How to use a marine radio

How to use a marine radio| The 9 basics of marine radio

Imagine you are fishing in the middle of the sea with your boat all alone. Suddenly you realize the boat is drifting in a different direction due to malfunction. You can’t possibly control it with the steering or other method. What do you do? Cry out loud like Tom Hanks in Cast Away with no possible rescue?

Nope. You pick up your VHF marine radio, communicate with nearby boats or Coast Guards, and send messages for immediate help. This will save your life like magic! This is the very reason most boats have a built-in VHF radio station, and those that don’t have the boaters carry a mobile one.

In this piece, we will be looking at the ins and outs of a Very High-Frequency Marine Radio. Stay tuned!

What is VHF Marine radio?

VHF marine radio is an international radio communication among ships and vessels in the marine zone using high-frequency FM radio transmission. The frequency ranges from 156 to 174 MH.

Why VHF radio important in a boat?

You will not find the mobile network working on your boat once you leave the shore. So, in the middle of the sea, you are literally in the middle of nowhere with no communication to anybody.

So, to make sure there is help when you are in any kind of danger or in need of any help, the VHF radio is there. It will communicate with other boats around or the Coast Guards to save you from any type of trouble.

9 Basics of BHF Marine Radio

Here are the 9 most essential basics that any boaters should know about the VHF marine radio.

The 9 basics of marine radio

Licensing Needs

This is the big question that most newbie boaters get tangled in their minds. Do I need a license to use a VHF radio on my boat? Well, if you have been worried about this, rest assured.

To your utter relief, you do not need a license to use a VHF radio on your boat. However, this applies to you if you are a recreational boater who is moving the boat within US territory. Otherwise, you may need to contact the authority to check for your permission.

Which Channels Should I Use?

There are multiple channels you can use with a VHF radio on your boat. However, not every channel is for you to listen to. Here are some useful and crucial channels to connect to.

Channel 06: This channel is reserved for safety messages and operations.

Channel 9: This is the most basic and primary channel. You need to switch to a working channel after you get connected to the primary channel.

Channel 16: It’s the channel for emergency and distress situations.

Channel 22A: This channel is used to establish contact with USCG only.

Channel 13: This one is used for establishing contact between vessels on a bridge to bridge level. You can request an opening for the bridge by using the channel. Any ship that comes with a length of no more than 64 feet can receive the message of this channel in the US territory.

This channel comes in real handy when it is very difficult to see due to fog and other reasons. You can easily communicate with freighters, ferries, and other ships.

Channel 68, 69, 71-71, 78A: These are known as working channels. These can be used by vessels that are non-commercial in nature, and you can establish ship-to-shore and ship-to-ship contact through these channels.

Channel 70: this channel is reserved for DSC safety calls.

VHF Radio Antennas

This is really interesting. To find out the range of the antenna you have set on your boat, you need to go through a bit of calculation. First, you have to measure the height of the antenna from the water.

For example, suppose you have a 4-feet antenna set up on your boat, which is 5 feet above the water. So the total height is 9 feet.

Now, take out the square root of 9. It’s 3. Multiply it by 1.42. It’s a constant number to find out the range in millage. So, the result will be 12.78 miles.

VHF Radio Communications

This is how you establish a VHF radio communication.

  • Switch the VHF radio on and turn the knob to adjust the squelch
  • Tune to the channel that the USCG monitors - channel 16
  • You need to perform a radio check to make sure that the device is working correctly. Use an open channel other than channel 16 to conduct this test.
  • Set the power setting of the radio to one watt. Then key the speaker.
  • Call 3 times for the radio check. Then use the name of your boat and your exact location.
  • See if anyone is replying to your communication. Wait for a few moments.
  • For regular communication, you should always use channel 16

You may need to memorize the following jargon for proper communication.

  • Over: It means you have finished talking and expecting a reply.
  • Over and Out: This means you have terminated your transmission and don’t expect a reply. Roger: This means “I understand.”
  • Wilco: This means “will comply.”
  • Affirmative/Negative: This simply means YES/NO.
  • Say Again: You need to use this if you need a repeat from the other party.
  • I Spell: Say it before you are spelling a word.
  • Figures: Say it before telling a number.

The VHF Radio Course

marine VHF radio

If you are not well-equipped with the VHF radio you have, you can always go for the VHF Radio SRC Course. To enroll, you need to be at least 16 years old.

The exam will last for10 hours. You will be provided a certificate upon successful completion of the exam.

Digital Selective Calling (DSC)

Digital Selective Calling or DSC is an option on all fixed marine radio. The purpose of the system is to send your location information to the Coast Guard in case of an emergency.

It will send the GPS location of your place to ensure your safety. However, the radio device has to have a GPS installed in it.

Emergency Procedure Words

In an emergency situation, there are a few procedures to follow using a VHF radio. There are three phrases that are commonly used to send signals and messages.

MAYDAY: It’s the top-most urgent message. This will mean that the boat is in serious life-threatening danger.

PAN-PAN: This one is used for a danger that is sure to encounter within some time. It’s not immediately life-threatening, but if no help is there, it will drift towards a threat.

SECURITE: This is a safety keyword. It is sent to ensure that your location is safe.

Radio Protocol and Etiquette

The primary radio communication etiquette is as follows.

  • The international language is English.
  • You can’t speak and listen at the same time.
  • Don’t interrupt the speaker.
  • Don’t answer if the signal is not for you.
  • Never transmit confidential, sensitive military or any other national security information.
  • Regularly perform radio check.
  • Check battery-charge.
  • Keep volume high.
  • Memorize the signs and language.
  • Make the conversation short but precise.
  • If you need to communicate with long sentences, divide the sentence into shorter sentences.
  • Do not use abbreviations.

Operating procedures

Here’s a standard process for operating a VHF radio.

  1. Call the destination station.
  2. Repeat the destination station name three times.
  3. Say ‘This Is’ once.
  4. Say the name of your vessel once.
  5. Then say ‘Over’.
  6. Wait for the other person to answer.
  7. After the response, suggest a specific channel to continue the conversation
  8. Then say ‘Over’.
  9. Wait for the response and listen.
  10. When done speaking, add ‘Out’ after ‘Over’ and terminate the communication.

Final Words

Using a VHF marine radio is not at all tough. All you need to do is go through a few checks to ensure the device is working perfectly and you are able to use it easily. Then again, try to memorize the jargons that are used to send messages.

It will make things way easier for you. First, however, try to have a VHF marine radio with you for the most effective communication. A malfunctioning radio device is the last thing you need at a time of danger.

Happy boating!


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