Fishing and Boating News, Information,
and Tips for the Outdoorsman around the USA
Your VHF Radio is a
communication lifeline between you, other boaters,
the US Coast Guard and other emergency services. It is a necessary, if not
mandatory, piece of safety equipment for the boater!
Radio Could be a Lifesaver
Why Should You Have A Marine Radio On Your Boat? You are
sailing to the farthest reaches of an isolated bay when you strike
an unchartered, submerged object. You begin taking on water. No
one is around. If you had a radio, you could call for help.
Motoring along the river, one of your passengers begins
convulsions. You know you must contact medical authorities
immediately, but you are without a radio. With a radio, medical
help might be only a radio call away. Without one, it may be hours
before you are able to get to a medical facility.
What Type Of Radio Should I Buy?
Investing in a good Very High Frequency FM (VHF FM) radio is the
smartest purchase. A VHF radio has certain advantages such as:
* Good quality transmission.
* Strong signal.
* Channels reserved for distress calls.
* Continuously monitored frequencies.
Citizen Band (CB) radios are not recommended due to weak signals
and overcrowded frequencies. In addition, the Coast Guard does not
routinely monitor CB Channels.
Can I Use the Radio as a Telephone?
There is a marine operator in many areas, located on a specified
channel, that will "patch" you into the local telephone
system. A radio is not to be used for gossip or idle conversation.
The use of profanity and obscene language is illegal. One
difference between a telephone and a radio is that anything said
over the radio will be heard by hundreds of other people. Another
difference is that there are only a limited number of channels so
conversation, should be kept to passing only required information.
Conversation is not permitted to extend past three minutes.
What Are the Different Channels Used For?
There are 104 VHF channels designated for marine service. Of this
number, 54 are designated exclusively for use in the waters of the
United States. The most common channels and their purpose are
Channel 16 (156.8 MHz) This is the most important channel
on the VHF band. THIS IS THE DISTRESS, SAFETY, AND CALLING
FREQUENCY WHICH THE COAST GUARD MONITORS CONTINUOUSLY. All vessels
equipped with VHF radios must keep their radios tuned to channel
16 so they can assist if an emergency is near. Vessels may
initiate contact with each other but must shift to a working
frequency to carry on a conversation (e.g., Motor vessel
Albatross, this is sailing vessel Mother Goose, AB-1234, on
Channel 16, switch and answer Channel 68). Use Channel 16 for only
bona fide emergencies.
Channel 22A (157.1 MHz) This channel is the primary working
channel of the Coast Guard. It is used for communications between
the Coast Guard and the maritime public, both recreational and
commercial. Severe weather warnings, hazards to navigation, and
other maritime safety warnings are broadcast on Channel 22A.
Channel 13 (156.65 MHz) This channel is the bridge to
bridge or "piloting" channel, used for communicating
navigation information between ships. Strictly used for
navigational purposes by commercial, military, and recreational
vessels at locks, bridges and harbors.
Channel 6 (156.3 MHz)This channel is the ship to ship
frequency used for safety related communications. This channel is
not used for ordinary operational navigation or personal
What Do Certain Words I Hear on the Radio Mean?
MAYDAY is a request for immediate assistance. LISTEN! DO
NOT TRANSMIT!! Determine if you're in a position to help. If not,
maintain radio silence. "MAYDAY" identifies an imminent,
PAN-PAN (pronounced pahn-pahn) is used when the safety of a
boat or person is in jeopardy. Man-overboard messages are
sent with the PAN-PAN signal.
SECURITE (pronounced say-cure-e-tay) is used to pass
navigation information or weather warnings.
What if I Hear Someone Saying MAYDAY on Channel 16?
If you have a radio and you are under way, you are required to
monitor Channel 16. MAYDAY takes precedence over all other
transmissions. If you hear a MAYDAY, remain silent and listen.
Take down the information being passed. If the Coast Guard or
other rescue authority responds, maintain silence and listen, but
do not respond.
However, if there is no response, take action. Try raising the
distressed vessel over the radio. Gather more information,
especially the position. Attempt to raise the Coast Guard while
traveling toward the vessel. Sometimes the Coast Guard may not
hear the distressed vessels transmissions, but can hear another
vessel near the scene; therefore, call the Coast Guard again, just
in case. If you raise them, give them the information you have and
follow their instructions. If you cannot contact the Coast Guard,
attempt to assist the other vessel to the best of your ability
without placing yourself in danger.
What If I Need Help?
If you have an imminent life threatening emergency, transmit on
1. MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY!
2. This is (name of boat three times,
call letters once).
3. Repeat once more, "MAYDAY",
(your boat's name).
4. Now report your position (give as
accurate a position as
5. Report nature of emergency.
6. Report the kind of assistance desired.
7. Report number of people on board and
condition of any injured.
8. Description of the boat and
Then wait for a response. If there is none, repeat the message.
Do I Need A Radio License or Operator's Permit?
You must have a SHIP STATION LICENSE for your radio before
operation. An OPERATOR'S PERMIT is only required if you dock in a
foreign port. To obtain forms and additional information contact
the FCC at (202) 418-3676(FORM).
Note: The 1996 telecommunications act states that
"voluntary" (recreational) vessels need not have a ship
station license in order to use a VHF radio.
Transmission of a false (hoax) distress or emergency message or
using obscene or profane language is illegal. If search and rescue
units are sent out, the perpetrator is responsible for their costs
in addition to the fine.
(This article was reprinted in whole from the US Coast Guard
boating website at <http://www.uscgboating.org/safety/metlife/radio.htm#top>