What you should know about marine radio
An important tool for recreational boaters, marine VFH radio is the best, most reliable means of communication on the water. Although not required for recreational boats under 65.6 feet, marine radios are highly recommended.
With a range of up to 20 miles, marine radios usually send clear, static-free messages, allowing you to communicate with the U.S. Coast Guard 24/7 as well as other boats and shore facilities.
How marine radio works
VHF radio is a line-of-sight system, which means several things can affect its range:
- the power of the transmitter
- the height of the transmit and receive antennas
- solid land objects that interfere with the line of sight between transmitter and receiver
In the U.S., the FCC allocates marine VHF radio channel frequencies. Most VHF radios have additional channels that provide access to NOAA weather information.
When to use VHF marine radio
To be effective, marine VHF radio should be used properly. Therefore, marine radios should be used only for distress and operational communications. Don’t use marine VHF channels as chat lines. Instead, use them to conduct necessary business.
Distress communications are emergency calls relating to danger to life and property and safety communications, which include safety bulletins, weather warnings and talking with other boaters to avoid a collision.
Operational communications should be short and to the point. This means only necessary information should be relayed.
Three types of operational communications
Port communications (calls to marinas, boatyards, and other shore facilities for information or to arrange for supplies, accommodations, and repairs)
Communication with other boaters (to establish location, meeting place or time, or exchange other relevant information)
Bridge communications (ship-to-ship navigation communication between large commercial vessels) don’t normally involve recreational boaters)
How to use your VHF radio
Proper VHF radio use involves knowing what channel to use for the intended communication.
If you’re underway and have VHF marine radio turned on, you must monitor Channel 16, the international distress, safety and calling channel. Using the radio in scan mode with Channel 16 included in the scan satisfies this requirement.
Your safety and that of fellow boaters depends on someone hearing a call for assistance. Listening to Channel 16 ensures that many boats will hear an emergency call. Calls are initiated on Channel 16 but must be switched to a working channel as soon as possible.
Working channels include 68, 69, 71, 72, and 78A (1078) for recreational boaters. Channel 70 is reserved for Digital Selective Calling signaling. Separate working channels are allocated for commercial use.
In some USCG districts, Channel 9 has been designated as the recreational boating calling channel. Check with local boaters, marina operators, launch ramp supervisors, or boating law enforcement officials in the area where you plan to boat to learn what channel to use for calling and for monitoring urgent marine information.
Commercial vessels must have VHF radios and must continuously monitor Channels 16 and 13 (bridge to bridge). Recreational boaters can monitor Channel 13 and communicate with commercial vessels on that channel to explain or inquire about the vessel’s intentions.
Do you know how to use your VHF? Discover the different types of marine radios as well as how to use them with our online seminar, All About Marine Radio.