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Course Outline

Boater dialing a VHF radio

VHF marine radios are increasingly popular with boaters for good reasons.

  • They save lives and are easy to use.
  • They are more effective for marine communications than CB radios or mobile phones. VHF radios have more consistent reception than mobile phones.
  • No license is needed when used in recreational boats.
  • They withstand rough weather.
  • Boat-mounted radios are wired to the boat’s battery.
  • The source of a VHF signal can be located so that you can be found even in fog.

Operating a VHF radio takes some basic knowledge.

  • When operating your boat, you must monitor Channel 16 (the distress channel). If you hear a MAYDAY call, remain silent, listen, and write down information about the boat in distress. If the USCG or other rescue authority does not respond, try to reach the USCG while traveling toward the boat. If you cannot reach the USCG, assist the other boat to the best of your ability while not placing yourself or your passengers in danger.
  • If you have a life-threatening emergency, have everyone put on PFDs and issue a MAYDAY call on Channel 16.
  • Be aware that the distance for sending and receiving messages is limited by the height of the antenna and the power of the radio.
  • Always use the one-watt setting except in an emergency or if your signal is too weak to be received clearly.
  • Channel 16 is a calling and distress channel only and should not be used for conversation or radio checks. It can be used to make contact with another station (boat), but the communication then should move to a non-emergency channel such as 68 or 69. Penalties exist for misuse of a radio, including improper use of VHF Channel 16.
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