VHF Radio: What NOT to Do

“Mayday.” “Mayday.” “This is ship Caroline’s Crawler.” “Can anyone hear me?”

“Hey. This is Roger. Is Charlie out there on the radio?” “It’s Charlie. Hey there Roger, where are you at?” (Back and forth continues)

Did you know that using the radio on your boat comes along with some rules and etiquette? While you may know some fellow boaters out there alongside you, calling them on the radio to talk to them is probably not something you want to partake in.

The boat’s radio is designed to allow you to communicate with marinas, other boats in the area, bridges, and the United States Coast Guard. But this communication does not mean your everyday chatter either.

In fact, you can get fined for incorrectly using your boat’s radio.

Below, we will discuss what you should NOT be doing on your marine VHF radio to help you better understand when to use it.

Don’t Make General Calls on the Radio

When using your marine VHF radio, you do not want to key up on the mic and say, “calling any vessel.” This is a big no-no, not a proper procedure, and can land you with one of those fines we mentioned above.

When you use your radio, you MUST ALWAYS say a specific shore station name or name a specific vessel when you speak.

Don’t Use the Coast Guard to Do a Radio Test

Another big no-no on the VHF radio is to call up the Coast Guard to ask for a radio check. The Coast Guard has a job to do and that is to save people who are in danger on the water – not to answer you to tell you that your radio is working properly.

If you need to check to see if your radio is properly working, you can navigate to a ship-to-ship channel and listen for a conversation. Once the two ships have concluded their conversation, call one out directly by name to request a radio check.

Don’t Forget to Identify Yourself

The FCC requires all ships to identify themselves on the radio with either a call sign or a boat name. All boaters who use the radio must use their call sign or boat name at the beginning and the end of every radio communication.

Don’t Be Winded on the Radio

While it is okay to have a long conversation on your cell phone, VHF radio is not the place you want to have a long and drawn-out conversation. In fact, you will be committing a big no-no, if you do make your communications lengthy.

You should always limit what you say and keep it brief. Remember, there are other boaters out there who need to use the radio as well and you never know when your long conversation may be blocking someone from getting the emergency help they need.

Don’t Misuse VHF Channel 16

One of the worst things you could do on VHF radio is misuse channel 16. Channel 16 is reserved specifically for boating safety and emergency communications. Using this channel for boating conversation is PROHIBITED.

Pro Tip: Every radio channel has a specific use, and it is up to you to know what those uses are for. For example, just because you have a radio with 60 channels on it does not mean that you are allowed to use all 60 of them.

Before you use your VHF radio, make sure you understand what each channel means and know which channels are used for what. A simple mistake does not free you from the responsibility of knowing which channels to use. This means that you may still receive a fine even if you did not know.

Helpful Channels to Know

  • Channel 16: Emergency and distress calls only.
  • Channel 9: Primary calling channel for all boaters. Use this channel until you can switch to one of the ship-to-ship channels.
  • Channel 13: Bridge-to-bridge communication.
  • Channel 22A: United States Coast Guard communications only.
  • Channels 68, 69, 71, 72, and 78A: These are ship-to-ship communication channels that can be used. These channels are open to non-commercial vessels.

Learn the VHF Radio

Before you communicate on your VHF radio, make sure you learn it and understand your responsibility and what the channels are used for.

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