Ham Radio Range (How Far Does It Reach?)

While ham radios can reach across oceans and continents, they don’t come out of the box that way. Because there are so many variables in ham communication, it’s impossible to give a definitive answer on how far a ham radio can reach. 

Depending on your setup, hams communicate anywhere from a few miles to around the world and even to outer space.

The distance depends on several factors, including the frequency of your transmission, the power of your transmitter, the type of antenna, and your mode of propagation. 

You must have a license to legally operate an amateur radio. The technical aspects of ham radio are multifaceted and extremely complex, so it’s highly recommended that you take a proper course in ham radio communications. 

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We’ll walk you through the basics of ham radios and how far they’re likely to reach, depending on your specifications.

What Is Ham Radio and How Does It Work?

Ham radios use specialized equipment to transmit and receive signals from ham operators. These signals are sent using frequencies in the HF (high frequency) and VHF (very high frequency) bands. 

These radio frequencies are allocated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and vary in frequency range, power output, and type of modulation. 

The most commonly used ham radio bands are the 2-meter band, 70-centimeter band, 10-meter band, 6-meter band, and 1.25-meter band. Each band of frequency affects how far your communications can reach.  

For example, the 2-meter band is better suited for local communications, whereas the 10-meter band is better for long distances. 

Read more about ham radios for emergencies.

Factors Affecting the Range of Your Ham Radio

By understanding the many variables associated with ham radios, you can maximize your communication range and enjoy successful transmissions close to home or on the other side of the globe. 


The more powerful the ham radio, the farther the transmission. In the United States, ham radios are legally limited to a maximum power of 1500 watts. However, the official guidance is to use the lowest power necessary. 

A basic handheld radio operating with FM Simplex typically gives you a five-mile radius, but this can extend all the way around the world with proper licensing and equipment. 

Handhelds have the least amount of watts and typically peak around 10 watts. On the other hand, mobile radios, which also use FM Simplex, can produce around 100 watts since they’re powered by your car or external battery supply. 

With extra power, you can achieve closer to a 50-mile range without any additional equipment. 

Read about the best ham radio for preppers.


Using a handheld or mobile radio with an FM repeater can yield an additional 50 miles of transmission on top of your intrinsic radio capabilities. With linked repeaters, which transmit from one repeater to the next, you can achieve up to 500 miles. 

Some amateur radio operators go so far as to connect their repeaters to digital repeaters over the internet. By using online programs, such as DMR, D-Star, and Fusion, it’s easy to communicate with the opposite side of the globe.  


Frequency and radio waves go hand in hand and are inverse of one another. Wavelengths are the distances between the peaks and troughs of your soundwaves and are measured in meters, whereas frequencies are the number of cycles within one second and are measured in hertz. 

Higher frequencies have greater hertz but travel shorter wavelengths, whereas lower frequencies have greater wavelengths but less hertz. So, the lower the meter the higher the frequency, the shorter the distance. 

This means ultrahigh frequencies (UHF) are better for short ranges with obstacles like buildings, mountains, or woods, and very high frequencies (VHF) are more suitable for communicating longer distances. 

Additionally, within each frequency band are several different channels, so to speak. 


Most ham radios, especially handhelds, have very limited distance out of the box, predominantly because of the rubber duck antenna that they come with. Rubber ducks are 360-degree, vertically polarized, omnidirectional, short monopole antennas.  

Because of their low gain, they have a significantly limited range and simply don’t perform as well as other antennas on the market, like full-sized quarter-wave antennas or J-pole antennas. 

Think of antenna gain as an amplifier. Measured in decibels, it portrays how an antenna converts radio waves to power. The higher the gain, the more powerful the antenna, the better the signal, the longer the distance. 

Thus, the height of your antenna is directly proportional to its range. Not only do higher antennas have the ability to clear obstacles and reduce interference, but they also send and receive signals over larger areas. 

Different types of antennas have different characteristics that affect the range and quality of your overall signal. In conjunction with all the other variables in amateur radio, a quality antenna is a must for long-distance communications. 

