How to program the BaoFeng BF-888S radio

The BaoFeng BF-888S is a very cool and inexpensive little radio that a lot of people purchase before realizing that there is no way to program the BaoFeng BF-888S radio with just the radio, you have to purchase a programming cable, download the software, and learn what you are doing first. This can be a big turn off but it doesn’t have to be as programming the radio is pretty easy.

Think of this as your How To Program the BaoFeng BF-888s For Dummies which will walk you through each step necessary to program the BaoFeng BF-888S.

What you need

Of course to start with you will need the BaoFeng BF-888S radio. I liked this two pack as it had everything my wife and I needed to use the radios.

The next thing you need is the programming cable to program the BaoFeng BF-888S such as the one I used, the Compatible USB Programming Cable for Baofeng or the BTECH PC03 FTDI Genuine USB Programming Cable, both from Amazon.

Of course you will need a computer (Windows, Mac, or Linux) and the best free BaoFeng programming software is CHIRP which can program the BaoFeng BF-888S as well as many other radios. The BaoFeng bf-888s programming software free download can be found on the CHIRP website.

Installing the programming software, CHIRP

Once on the CHIRP website click the link that says Click here to download the latest Windows version (or the link for Mac OSX or Linux), you will see the following screen for Windows users (Mac and Linux will be similar but from here on out I will only be showing the Windows version):

Software used to program the BaoFeng BF-888S.

From this screen you want to click on the chirp-daily-xxxxxxxx-installer.exe link (where xxxxxxxx is the date of the file) which will start the download. Once the download is complete you might see the following screen from Windows:

This is NOT because the file you downloaded is harmful, it is because Windows Smartscreen does not recognize the file and since it is an executable file, it is a little over cautious. Click the link that says “More info” shown above and you should see the next screen:

You can now click the “Run anyway” button at the bottom and continue the installation of CHIRP on your computer.

Installing the cable used to program the BaoFeng BF-888S

Once you plug the cable into the computer it will either automatically find and install a driver for it, or it will not. You can check your device manager to see which happened. In my case it showed the following screen:

Driver info for cable used to program the BaoFeng BF-888S

Note that it sees the cable, but does not know what to do with it. Since I opted for the Compatible USB Programming Cable for Baofeng to program the BaoFeng BF-888S,  I received a cable and a small CD with the BaoFeng programming cable driver on it. Inserting the disc allowed me to install the driver which then shows up in device manager like this:

Take a good look at the information in the red box above, we will need it in a second to program the BaoFeng BF-888S.

The next step is to plug in the radio, turn it on, and launch the CHIRP software. The first time you run CHIRP you might see a pop up box that says that error reporting is enabled, you can just click OK and move on. Before we program the BaoFeng BF-888S we want to see what is already in the programming, click on the menu at the top and select Radio -> Download From Radio as shown here:

Now you will see a box pop up like the one below:

Connecting the software used to program the BaoFeng BF-888S

Here is where we need to use that information I told you that you would need in a second, the COM port number. I have set mine to COM3 and if you look up a couple images you will see that it matches what was shown in the device manager. Once you have the port set, set the Vendor box and Model box to what is shown in the image above and click OK. You should now see the following screen showing the default BaoFeng bf-888s frequency chart:

If you do not see this screen but instead get an error message about communicating with the radio, make sure that the cable is fully plugged into the side of the radio. You should not be able to see either of the silver plugs, there should be no gap between the radio black plastic and the black plastic of the plug. If there is a gap, push a little harder and you should feel a solid click, retry the connection and it should work. The vast majority of complaints I see about not being able to program the BaoFeng BF-888S is because of this problem.

Looking at the programming above the first thing you should know is that unless you have a very eclectic assortment of radio licenses, using these radios in the stock configuration would seem to be quite illegal. Those pre-programmed frequencies are a mixture of commercial (requires FCC Business/Commercial license), GMRS (requires FCC GRMS license), and a few others I do not recognize. This is the main reason you need to program the BaoFeng BF-888S right after you get it.

Bottom line, do NOT use the radio without reprogramming it first for your specific licensed frequencies! Not only would you be breaking the law, but you could be interfering with people and/or businesses that paid a great deal of money for the right equipment and licenses they need to do their jobs. You could also be transmitting on a frequency allocated to emergency services such as law enforcement, fire, or ambulance services. You do NOT want to now what happens if you are caught using a radio that interferes with emergency services, but let’s just say it involves a small room and three meals a day, even if you did it without knowing!

