Guide to Baofeng Programming for Tactical Use

The Baofeng radio is usable out of the box, but its factory configuration is less than ideal.  Most of its pre-programmed frequencies are meant for non-amateur purposes (commercial, public safety, etc) and therefore should not be used, and its settings need to be changed for optimal functionality, ease of use, and combat-specific considerations.  By the end of this guide, your Baofeng will:

  • Be programmed for common and useful communication channels
  • Monitor the weather
  • Have a more intuitive and useful user interface on startup
  • Have a reduced light and sound signature
  • Be harder to accidentally reprogram
  • Have useless or intrusive features disabled

Much of this programming can be accomplished through the radio’s front panel, but some of it is only possible with a programming cable and computer.  Programming with a cable is not only more comprehensive, but faster and easier as well.  I use a BTECH cable and have had no issues, but some cables may require you to downgrade your drivers.  Channels can be programmed in by hand in channel mode, and some settings can be changed manually in the corresponding menu settings, but full implementation of this guide requires a programming cable and computer.  Finally, note that while I used a UV-5R, other models can be programmed in a similar fashion.

Before continuing, you need to make sure your radio is not frequency locked.  Program in the frequency 462.5500 in channel mode and press the PTT button.  If the red LED below the VFO/MR button turns on, the screen turns orange, and the radio doesn’t beep, you’re good to go.  If nothing lights up and the radio beeps when the button is depressed, it needs to be unlocked.  You can accomplish this by holding down PTT+MONI+VFO/MR and turning the radio on, as demonstrated here.  Radios other than the UV-5R will require different button combinations, such as PTTa+MONI+# in the case of the UV-82.  If the radio displays “FACTORY” on startup, the unlock was successful.  If this doesn’t work, try a factory reset (menu option 40).

First, install CHIRP on your computer.  If your Baofeng model is not supported, use the factory programming software instead.  Plug in your radio, turn it on, open chirp, and choose Radio -> Download From Radio from the program’s menu (or simply press ALT+D).  Select your radio from the list and click OK (if using an 8W UV5R you need to select the BF-F8HP).  Before you do anything else, save a backup copy of your stock config file (File -> Save As) so you can start over if you mess something up.  Don’t forget that if you save it now, it will save to that copy.  You need to make two!

It’s time to add some channels.  Select and delete all of your pre-programmed channels (CTRL+A, DEL).  Next, download this file and open the correct config file for your radio.  You can try to upload it directly to your radio, but the upload may encounter an error due to firmware incompatibilities.  To transfer them manually, select and copy all of the channel information in this file, navigate to the config file for your radio, and paste it in starting in row 1.  Your file should now look something like this:What are these channels?  GMRS, FRS, and MURS are frequencies that in the United States are dedicated to personal communications.  GMRS channels 1-14 are shared with FRS, while channels 15-22 are GMRS only and can be used with repeaters.  Channels 8-14 have to be narrow band and low power, same as FRS, so I have them marked as such for the sake of clarity.  2m and 70cm call are standard high traffic/first contact frequencies for ham radio operators, SAR EMT is a frequency supposedly used by search and rescue personnel, and NOAA is weather channels.  You can load all of the NOAA channels if desired, but I found the first three sufficient for my needs.  Check your local coverage and frequencies if unsure.  The duplex setting controls transmit ability, if it’s set to “off” transmitting is disabled.  I disabled it for the call and EMT channels.  You can enable it if desired, but be respectful and don’t make a mess.  Obviously, do not enable transmit on the weather frequencies.  Mode sets wide or narrow band.  Power controls transmit wattage, I have it on low where it’s required to be.  If you have an 8W radio, set the “high” entries to “medium” instead.  Skip sets that channel to be skipped when scanning.  Weather channels are skipped because they are always transmitting, and you don’t want the scanner to stop on them every time it cycles through.

The frequency order was intentionally chosen so that the radio channel numbers and GMRS channel numbers are in alignment.  If you need to switch to GMRS 16, you know that simply typing in 16 will bring you there, because GMRS 16 is stored in memory channel 16.

If for some reason you can’t load the aforementioned file, you can still quickly paste in these frequencies by navigating to file -> open stock config and choosing the frequencies you need.  If you are not American, choose the equivalent frequencies for your region (PMR446 in Europe, for example).  If you want to load other local frequencies to scan, you can find some here.

