The Family Radio Service is an unlicensed personal communication service first authorized by the Federal Communications Commission in 1996, initially consisting of seven narrowband “splinter” frequencies in-between the eight 462 and 467 MHz GMRS channels, it was expanded in 2017 with the addition of eight more 462 MHz channels, which are shared with GMRS.  The power level was also increased to two watts on the fifteen 462 MHz channels, but remained one-half watt on the seven 467 channels. 

The new FRS service was initially proposed by Radio Shack in 1994. The company had previously sold Part 15, license-free walkie talkies on the 49 MHz and 27 MHz bands, and were interested in an improved personal communication service for their customers. When the service was authorized two years later, only fourteen channels were authorized with a maximum power of one-half watt.

Radio Shack began selling walkie talkies a year later:  a single-channel radio with 0.1 watt power, a 14-channel handheld with 0.3 watt output, and a 14-channel transceiver with the full 0.5 watt rating. Being a new technology, all three were nearly as expensive as the licensed business band radios they sold. 

Shortly after Radio Shack began marketing FRS radios, other manufacturers such as Cobra, Midland, Motorola, and other manufacturers began offering radios. These handhelds are already programmed for the standard FRS channels, so if you are looking for radio that will operate out of the box, this is it. 

Family Radio Service (FRS) – 22 channels

Channel No.FrequencyPower (ERP in Watts)
1462.56252 W
2462.58752 W
3462.61252 W
4462.63752 W
5462.66252 W
6462.68752 W
7462.71252 W
8467.56250.5 W
9467.58750.5 W
10467.61250.5 W
11467.63750.5 W
12467.66250.5 W
13467.68750.5 W
14467.71250.5 W
15462.55002 W
16462.57502 W
17462.60002 W
18462.62502 W
19462.65002 W
20462.67502 W
21462.70002 W
22462.72502 W

Another option are the programmable handheld radios produced by Chinese manufacturers such as Baofeng, Retevis and other firms. These may be configured for business band, amateur radio, or GMRS, but can be programmed for operation on FRS channels and power specifications. In addition to being more flexible, these radios often offer superior performance. 

Of course, the trade-off for greater flexibility and performance is convenience. These handhelds must be programmed and configured to operate legally as Family Radio Service radios. Although this may seem like an overwhelming task for the uninitiated, it is really a simple procedure. In addition to the radio, all you need is a programming cable, software, and Windows-compatible computer. 

An excellent programmable handheld radio for use on cruise ships is the Baofeng GT-1. This transceiver features sixteen channels, which would support the fourteen Family Radio Service channels, plus two business band, amateur, or GMRS channels (if appropriately licensed). 

However, this radio requires programming in order to be legally operated on Family Radio Service channels. For this, you will need a list of FRS frequencies (available elsewhere on this website), USB programming cable, a Windows laptop or desktop computer, and software.

Software is available free from the manufacturer, and the programming cable is also relatively inexpensive, and is available from the manufacturer as well as third-party suppliers on eBay. When ordering aftermarket cables, always check to make sure they are compatible with the Baofeng GT-1 handheld radio.