Home Communications HAM Radio 101: How to Use Repeaters & the PL Tone

HAM Radio 101: How to Use Repeaters & the PL Tone

Communication is very important during an SHTF.

You can have the old reliable HAM devices, however, there are so many unanswered questions for the new HAM licensee.

And now I’m bringing in HAM Radio 101 – Intro To Repeaters: We’ll start to answer these questions to make HAM simple.

Quick Navigation

HAM Radio 101 – Intro To Repeaters
What is a Repeater?
Why do use a Repeater?
What is a Repeater Offset?
What is a Repeater Tone (PL or CTCSS)?

HAM Radio 101 – Intro To Repeaters

Simplex Communications

The simplest method to communicate on a HAM radio is simplex. This means that you have the same channel for transmitting and receiving. On the 2 meter band, you can use 146.520 MHz.

This is the National Simplex Frequency. This channel should not be used to chew rag (talk) on, but only to sync up with another HAM. You should make your connection then decide on an alternate frequency to communicate on so that you don’t tie up that high usage channel.

If you can’t reach anyone, then you may have to take things to the next level and use a repeater. You can find a list of repeaters, nationwide in the ARRL Repeater Directory.

2 way radio

What is a Repeater?

A repeater is just another two-way radio. It receives transmissions on one frequency, then re-transmits those same transmissions on another frequency; at the same time.


Why do use a Repeater?

Your handheld transceiver or mobile ham radio has a very limited range. This is due to it’s short (small) antenna and it’s fairly low height with respect to the radio horizon (unless you are on the side of a mountain). 

A Repeater is used to rebroadcast your transmissions and received signals to much higher levels, electronically, using large, very efficient, high gain antennas, low loss feed-lines and transmitters and receivers, that rated for heavy-duty or continuous use.

A repeater boosts your signal and receives the station you are talking to, over a far greater range and coverage area! You benefit from the repeater’s higher elevation, which increases your effective transmitting and receiving area!


What is a Repeater Offset?

Repeaters need to listen and transmit at the same time, therefore they use two different frequencies. One frequency is for it’s transmitting frequency and the other is it’s receiving frequency.

two way survival radio

Think about it this way, if the repeater used the same channels for both transmit and receive, it would only hear itself. That would be a loop, and that seems really, really bad.

The 2-meter band’s offsets are set 600 kHz apart (As a rule of thumb),

  • If the output frequency (transmit) of the repeater < 147 mHz, then the input frequency (listening) is 600 kilohertz lower. This is called a “negative offset”.
  • If the output frequency (transmit) of the repeater > 147 mHz, then the input frequency (listening) is 600 kilohertz above. This is called a “positive offset”.

The 70 cm band offsets are 5MHz apart (again, rule of thumb)

  • If the output frequency (transmit) of the repeater < 447 MHz, then the input frequency (listening) is 5 megahertz lower. This is called a “negative offset”.
  • If the output frequency (transmit) of the repeater > 447 MHz, then the input frequency (listening) is 5 megahertz above. This is called a “positive offset”.

On other bands, the offsets will be different. The good news is, that most of the modern ham radios take the offsets into account and will compensate automatically.

Example: If the repeater output is 443.700 Mhz (70cm band). The input, or the frequency the repeater receiver transmits on 443.700, but receives on 448.700 (+5 MHz offset)

Repeater DirectoryIf I have your radio tuned to 443.700 Mhz, and hit my transmit button, the radio transmits on 448.700, 500kHz (5MHz) up from 443.700. As soon as I release the transmit button so I can listen, the radio switches back to 443.700. Then I can hear transmissions on the repeater’s output frequency.

The good news is, that most of the HAM radios sold today, will set the offset automatically, once you have chosen your desired operating frequency.

Note: There are always exceptions, so check your local repeater listings or the ARRL Repeater Directory (a must have!).


“Standard” Repeater Offsets  

BandFreq (MHz)
23 cm1282 – 129420 MHz
33 cm902.005 – 927.99512 MHz
70 cm442 – 445-5 MHz
70 cm447 – 450+5 MHz
1.25 meters223.85 – 224.98-1.6 MHz
2 meters145.2 – 146.97-600 kHz
2 meters147 – 147.39+600 kHz
6 meters51.62 – 53.98 1 MHz


What is a Repeater Tone (PL or CTCSS)?

                                                          Continuous Tone Coded Squelch System, or CTCSS is a communications industry Radio with Built In Repeatersignaling scheme called the Continuous Tone Coded Squelch System (CTCSS). Motorola decided that they needed their own proprietary name for CTCSS and called their version of it PL (Private Line)

PL and CTCSS are used to prevent a repeater from responding to unwanted signals or interference. Tone Squelch tells the repeater to respond only to stations that encode or send the proper tone. Most repeaters are “PL’ed”, due to the sheer number of radios and repeaters in their area.

Some repeaters are set up to operate only when a PL tone of 179.9 Hz is picked up by it’s receiver, only then will it allow the transmitting station access. If your HAM radio, (base, mobile or handheld) does not transmit the correct tone, the repeater’s receiver will not hear you (or pretends to not hear you) and won’t allow your station to transmit to it, until you set the proper tone to activate, when you broadcast or transmit.

The Most Common PL / CTCSS Tones (in Hz)

229.1233.6241.8 250.3254.1


In our next post, we’ll show you how to configure your Budget Ham Radios for repeaters and tones. In this first post, we’ll walk through setting up a BaoFeng UV-5R to use a repeater with a PL or CTCSS tones. We’ll follow up with a 2nd post showing you how to configure a TYT TH-UVF1 to do the same.

Ham Radio 101 Posts:

Budget Ham Radio Posts:

If there’s enough interest, we can discuss setting up the Yaesu FT-2900 and the FT-7800 for repeaters and tones too. We’ll decide to do this if enough people ask for it in the comments.

Two way ham radio


  1. I know nothing about Ham radios. But want to learn. I don’t even know the questions to ask. Whoever wrote this page did a great job. Plain talk that anyone can understand. I know how to get a Ham radio license, my husband did so. But we still don’t know how to use a radio (Baofeng). Someone programmed it for us but we don’t understand what they did. I hope you keep having these webpages so more people will get interested.

    Thanks a bunch. I’ll keep watching this website.

  2. thank you very much I’m a newbie to the ham world.should have my technicians license in a few more weeks.you guys are very helpful

  3. How do I know which Frequency is the receive frequency I transmit to on a Duplex repeater?

    I understand the offsets.
    Thank you for your articles.

  4. A few bits of clarification:
    1.) Get your license — please.
    2.) In the event of many natural and “man-made” disasters, local repeaters may go down with power loss, tower or antenna damage, etc. So the best prepping should include getting the second level amateur radio license in order to understand and operate more powerful, but also more complicated radio systems that use frequencies and output wattages that will allow you to transmit beyond the curvature of the earth/horizon.
    3.) Discussion of “channels” is misleading since amateur radio focuses on frequency, not an organizational scheme of specific frequencies labelled as “channels”. CB, GMRS, and FRS “radio services” assign “channels” per a frequency established by the FCC.
    4.) Repeaters are not necessarily “high powered”, but always take advantage of elevation and better antennas and feedlines (as stated above).
    5.) Standard offsets (amount of frequency change) and shift (direction of frequency change) are established by the FCC for the USA.
    6.) Repeaters are much more complicated and expensive to setup due to a whole host of factors. Accordingly, please follow FCC rules and repeater operator’s conventions for their systems for the betterment of all. Thank you.


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