And yes, when I hear people using radios illegally I report them using the online FCC form.

In fact, if you are a licensed amateur radio operator you probably already know about “fox hunts” where we use direction finding equipment and techniques to find beacons or illegal broadcasts, turning the whole thing into a lot of fun. If you have not participated in one, contact your local amateur radio group and ask about them!

Before moving on, click on File -> Save and give the configuration a name so you have the original working configuration should you need it as it can be used as a BaoFeng 888s reset.

What frequencies to program the BaoFeng BF-888S

If you are programming one for a friend or bought one used, you may also find the following frequencies already in the radio:

As you may know, these are the FRS channels (1-7) and GMRS channels (8-22) used by the inexpensive “bubble pack” radios available at all sporting goods stores. Unfortunately these are illegal too since the radios are not licensed for those frequencies (too much power, removable antenna, no FCC certification for FRS or GMRS, etc).

Another thing you might find interesting is that if someone had programmed these to operate on the FRS frequencies they may have also programmed CTCSS codes as well. In FRS radios these are shown as a two digit code such as 11, in the BaoFeng they are frequencies such as 97.4, here is a cross reference table:

Below is a listing of legal frequencies you can use to program the BaoFeng BF-888S assuming you have a valid amateur radio license:

Shown above is the ARRL’s band plan for the 70cm band (44xmhz is in the 70cm band) for use by licensed amateur radio operators. The three most common frequencies I have seen for simplex operation (what you do when one handheld talks directly to another handheld) are 446.00, 446.50, and 447.00. I would recommend you put those in the first three channels.

Next are other common simplex frequencies of 445.925, 445.950, 445.975, 446.025, 446.050, 446.075 so that gets us up to the first nine channels.

The rest of the channels can be filled by finding the frequencies for your local repeaters and using them to finish off the programming.

The image above is my default way I program the BaoFeng BF-888S before adding local repeaters. Note that not only do I have the frequencies put in, but I also set the Tone Mode to TSQL and the TSQL value to 88.5. This was done so that one radio will only open the squelch when the other radio transmits, avoiding all the static of manually trying to adjusting the squelch.

Pro tip: When using TSQL you could very well transmit on a frequency that is already in use and never know it. It is very important you monitor the frequency before using it to make sure that no one else is currently operating on that frequency. To monitor the frequency when you have TSQL turned on press the top orange button on the side of the radio and that will manually open the squelch so you can listen for other traffic. Since my wife and I only use these in small confined areas where we are not too far from each other and typically on low power, I do not believe it is an issue.

Once I was happy with the configuration I would save it using File -> Save As on the menu (this allows me to not destroy the original in case I wanted to look at it or return the radio to factory).

Pro tip: Do not leave a channel empty even if you have to repeat a frequency because turning the knob to that position when nothing is in it makes the radio emit a loud non-stop tone that is really annoying.

Now select Radio -> Upload To Radio from the menu:

You can now turn off the radio, disconnect the cable, turn the radio back on and start using it! If you talk into one radio and hear it on the other, you have successfully managed to program the BaoFeng BF-888S.

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42 thoughts on “How to program the BaoFeng BF-888S radio”

  1. Thank you for this. The user “manual” that comes with the two pack I bought is pathetic. It talks about features only available by programming the software, but doesn’t come with the programming cable, the software, or any information whatsoever about how to do it. I guess for $20 you can’t expect much.

    • Ackchyually, this is how all radios for all models of all makers are sold, not just this one. Even the high end ones. You need to go to the website for info and software (although Boafeng switched to Chirp) and need to purchase the cable seperately.

      The thing I do not understand is, if it charges with USB, why not program it with USB, but with a seperate cable? Older models are not chargeable with USB, only with the cradle and sometimes a seperate car charging cable, there this makes sense. But with USB on board?

      • Higher-end radios quite often have very nice manuals included in the box. Radios such as my Kenwood TH-D74, Yaesu FT3D, and Icom ID-52 all came with a good basic manual. The less expensive radios I have purchased such as those from Baofeng and Wouxun have jokes for manuals that may or may not show you how to turn the radio on and attach the belt clip 😉

        As for USB, it is trivial to install a USB port and attach two wires to the battery circuit for charging. Attaching that same port to a data board and then piping that into the radio’s logic circuit is not at all trivial. Think of the difference between changing the time on the clock in your car, and programming the timing of cylinder firing. Both are “programming the computer” of the car, right?