A dipole antenna, for example, can increase your antenna gain abilities from 20 MHz to 2.2 GHz and can balance signals without losing reception. On the other hand, something like a Yagi antenna allows you to access amateur radio dedicated satellites, which can increase your distance to 1500 miles with a simple handheld.  

Mode of Propagation 

In radio speak, propagation refers to how your radio waves are transmitted, increased, or extended. Depending on the frequency and wavelength, radio waves can propagate through the air, objects like buildings or trees, or even water. 

Ham radios utilize four primary means of propagation: ground, sky, space, and scattered.

How radio waves are propagated influences how far those radio waves can travel. 

Sky Propagation

Sky propagation is ideal for communicating over large bodies of water and oceans. Because sky-wave propagation occurs in the ionosphere, radio waves are affected by the angle of the radio waves when they enter the ionosphere, as well as the density and height of the ionosphere. 

The advantage of sky propagation is that radio waves can travel thousands of miles without repeaters or other equipment, which is why they work well in the middle of a vast sea where there is minimal obstruction. 

The range of frequency for sky propagation is limited from 3 to 30 MHz.  

Space Propagation

Otherwise known as line-of-site transmission, space propagation occurs when radio waves travel without any deflection, reflection, or refraction. These waves move directly from the transmitter to the receiver and provide a reliably strong signal for short distances. 

Space propagation is ideal for short-range communication and satellite communication, and it can extend to approximately 25 miles using 100 MHz. 

Unfortunately, obstacles like buildings, hills, or trees can significantly limit its range, which is where antennas come in handy.

Ground-Wave Propagation

Ground-wave propagation usually occurs with lower-powered transmitters wherein the waves travel over the surface of the ground. Because these waves follow the curvature of the earth’s surface, they can travel without being obstructed. 

This means radio waves can travel longer distances without needing repeaters or powerful antennas. Ground-wave propagation works best with medium-range communications from 100 km to 1000 km, and its frequencies fall between 3 kHz and 3 MHz. 

Overall, however, the range depends on the wave frequency, transmitter power, and topographical surface of the earth. As the signal travels, its quality can be affected by both terrain and atmospheric conditions.

Tropospheric Scatter Propagation

Primarily used for long-distance communications, tropospheric scatter propagation can cover anywhere from 30 to 300 miles. It uses scattered radio waves that bounce off atmospheric irregularities following the curvature of the earth to reach distant locations.   

Tropospheric scatter propagation provides reliable signals without needing repeaters, but atmospheric conditions affect their waves. This propagation is most effective from 100 MHz to 1 GHz.

How to Maximize Your Ham Radio’s Reach

If you want to extend the range of your ham radio, first pick a quality transceiver with adequate power.

Next, upgrade your antenna. Whether for a handheld, mobile, or base station, there are plenty of antennas to choose from that can extend the range of your transmissions. 

Also remember, the higher the antenna, the better the range. So if you’re mobile, then always look for the highest elevation. If you’re stationary, affix your antenna as high as you possibly can.  

Additionally, use a frequency that allows you to leverage a repeater. Once the signal is received by the repeater, it rebroadcasts using a more powerful signal reaching a broader range. Better yet, daisy-chain repeaters and watch your transmission travel the world. 

By combining the appropriate ham radio, the most suitable frequency and propagation, and an upgraded antenna, your ham radio can reach just about anywhere you want it to.

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Ham Radio Online License Classes Ham Radio Online License Classes

The Ham Radio Prep program makes it fast, easy and fun to get your license in just a few hours of study time. They even offer a money-back guarantee if you don't pass your exam on your first try.

Use code PRIMAL for 20% OFF!

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  1. I’ve been a ham for over 50 years and have held an FCC broadcast engineer license for longer than that. We are self policing so please respect our frequencies, procedures and obtain a license then study, practice and upgrade when ready.

    HF is the long distance band and Morse Code the original digital mode of communication and will forever be the most reliable method when SHTF.

  2. I am licensed for GMRS and I have a good understanding of Ham, so I may get my technician license so I can use more if the VHF frequencies for outdoor stuff with a handheld.


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