A note on legality
GMRS is not supposed to be used without a license, which costs 35 dollars and does not require a test.  Ham frequencies obviously require a license.  MURS and FRS are license-free, but technically you aren’t supposed to use them (or GMRS) on this radio, as it is not type-certified for the purpose.  Additionally, FRS channels 8-14 are supposed to only be .5w, while the Baofeng’s low setting is half a watt higher at 1w.
As long as you stay off of Ham, commercial, and public service frequencies, and within the power and setting requirements of the channel you are on, you should be fine.  That way you won’t be causing anyone else problems, and your traffic will be indistinguishable from any other 5W transmission on GMRS.  You can also disable transmit and use your radio as a scanner, if desired.  Just be aware and use your judgment.

With channels done, it’s time to fix your settings.  Open the menu and copy what you see in the screenshots.
-Carrier squelch is meaningless for reasons which will be shown later, just leave it at 3 or 5
-Battery saver toggles periods of sleep and wake for receiving, higher ratios can cause words to be cut off
-Disabling beep reduces sound signature, esp. if PTT is accidentally unplugged
-Timeout timer determines how long you can transmit before being cut off.  You shouldn’t be sending 45 second transmissions anyway!
-Setting A to name and B to frequency will make it easy to see what channel corresponds to what frequency.  Note that A and B are not synced, so the name does not correspond to the frequency unless both are on the same channel number.
-Disabling standby, Rx, and Tx LED reduces light signature, esp. under night vision
-Disabling roger beep reduces sound signature

-VOX is voice-activated transmit, keep this disabled
-Dual watch allows listening to two channels simultaneously, doesn’t do any good since transmit channel can’t be selected without having the radio in hand.  Disable, if you want dual comms buy a UV82.
-Alarm mode SITE prevents the alarm from transmitting over your radio when activated
-Disabling voice reduces sound signature
-Setting scan resume to TO pauses scanning temporarily when encountering a channel with traffic, to see if any more traffic appears
-Busy Channel Lockout prevents transmission on a channel that is already being used.  Very bad, disable!
-Automatic key lock locks your keypad after several seconds of inactivity, thus preventing accidental reprogramming while worn.  Keypad can be re-enabled by holding # until the key disappears.  Vitally important to enable.
-Squelch tail eliminator HT reduces squelch tail between Baofengs.  Keep enabled.  Disable for repeaters, as it can create problems and has a low probability of functioning.

Nothing to do here really, just make sure your VHF and UHF transmit are enabled and set to their full range for your model of radio.

Note: Work Mode settings mostly affects what the radio does on boot and how it works in frequency mode.  VFO is frequency mode and MR is channel mode.
-Setting display to A will make it so you always start off transmitting on the top channel (which now will display the channel name)
-Setting VFO/MR to “Channel” starts you in channel rather than frequency mode
-Keypad lock controls whether the keypad is locked on startup.  Enable.
-MR A and B set the default channels in those slots when the radio turns on, if it’s “1” then in our channel setup the radio will start with both channels in GMRS 1
-Shift and offset are for use with repeaters, set as shown unless you have a good reason not to
-VFO power and bandwidth are the default settings in frequency mode, set as shown
-PTT-ID sets the default DTMF tone, set to 1, we’re gonna clear these later anyway
-VFO tuning step sets the increment by which the frequency changes when scanning or moving up/down with arrow keys.  Set to 2.5k (the smallest) on both, which allows for the most precise scanning and tuning.

-Sets the default frequency in FM radio mode.  Choose your favorite station or set to 88.1, the base of the FM band in the US, so you can scan through the whole band.

-PTT ID codes are DTMF tones, signals which can be used to send commands over the air.  Clear all of these unless you have good reason not to.  Fun fact: DTMF tones hot mic during transmission and ignore the keypad lock.
-ANI ID controls if and when a numerical identifier is sent with your transmissions.  Turn OFF and clear the ANI Code unless you have good reason not to.
-Alarm code is the code sent over the air (along with your ANI ID) when Alarm Mode is set to CODE.  Clear this field.
-DTMF Sidetone controls if and when the DTMF tone (when used) is played locally.  Turn this OFF.

The Service Settings control the squelch.  Squelch settings go from 0 (no squelch) to 100 (full squelch).  The setting numbers 0-9 correspond with the options in the squelch menu (basic settings -> carrier squelch level).  As you can see, there is no rhyme or reason to the chosen values, and every Baofeng I’ve had has had different ones.  You can change these to more logical numbers (multiples of 4 or 5, for example) or just leave them be.  If you change them, don’t forget to modify your squelch level accordingly.  I ended up setting squelch 0 to 0, squelch 1 to 8, and all the rest in multiples of 4 after that.  I then set my carrier squelch level to 5.

Once all of your channels and settings are done, save the config file, and upload it to your radio (Radio -> Upload to Radio, or ALT+U).  Your Baofeng is now ready for use.