A VHF marine radio – Don’t leave home without it.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Auxiliarist Bob Sterzenbach, uses a VHF marine radio to contact Radio Newport during safety patrol off Southern California. Photo courtesy of USCG Auxiliary.

There are a few things that everyone needs to have aboard their boat.  Some, like life jackets, are required and others are highly recommended.  Although when it comes to communications, many think that a cell phone is going to be enough.  Out on the water your cell phone might not be your best option.  A VHF marine radio is a great addition to your cell phone, as well as a more reliable method of communication in an emergency.

Article by Auxiliarist Steven White, Lake Lanier, GA

A VHF marine radio has its advantages; having a good transmission quality, a strong signal, channels reserved for distress calls, and channels that are continuously monitored.  There are some important channels that you need to know about when you are using your radio.  Channel 16 (156.8 MHz) is the most important channel.  It is the international hailing and distress frequency and is constantly monitored by the U. S. Coast Guard.

Channel 22A is the primary working channel for the Coast Guard.  It is used for communications between the Coast Guard and the maritime public, both recreational and commercial.  You will find severe weather warnings, hazards to navigation, and other maritime safety warnings broadcasted on this channel.

Channel 13 is a channel used for communication information between vessels.  This channel is used for navigational purposes by commercial, military, and recreational vessels at locks, bridges and harbors.

There are a few things that you must remember when on the radio.  The radio isn’t like talking on the phone.  The channels are generally not secured and are open to anyone who is on the frequency.  This has the advantage over a cell phone, which is person to person communication. The VHF marine radio is not for casual conversation.  It is for passing information and its use should be limited.  If you want to chat, use your cell phone.

Auxiliary Facility assists Missouri Water Patrol and local fire department with VHF marine radio communications and controlling the area around a burning 47 foot vessel. Photo courtesy of USCG Auxiliary.

A Mayday call is an emergency procedure used internationally as a distress signal in radio communications. It derives from the French venez m’aider, meaning “come help me.”  It is used to signal a life-threatening emergency, primarily by mariners and aviators. The call is always given three times in a row (Mayday – Mayday – Mayday) to prevent mistaking it for some similar-sounding phrase under noisy conditions and to distinguish an actual Mayday call from a message about a Mayday call.

If you have an imminent life-threatening emergency, transmit on Channel 16.  It is the equivalent of a “911” call on land.

2. This is (name of boat three times).
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 seaworthiness.

Then wait for a response. If there is none, repeat the message.  Be safe out there on the water.  Carry and know how to use your VHF marine radio.

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