VHF Radio Channel Usage / Do's and Dont’s
The Federal Communications Commission has eliminated radio licenses for most recreational boats in the United States, with some exceptions, ie: transmitting from or to foreign waters – and yes Canada is foreign water. There's no reason why the VHF marine band has to become another Citizen's Band free-for-all.
Everyone who depends upon a two-way radio for his or her 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 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 by in large 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. Both the FCC and the U.S. Coast Guard monitor the marine band 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/US Also, the U.S. Coast Guard's home page on the Web has information at: http://navcen.uscg.gov/?pageName=mtBoater .
While many boaters who want to have long conversations are better off using cell phones 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 cause 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, as it helped relieve congestion on Channel 16. The Coast Guard, however, does not always 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 operators may do is hail another boater or "TowBOAT/US” on Channel 16 or 9, and when you receive a reply, switch to a working channel. The Tow BOAT/US skipper will be glad to respond.
● Whenever the radio is on, monitor Channel 16, unless you are in 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 or your radio call sign;
● Use Channel 16 or 9 for calling and when contact is made, switch immediately to an unused working channel (agree on the channel before switching)
● Set the radio to the low power setting whenever possible; you don’t need the high power setting to talk to someone across most harbors;
● 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;
● Don't call the Coast Guard requesting a radio check;
● Don't use the VHF radio for transmitting on land (it is OK when on shore in a marina);
● 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 the 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
Channel Frequencies and Usages are from the Coast Pilot; Pacific Coast (25th Edition)
Information based on 47 CFR 80 – Stations in the Maritime Service and USCG Guidelines
CHANNEL TRANSMIT/RECEIVE (MHz) USAGE
1A 156.050 156.050 Port operations and commercial
5A 156.250 156.250 Port operations
6 156.300 156.300 Intership safety
7A 156.350 156.350 Commercial
9 156.450 156.450 Commercial and non-commercial calling
10 156.500 156.500 Commercial
11 156.550 156.550 Commercial
12 156.600 156.600 Port operations (traffic advisories, including VTS in some ports)
13 156.650 156.650 Navigational (ship-to-ship), also used at locks and bridges
14 156.700 156.700 Port operations (traffic advisories, including VS in some ports)
16 156.800 156.800 Distress, safety and calling
17 156.850 156.850 State or local government control
18A 156.900 156.900 Commercial
19 156.950 156.950 Commercial
20 157.000 161.600 Port operations (traffic advisories)
22A 157.100 157.100 Coast Guard Liaison
24 157.200 161.800 Public correspondence (ship-to-coast)
25 157.250 161.850 Public correspondence (ship-to-coast)
26 157.300 161.900 Public correspondence (ship-to-coast)
27 157.350 161.950 Public correspondence (ship-to-coast)
28 157.400 162.000 Public correspondence (ship-to-coast)
63A 156.175 156.175 VTS New Orleans
CHANNEL TRANSMIT/RECEIVE (MHz) USAGE
65A 156.275 156.275 Port operations (traffic advisories)
66A 156.325 156.325 Port operations (traffic advisories)
69 156.475 156.475 Non-commercial
71 156.575 156.575 Non-commercial
72 156.625 156.625 Non-commercial (ship-to-ship only)
73 156.675 156.675 Port operations (traffic advisories)
74 156.725 156.725 Port operations (traffic advisories)
78A 156.925 156.925 Non-commercial
80A 157.025 157.025 Commercial
84 157.225 161.825 Public correspondence (ship-to-coast)
85 157.275 161.875 Public correspondence (ship-to-coast)
86 157.325 161.925 Public correspondence (ship-to-coast)
87 157.375 161.975 Public correspondence (ship-to-coast)
88 157.425 162.025 Public correspondence in Puget Sound
88A 157.425 157.425 Commercial, fishing (ship-to-ship)