How does antenna height affect VHF communications

antenna rangeRadio operators typically want to get the best performance and range out of their antenna systems. VHF and UHF  propagation is typically line of site, so the common thought to increasing range is to increase the antenna height. For the most part this works, but when you look at the numbers, you will notice an decreasing rate of return for each foot that you increase in your antenna’s height.

To calculate range for an antenna such as the KB9VBR J-Pole antenna, you can use this simple equation to determine antenna’s receiving range over a flat surface: range in miles = square root of height X 1.42. An antenna mounted at 30 feet should have a theoretical range of 7.78 miles. Of course terrain and surrounding buildings and landscape can greatly affect this number.

Antenna height in feet Transmit Range in miles
10 4.49
20 6.35
30 7.78
50 10.04
75 12.30
100 14.20
150 17.39
200 20.08

You’ll notice that doubling the antenna height doesn’t automatically double the range. If you wanted to double the range, you’ll need to triple the height. In order to get greater and greater return in antenna distance, we need to increase the antenna height quite an appreciable amount.

It’s also worth noting that terrain makes a big difference in communications. These numbers are for a flat surface or over water. If you live in a valley or on a hilltop, you’ll find that your range will vary greatly. There are more sophisticated calculations that you can make to figure your antenna’s height above average terrain, and how high you’ll need to be to effectively communicate based on terrain. Increasing your transmitter’s power can also affect the range, using a 50 watt transmitter vs a 5 watt transmitter can affect distance greatly.

But this formula should give you a great ballpark estimate of the range or distance your antenna will experience.