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When Operating Your Vessel With a VHF Radio, What Channel Must You Monitor?
A Very High Frequency (VHF) marine radio is a must-have for boaters, even in this modern age of smartphones. When you are on the water and sailing, you will be in a lot of situations where there is no cellular reception. When this happens, a VHF radio for boat saves the day.
Having a VHF radio, however, is not enough. You need to know how to use it to maximize the benefits. Among others, you need to learn the most important VHF channels. These are Channels 9, 13, 16, 19, 22, and 70.
Have you ever found yourself asking, when operating your vessel with a VHF radio, what channel must you monitor? If yes, then we’ve got you covered.
The Most Important VHF Marine Radio Channels
At least for those who are in the United States, here is a quick list of the channels that should be on your radar while you are on a boat.
1. Channel 9
VHF channel 9 is a secondary calling channel. This is where a shore or ship unit can quickly connect to a boater. It was officially designated by the Federal Communications Commission to relieve traffic from Channel 16, reserving the latter for important distress calls.
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2. Channel 13
This is the channel for facilitating bridge-to-bridge communication between vessels. It is used when requesting a bridge opening. It is a navigational channel for one-watt transmission. This is also where you get updates on the movements of ships in locations with tight or narrow waterways.
3. Channel 16
This is one of the most important channels: the VHF distress channel. It facilitates communication from one ship to another or from a ship to the coast. Once you make initial contact, you must convert to a working channel. This is monitored even by those who are on the coast, so it is easy to get the help needed.
4. Channel 19
This channel is primarily concerned with port operations. It is important only if you are using a commercial vessel. It is through this channel that you can know more about the ship movements.
5. Channel 22
After making initial contact with VHF marine channel 16, you will switch to channel 22. This VHF emergency channel will connect you to the United States Coast Guard. Both recreational and commercial boaters must monitor this marine emergency channel. It is also where you can receive broadcasts about commercial boating information, including navigation hazards, extreme weather warnings, and other safety information.
6. Channel 70
This is the channel used for digital selective calling. Through this, it is possible to send an automatically-formatted alert to the Coast Guard. But you will need an equipped radio to urgently send a distress signal to the authorities.
How to Use a VHF Radio
A VHF radio is a critical piece of safety equipment that should be on board every powerboat, and knowing how to use it could save the life of you and your passengers, so read the owner’s manual for your radio to become familiar with its functions. That same VHF marine radio can be used to communicate with other boats, with draw bridges and locks, and with marina operators.
Basics Steps for Using a VHF Radio
- Turn on the VHF unit and adjust the squelch by turning the knob until the static stops.
- Tune to channel 16, the channel monitored by the U.S. Coast Guard.
- Perform a radio check to ensure your unit is functioning properly—do not use channel 16 this.
- Use an “open channel” to performance the check (channels 68, 69, 71, 72 and 78A).
- Turn radio to one-watt power setting, and key the microphone.
- Call “radio check” three times, followed by your boat name and location.
- Wait for a reply confirming someone has heard your transmission.
- For general communications, always use channel 16.
Start by turning on the VHF unit and adjusting the squelch. Turn the squelch knob until you hear static, and then turn the knob back just until the static stops. Tune the radio to channel 16, which is the channel the Coast Guard constantly monitors. Keep your unit set to channel 16 so you can hear emergency calls or transmissions from the Coast Guard.
You’ll want to confirm that your radio is functioning by performing a radio check. Do not use channel 16 for a radio check. Instead, use one of the “open channels” (68, 69, 71, 72 and 78A) which are designated for conversation. Turn the radio to its one-watt power setting, key the microphone and call “radio check” three times followed by your boat name and location; so for example “radio check radio check radio check this is Big Daddy in North Harbor Marina.” Then wait for a reply confirming that someone has heard your transmission. Sea Tow operates a network of automated radio-check stations in many parts of the country as a public service (check at Sea Tow to find the correct frequency in your area).
For general communication, start by hailing the other party on channel 16; for example to reach your buddy on Some Fun you’d call their boat name twice, followed by your boat name and “over” so it would so like this:
- “Some Fun Some Fun. Big Daddy. Over.”
- Then Some Fun should respond “Big Daddy this is Some Fun. Over.”
- You’ll reply with an open channel to switch to, for example “69.” Then both parties will switch to channel 69 to exchange information.
- After your initial transmission on channel 16, wait at least two minutes before hailing the other party again. If you still don’t get a reply wait 15 minutes and try again. The point is not to pollute channel 16 with unnecessary transmission.
- If the other party is close by, switch your radio to 1 watt (low power) so that your transmission does not travel so far. This lets distant boaters also use the channel.
The open VHF frequencies are intended for operational messaging, so it’s OK to share weather info, but not to talk sports. End each transmission with “over” and when you are done with the conversation say your boat name and out, “Big Daddy out,” which let’s everyone know you are done using that channel.
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