VHF Radio Channel Usage and Do's and Dont's
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Boat/U.S. Guide to
Radio Manners
Now that the Federal Communications Commission has eliminated radio licenses for recreational boats in the United States, there's no eason why the VHF marine band has to become another Citizen's Band free-for-all. 

Everyone who depends upon a two-way radio for their safety out on the water has a stake in the future of the VHF frequency. Boat/U.S. is equally concerned and is urging members to join the Association in an active effort to promote proper use of the airwaves and actively discourage abuse. The best way to do that is to educate skippers, guests, family members and fellow boaters on how to correctly use the marine radio. 

Although the license has been eliminated, FCC regulations still remain in effect. VHF radio operating rules continue to apply and violators can still be subject to fines by the FCC up to $8,000. The marine band is monitored by both the FCC and the U.S. Coast Guard and both agencies have sensitive radio direction finders that can track a violator, for instance a false "Mayday" caller. 

But an even better reason to safeguard the marine VHF band is its lifesaving importance to everyone out on the water. Skippers in will traveled boating areas who monitor Channel 16 are often distressed to hear repeated violations of proper radio usage rules. 

"Many radio users simply do not know what the rules are," said Jim Ellis Director of the Boat/U.S. Foundation for Boating Safety. "They don't realize that they could be putting lives in jeopardy." 

Among the most egregious offenses on the VHF marine band are issuing a false Mayday call, using profanities, monopolizing Channel 16 and using an improper channel. Some people even broadcast "Mayday radio checks" according to Joe Hersey, Chief of Telecommunications for the Coast Guard. These are false Mayday calls just to see if one's radio is working. 

The rules for radio operation are mainly common sense and are described in detail in at least two easy-to-read reference books, Chapman's Communications Afloat by Elbert S. Maloney, and the maritime Radio Users Handbook by the Radio Technical Commission for Marine Services. Both are available through Boat/U. S. Also, the U.S. Coast Guard's home page on the World Wide Web has information at http://www.navcen.uscg.mil 

While many boaters who want to have long conversations are better off using cellular telephones while boating many forget that the real value of the VHF transmission in an emergency is that everyone can hear a call for help. 

When inconsiderate broadcasters use foul language over the airwaves which causes boaters, especially those with children, to shut the radio off, a potential source of rescue has been eliminated. 

Keep in mind that Channel 9 has been designated as a calling channel nationwide, and it ahs helped relieve congestion on Channel 16. The Coast Guard, however, does not monitor Channel 9. Channel 16 is always the first choice for emergencies or to hear official alerts. 

Requesting a radio check from the Coast Guard on Channel 16 is prohibited. It is also not proper procedure to issue a call to " any vessel, any vessel" and request a radio check. What members may do is hail "TowBOAT/U.S. on Channel 16 or 9, and when you receive a reply, switch to a working channel. The Tow BOAT/U.S. skipper will be glad to respond. 

The Dos: 
Whenever the radio is on, monitor Channel 16, unless you are communication on another channel; 
Before transmitting, listen for 30 seconds to hear if the channel is in use; 
At the beginning and end of your transmission, identify your vessel by its name of your radio call sign; 
Use Channel 16 or 9 for calling and when contact is made, switch immediately to an unused working channel; (See box) 
Set the radio to the low power setting whenever possible; you don;'t need the high power setting to talk to somone across your creek; 
Speak slowly and clearly with the microphone about an inch from your mouth; there's no need to shout- it distorts your transmission; 
Keep all communications as brief as possible; 

The Don'ts: 

Don't call the Coast Guard requesting a radio check; 
Don't use the VHF radio for transmitting on land; 
Don't monopolize any channel with long conversations or idle chatter; 
Don't let children use the radio or think it's a toy. don't allow children to play on the boat with no adult present, even in th driveway; 
Don't broadcast a Mayday unless there is immediate danger to life or property; 
Don't broadcast profanities or insults. It is a criminal offense to transmit obscene, profane or indecent language or meanings; 
Don't speak on channel 70; it's reserved for Digital Selective Calling (DSC) only; 

Channels Available for Recreational Boats 

Distress, Safety, Calling...................................16 


Recreational Use...........................68-69, 71-72, 78 

Marine Operator...................................24-28, 84-87 

Locks, Canals, Bridges, Pilots..........................13 

Digital, Selective Calling (DSC)......................70 

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Channel Frequencies and Usages are from the Coast Pilot; Pacific Coast (25th Edition)
1A156.050156.050Port operations and commercial

5A156.250156.250Port operations

6156.300156.300  Intership safety


8156.400156.400  Commercial (ship-to-ship only)

9156.450156.450         Commercial and non-commercial



12156.600156.600Port operations (traffic advisories, including VTS in some ports)

13156.650156.650Navigational (ship-to-ship), also used at locks and bridges

14156.700156.700Port operations (traaffic advisories, including VS in some ports)

16156.800156.800Distress, safety and calling

17156.850156.850State or local government control

18A     156.900156.900Commercial


20157.000161.600Port operations (traffic advisories)

22A     157.100157.100Coast Guard Liaison

24157.200161.800Public correspondence (ship-to-coast)

25157.250161.850Public correspondence (ship-to-coast)

26157.300161.900Public correspondence (ship-to-coast)

27157.350161.950Public correspondence (ship-to-coast)

28157.400162.000Public correspondence (ship-to-coast)

63A     156.175156.175VTS New Orleans

65A     156.275156.275Port operations (traffic advisories)

66A     156.325156.325Port operations (traffic advisories)

67156.375156.375Commercial (ship-to-ship)




72156.625156.625Non-commercial (ship-to-ship only)

73156.675156.675Port operations (traffic advisories)

74156.725156.725Port operations (traffic advisories)

77156.875156.875Port operations (ship-to-ship, to and from pilots docking ships)

78A     156.925156.925Non-commercial

80A     157.025157.025Commercial

84157.225161.825Public correspondence (ship-to-coast)

85157.275161.875Public correspondence (ship-to-coast)

86157.325161.925Public correspondence (ship-to-coast)

87157.375161.975Public correspondence (ship-to-coast)

88157.425162.025Public correspondence in Puget Sound

88A157.425157.425     Commercial, fishing (ship-to-ship)