For a time, America was gripped by CB fever: in the 1970s and a little bit after, everybody wanted to capture that mystique of truckers rolling down the road talking to each other in a rapid-fire stream of lingo that sounded like a different language.

But fun and games aside, CB radios remain incredibly useful today, and for preppers, especially having one in your vehicle or at your home is a great way to stay prepared for communications blackouts. But, can you just buy and go with a CB? Do you need a license to legally use a CB radio?

No, a license is not required to use a CB radio in any context in the United States as long as all federal regulations are followed.

Unlike more powerful and capable ham radio sets, no license is required to purchase, install, receive, or broadcast with a CB radio, be it a handheld handy talkie or a set installed at your home or other fixed site.

Keep reading, and I’ll tell you everything you need to know concerning the regulations, laws, and more for getting on the air with CB.

Using Ham Radio Requires a License, Not CB

To be perfectly clear, ham radio and CB radio are not exactly the same thing, though they overlap in many of the same niches in terms of radio communication.

Ham radio is more powerful, and accordingly, you must get licensed in order to legally transmit with one, whatever kind of set you have.

CB radio is not subject to any of the same restrictions: buy a set, set it up, or install it, and you’re ready to get on the air as long as you abide by FCC regulations for doing so.

How Old Do You Have to Be to Use CB Radio?

Believe it or not, there are no age restrictions for using a CB radio, whether or not you are at a base station or on the road with one. You don’t even have to have a driver’s license!

Do You Need a Special License to Use CB in Specific States or Areas?

No, although special permits might be required as a civilian to use a CB radio on any government-controlled property like Federal and military installations and so forth.

Also, if you are using a CB radio on any US property, territory, or installation outside of the continental United States, you might need a license or approval to use a CB while in these places, though this is definitely the exception.

Assuming you are at home in the US, even as far away as Alaska or Hawaii, you can use a CB radio with no other restrictions whatsoever.

CB Radio Use is Considered License-by-Rule

Now, CB radio is colloquially thought of as not requiring a license at all in order to use it, but if you want to get into the legal nitty-gritty, that isn’t really the case.

CB radio usage is classified as license by rule, identified specifically under the FCC rules concerning radio usage by civilians.

“Licensed by Rule” basically just means that if a person follows the FCC rules for using the radio, they are considered properly licensed, but if you break the rules, then you are considered to have violated the tenets of licensure and can be punished in any number of ways. Usually by a fine, but potentially by criminal charges depending on what you did!

In short, as long as you are abiding by the law you’re allowed to use a CB, the moment that you stop abiding by the law, you’re no longer allowed to use it. I hope that makes sense!

What Are the Basic Laws for Using a CB Legally?

There are actually a lot of laws that cover CB usage in the United States, but you can stay out of trouble if you remember a few of the major ones.

For starters, the maximum output power for a CB is 4 watts, legally. If you have an SSB transmitter, 12 watts of peak envelope power is the legal maximum.

Note that it is illegal to attempt to make contact with a receiving CB that is more than 155.3 miles away. Remember: to even attempt is illegal! Don’t chance it.

Also, antenna heights are regulated pretty strictly. Your antenna cannot be more than 20 feet above the highest point of any structure it’s mounted to, or if the antenna is installed on a mast or tower at ground level, the top of it cannot be more than 60 feet above ground level.

And lastly, stay off of channel 9 unless it is an emergency. Per CFR95.931(a) Paragraph 2, channel 9 is only to be used for emergency communications or traveler assistance and not for any other purpose.

Channel 9 is continually monitored by police or other first responders to help out citizens who might be in trouble, so don’t mess with it.

Can Non-US Citizens Use CB Legally?

Yes and no. You don’t have to be a United States citizen to legally use CB radio according to all of the guidelines set down above, and there is no permission needed, special license, or anything like that.

However, there is a major exception in the form of foreign governmental officials and their authorized representatives. They aren’t allowed to use CB radio for any purpose while inside the United States or its territories. I guess “citizens band” really means “citizens only” in this case!