  2. I just purchased two new BF-888S talkies from Amazon. There is no model information visible inside when you take the battery out except ISO-9001. I am unable to successfully program these talkies. After programming, the squelch noise and the green squelch light is always on. A channel with a programed audio code or DCS is quiet, but the green light is still on. I have been programming 888 since 2013 and I have never had this problem before. I have tried two 888 programs and had the same result. I’m getting set up to try it on Chirp. Any suggestions that you might have would sure be appreciated.

    • Let’s start with the basics. I assume you made a backup of the original programming, when you reinstall it, how does the radio work? If it works fine then you have done something wrong with your programming, simply change one setting at a time until you find the one that makes it work incorrectly.

  3. Want to use radio as Police Scanner.

    Radio will not accept frequency: (Example: 155.085 – Fairfield, Ohio Police Department)

    States frequency is invalid.

    What do I do?

    • The 888 is a UHF radio that only works in the 400-470Mhz frequency range. The 155.085Mhz frequency you put in is not between 400 and 470Mhz. The radio is simply not capable of that. Sorry.

  4. Hi!

    Thanks for the article because it has helped me determine what sorts of things I need to take into consideration when I recommend radios for my school.

    I’m a HAM and up until now, I was unaware of the regulations for the FRS & GMRS radios.

    The Motorolas and other legal radios are expensive. This is why I understand why so many schools and companies are turning to these inexpensive radios.

    I wouldn’t purchase a radio like this for HAM radio use unless you like the limitations of only 16 channels. The Baofeng UV-5R and others can still be programmed with CHIRP AND they can also be programmed manually from the radio itself. It’s not the most intuitive way to program at the radio, but I understand why it was made that way. It’s extremely powerful and probably illegal if you use it under split conditions. (i.e. listen on 2M and then transmit on 70CM.)

    • First, you have to have at least two channels programmed (not channel 16). Then…

      With the radio off, turn the channel knob to channel 16, press and hold the PTT and Monitor buttons while turning on the radio. If scanning is off, it will be turned on and the radio will begin scanning channels 1-15, stopping when it hears a signal and resuming when that signal goes away. If scanning is already on, it will be turned off.

  5. Oh my gosh this is SO helpful! I have been tearing my hair out trying to get my radio to scan. I actually have two Arcshell AR-5 radios, which seem to be the Baofeng 888s rebranded (which I didn’t know at the time). The manual appears to be identical and really doesn’t explain how to scan. Will be using your other fine suggestions as well – via CHIRP software and Baofeng cable. Thank you!

    • I believe they do have serial numbers. My guess is that the barcode under the battery is the serial number, but that is just a guess.

  6. Thank you, it worked for me very well except that now I hear voice in Chinese announcing channel numbers as I switch. Any way to get it back to English?

    To change back to English, Turn OFF the radio, set it to Ch.15. While holding PTT and the red button right below PTT, power the radio ON.
    Your BF-888 should be back to English.
    Thank you

  7. Sorry for the stupid question, but… I bought as SHTF comms, they were what seemed like a great deal on Amazon. If I don’t have a license, no matter how I use these, they’re illegal?

    • That is technically correct as far as I know. You can’t use them on commercial freqs without a commercial license, you can’t use them on amateur radio freqs without a ham license, you can’t use them on FRS because they have detachable antennas, you can’t use them on GMRS without a GMRS license. I am not familiar with marine so I can’t say anything about that. Sorry.

      That being said, in a REAL emergency, as in someone’s life is literally at stake, you are legally allowed to use any means of communications you can get your hands on. This does not mean you were in a fender bender and will have to walk ten miles so you use the radio instead. This means someone just got hit by a car and is going to die in the next few minutes without medical attention, or you are lost in a huge forest with a real chance of not making it out alive.

      Easy solution, get your license!

    • Getting a GMRS license is extremely easy, well as easy as navigating the FCC’s website allows it to be. All you have to do is submit the aplication and I think $30 and you have a license. IT’s not like a HAM license that requires you to take a test.

  8. Hello, I am looking to buy a pair of these to use on the free PMR 446Mhz channels which don’t need a license. Can the power of this model be programmed to be just 0.5W? I understand it must be 0.5W to be legal.

