication system that allows one to many bidirectional voice communications. They are operable without licensing, expensive equipment, or in-depth knowledge of how to use them which is why they were extremely popular before the popularization of cellular devices and are still popular with truckers and marine vessels today.
CB radios almost always operate on the same band, unless they have been illegally modified. Other radios may operate on different bands. All CB radios are limited to only a few watts of power which prevents them from reaching the restricted frequencies.
There are three types of CB radios:
- Base Stations
- Mobile Radios
While they are all very similar, they have various different features and installation requirements. For example, handheld CB radios are oftentimes vintage walkie talkies, base stations are larger and meant to stay in place, where mobile radios are just that—mobile.
Also, Read Two-Way Radios Vs Walkie-Talkies.
CB radios might not be as popular now as they used to be due to the popularization of cellular devices, but that doesn’t mean that they are rarely used. They are still commonly used by truckers, marine vessels, RVs, and off-roaders to this day.
There are 40 CB radio channels with frequencies ranging from 26.965MHz to 27.405MHz, increasing incrementally by 10KHz per channel. These are all publicly available for anyone with a CB radio to use without licensing, training, or specialized equipment. Anything above or below these frequencies are inaccessible to these radios without illegally altering them and is strongly advised against.
Only one of these 40 channels is officially reserved for a specific use. That is channel 9 and is reserved specifically for emergencies. While it is not maintained by emergency services in most areas, it is often monitored by volunteers and individual operators who can then relay information to the appropriate sources. All other channels are open, though a few have become so popularized with specific uses that they might as well be reserved. Some of these include the big trucker channels like channels 10, 17, 19, and 21 while others include things like popular off-roading channels, marine vessels, and RVs.
- CB Radio Frequencies, Channels, and Common Uses [PDF]
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- CB radio in the United States
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Topics Covered - Index
- What CB Radio Channels are Public Use?
- Which CB Radio Channels are Reserved for Specific Uses?
- Which CB Radio Channel is for Emergency Use?
- Which CB Radio Channels are Commonly Used by Truckers?
- Which CB Radio Channels are Commonly Used by RVs?
- Which CB Radio Channels are Commonly Used by Marine Vessels?
- Which Channels Use SSB?
- Can You Use Other CB Radio Channels?
- Are CB Radio Channels the Same Worldwide?
- Can You Use Foreign Radios?
- What are CB Radios?