Ham Radio VS CB Radio

03rd Oct,2023

Choosing between ham radio and CB radio can be tricky, especially for newbies. Without the right info, you may wind up spending months on a device that’s not right for you in the end.

So, in this guide, we’ll be comparing ham radio vs. CB radio to find out their similarities, differences, and which option is better.

Before we proceed:

Read more about the best CB radios here

Read more about the best Ham radios here

Which is better vs. how are they different

The truth is, the technical details involved in this discussion will puzzle you more than explaining things in a simple manner.

But to give you a brief glimpse, there are some differences you need to consider in terms of hardware before choosing between CB Radio or Ham Radio. CB radio is limited by law to transmit at 5 watts, while ham radio can legally transmit up to 1.5kw. Ham radios also have many more options for frequency bands compared to CB radios, which are limited to the 27MHz band.

This can be a mouthful, but there’s a better way to explain. Learning the distinction between the two kinds of usage in both radios will allow you to better understand what you need rather than trying to figure out which one is better in technical aspects.

But in the end, it just depends on how people use ham and how they use CB. It involves the type of communication done over these radios, which we’ll explain later.

The basic differences between the two

President Electronics MC Kinley USA Transceiver CB Radio

The ham radio service is for people who wish to communicate long distances, be part of round table on-air discussions, communicate during times of emergency, and similar scenarios. It’s a reliable and effective way of individual-to-individual communication.

Note that you cannot use ham for commercial purposes, though. Also, you can’t make a local news station using ham radio because that’s still individual transmission to the general public, making it almost commercial in nature. In a nutshell, ham radio is strictly for conversations and communication between individuals.

On the other hand, the CB radio service is for people who want to have a hobby in radio communication without requiring a license. CB is usually short-range and mobile.

Truckers use CB extensively for critical traffic information, directional information, and quite a good deal of vulgar talk in between. People also use CB radio for low-end communication needs like information talks, semi-commercial use, and keeping in touch with family members in the same region or when going on an excursion like hiking.

The ham radio service, once functionally set up, allows you to use high-power equipment. This lets you cover a larger distance, direct the RF energy in a particular direction, and so on. And because the ham radio frequency range is widest, you can utilize more frequencies as well.

Ham radio might also be called amateur radio, but it needs a ton of technical knowledge. Whenever people who use ham radio (called hams) talk, there is bound to be a high degree of technical jargon involved.

In comparison, the CB radio service, once set up, is usually a moving source of transmitting and receiving. A lot of people set up a CB radio when they are going on road trips (a no kids situation only, otherwise there are going to be times when your child can hear a lot of awful stuff).

CB helps people listen to truckers. No need to converse, you can just keep listening too – and now and then you will hear some critical regional, directional, or traffic information.

Intended uses of the two services

Galaxy 959 CB Radio

Why do people use ham radio?

  • To communicate over long distances. You can check out the best dual band mobile ham radios for more details about this.
  • When there’s a need for powerful communication that requires a broad frequency range.
  • Listening to emergency broadcasts, communicating with emergency services, and overall emergency needs.
  • It’s easy to use, learn, and repair. Modifications and setting up are also easier.

Why do people use CB radio?

  • Users who are on a hiking trip or excursion of some sort use CB radio to keep in touch with members who might be far away. Lack of reliable cellphone reception or the internet are some reasons.
  • Truckers extensively use CB radio to relay critical information about directions, traffic, route closures, etc. They also do all other kinds of chatting.
  • CB radio is also used by people on road trips, They listen to truckers speak about traffic and give valuable directional information.
  • Off-roading clubs utilize CB radio sometimes. Any group related to driving, adventure, or adventure driving can utilize CB radio to communicate and keep in touch when in action.

Licensing requirements

ham radio for beginners

Ham radios require a license to operate. This license usually means passing an exam that tests your technical knowledge and understanding of the key telecommunication concepts.

CB radio, in contrast, needs no license to operate. You just can’t exceed the upper limit on power.

Operational limits, illegal uses, and restrictions

The amateur radio service is more powerful. It also helps you utilize higher performance equipment and allows you to utilize more frequencies because the band is wider (widest, actually, in spectrum allotment to radio services).

  • Doing commercial communication over ham radios is illegal, but there are barely any restrictions when it comes to the contents of communication exchange. Communication on amateur radio needs to be strictly individual to individual (or groups).

The CB radio service is feebler in comparison and only meant for short-distance communication.

  • Using hardware modifications to send your CB radio signals further away is illegal. A lot of CB radio users do this, in fact, and it causes serious interference with equipment outside of the citizens’ band.
  • CB radios use the AM or amplitude modulation. Although tweaking is possible to boost CB radio efficiency, it’s often hard and almost impractical. On the other hand, amateur radio uses FM, or frequency modulation, which is more efficient.
  • Ham radios use VHF/UHF. In comparison, CB works on the longer wavelengths (long wavelengths go further than short wavelengths). This means you need longer antennas for CB.
  • The power limit for CB is 4 watts. This is powerful enough for short-distance communication. Going higher than that is illegal.

Ham VS CB Radio Comparison

To give a quick rundown of their differences, here are some points to remember:

CB has 40 channels and 80 more if you count SSB in the 11-meter band. Ham has frequencies across many bands ranging from 160 meters thru gigahertz bands. Ham radios have CW, FM, SSB, AM, some digital modes and TV they can use.

In terms of power, CB is limited to 5 watts of power, while ham radio can transmit up to 1.5kw.

The usage is different as well. Hams use amateur radio to communicate over long distances and listen to emergency communications. CB radio, on the other hand, is used for short-distance communication, such as when you’re on a family roadtrip.


Overall, there’s really no right answer as to which is the better radio between the two. They each have their distinct characteristics, so the best option for you will depend on your needs as a radio enthusiast. With this guide, we hope that you’ll be able to identify what those needs are so you can finally make that purchase.

Read more about the best CB radios here

Read more about the best Ham radios here

William Johnson

William Johnson is the owner and founder of RatedRadarDetector.org. He writes about car accessories, with his passion stemming from a deep enthusiasm for all things automotive. His website, RRD, focuses on in-depth reviews of car accessories to help people find the best and latest products in the market.