    What would be the best Baofeng to be used on PMR 446? Is that any model better than the 888s, for that purpose? Does it make sense to buy something more expensive? I want to use it for mostly hiking, skying etc.

    • I am not an expert in the regulations but my understanding is that you can not use these for PMR radios legally because it has a detachable antenna. There may be other issues as well but that one I am pretty sure of. It is the same in the US.

  9. Is it possible to set these to only scan certain channels? As an example, set to scan only the first 4 ? Thanks in advance! This page has been wonderfully helpful!

    • There may be a way you can do what you want. Each channel in the 888 can be set to Skip. This should, in theory, allow you to only scan the channels that do not have the Skip enabled in the programming. Of course you would have to do this in CHIRP as there is no way to do much of anything from the radio itself. Good luck!

  10. Hi Radio Geek@besthamradio,

    I have recently (Aug 2021) bought a set of bf888s from Baofeng in the UK (£19.99 free p&p). These radios are now sold as a PMR446 version and clearly described as licence free radios in the item description. I’m not sure when your article was written, but i presume i won’t need a programming cable or a licence to operate this radio in the UK, hopefully.

    It says: frequency 446-446.2, 38 CTCSS/83 DCS, No licence request UK & Europe.
    Programmable via cable. Supports CPS & CHIRP Software.

    Would i still be able to change the CTCSS/DSC and/or set the scan function, via the programming cable ? (Bookmarking this guide just in case i can, lol)

    Kind Regards


    • I would say the frequencies are probably not legal where you are either. Note that I am not familiar with your regulations so take my option with a ton of salt. Yes, the cable lets you do lots of programming and makes the radios very useful indeed.

  11. Best information I have found about these USB handhelds so far.
    Thank you all.
    I am a Comms Tech in Australia and one of my clients has 25ish of these at a rural camp site (hilly bushland) using 2 dedicated channels (Nobody knows who provided them, or set them up).
    The new managers want to hear both channels at once, so I will play with programming the two channels into the scan list of the managers transceivers.
    They need to get better range, any suggestions on a better antenna and/or a better transceiver?
    Thanks in advance.
    Kind regards, Simon

  12. Short of purchasing a dedicated frequency, can the BF-888 be programmed in any way to make using the public frequencies more secure between handsets on a school site? I guess what they need is for only the handsets that they have to be able to talk with each other and not have outsiders lisening in.

    • No, and unless you have a license of some kind, you can not use these legally anyway. You would be better off with FRS radios. If you really need privacy, I suggest you get a license for business class radios and use them, they can be encrypted as I recall (I do not have a business license so I am not 100% sure here).

  13. Hello, I am looking to purchase the Baofeng 888s and I read through your review.
    I am VERY new to radios and know NOTHING about radios or terminology.
    I was wondering if you know what frequencies I would be able to program this radio to so I’m not breaking any laws?
    I would be using it for 2 way communication for hiking mostly in the Western New York region. Possibly in other regions in the future.
    I don’t know if it (frequency) would matter based on the area I would be in.
    Any help is much appreciated.

    • Do you have a radio license of some kind? If not, then you are better off getting FRS radios which do not require a license. No, you can not just program these to FRS frequencies as they are not legal for use on FRS.

      • I am new to radios too. I bought a BF-888S for airsoft and camping. It has been over seven years since I used it. While trying to get it to work with some cheap walkie-talkies (which wouldnt work) I first read about needing to program it first. I know NOTHING about radios. How to I know what is legal or not? I dont know what FRS, GMRS, ect… mean. How do I know what my stuff operates on? I am not tech savey. I just want a walkie-talkie for outdoor use and would prefer not to mess with a ham license, as I have no desire for that hobby. Thank you.

        • Sorry this took a while, but I decided to make an entire article about it here The short answer is that the BF-888S is, as far as I can tell, illegal as it is not, to my knowledge, authorized by the FCC for anything at all. For what you say you want, run down to your local sporting goods store, walmart, etc, and purchase a bubble pack of FRS radios and make sure to only use them on the FRS frequencies. Easy peasy!

    • On the 888 I do not believe there is. Many radios have a separate TX and RX freq which makes this possible, others have a box to check for RX only, this radio has neither of those and as far as I can tell also does not have a setting to disable the PTT completely. If you find a way, please reply back and let us know!

  14. I got the baofeng 888s walkie-talkie to program and got the channels, but I only receive transmit off of our cobra px650 radios, but it will not transmit to them.


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