Many boaters never take the time to learn how to properly use one of the most important pieces of safety gear on board your boat: the VHF radio. If you need to call for help, don’t you want that call to be
heard as clearly as possible? And if you’re using the VHF for
communications of convenience, you certainly don’t want
to step on an emergency transmission, do you? So let’s dive
right into the do’s and don’ts of VHF protocol.
Know Thy Channel
Rule No. 1: Respect the channel designations, especially those
of the “big three.” Channel 16 is reserved for distress and safety
calls and for contact calls to other vessels or shore stations.
Channel 13 is used for vessel bridge-to-bridge communications and is heavily trafficked by commercial ships for intership
navigation. And Channel 22A is used for safety broadcasts and
Are You On My Wavelength?
Here’s how to use your VHF radio the right way so you can
be understood, and get what you need
U.S. Coast Guard communications; after hailing on
16, you’re usually asked to
switch to 22A. Because of
congestion on 16, Channel
9 has been designated as
an alternate contact-calling
channel between pleasure
vessels and to shore stations but, except in some
areas, the Coast Guard
doesn’t transmit safety
messages on 9. You should
always monitor 16 in case
a nearby boat needs help
and to hear Coast Guard
safety messages. Ideally, it’s
good to have two VHFs,
one set on 9 and another
tuned to 16.
Do regular radio checks,
but do them on a recreational communications
channel, not on 16, 9, 22
or any other restricted channel. Something the authorities
find quite aggravating is when a recreational boater calls on
an emergency channel requesting a “radio check.” Hailing
“TowBoatU.S.” on 68 is an easy way to conduct a check.
What channels should you use for regular conversations?
Channels 68, 69, 71, 72, and 78A are considered non-commer-cial channels, and in most areas, 68 and 72 are commonly used
by the recreational-boating community. But remember that
the VHF is officially for “operational” purposes. This can be as
informal as passing on a weather report, but conversations about
what the dog chewed up yesterday are inappropriate. Some
channels, such as 70, have restricted use, and you can’t use them
for voice communications.
Whatever type of conversation you may be having, remem-
ber that no one else within a 20-mile range can talk on that
channel while you’re talking. Considering the limited number
of appropriate channels, an extended conversation can incon-
venience a large number of other boaters. So keep your VHF
communications brief and to the point. If you’re communicat-
ing with a boat that’s close by (within a mile or two), you should PH
By Lenny Rudow