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Safe at Sea: Marine Communications 101

By Staff | Jun 4, 2019

While today’s boaters keep their cell phones close at hand, a well-equipped vessel has a VHF transceiver that can prove invaluable not only for receiving information (think weather updates, Coast Guard alerts) but also transmitting, like assistance needed or request for local knowledge of an approaching harbor/dockage.

Before you throw off your lines, you should develop the habit of confirming the VHF radio is working. Simply turning the radio on (typically to Channel 16) will confirm your radio is receiving.

To determine if your radio is transmitting correctly, Sea Tow’s Automated Radio check is so simple: Switch to Channel 27 (or 26, area dependent), push the talk button and request a radio confirmation. Immediately, you’ll get an automated response from Sea Tow that includes a recording of whatever message you sent and other information – a reminder that this service is provided by a commercial concern.

The following reminders all VHF users need to know:

– Channel 16 is used in Florida as the primary hailing channel for all purposes including distress.

– While Channel 16 can be used to hail another boater, marina, et cetera, the call must immediately be re-directed to another channel, as Channel 16 is to be used only for distress calls.

– Recreational working channels are Channels 68, 69, 71, 72 and 78A.

– The Coast Guard utilizes Channels 22A, 23, 81A and 83A.

– In Florida, Channel 9 is used to hail bridge operators. In other states, it is Channel 13. Calls for unnecessary openings (where equipment – for example, antennas – can be easily taken down for clearance) can result in heavy fines: $20,000 to $28,000.

– Finally, the use of a marine VHF radio on a vessel in U.S. territorial waters does not require a station or operator’s license. However, the use of the VHF radio outside of U.S. territorial waters does require a station and operators licenses.

Pat Schmidt and Ron Wallace are members of America’s Boating Club of Sanibel-Captiva. For more information, contact 239-985-9472 or Commander@SanibelCaptivaSPS.org or visit online at sancapboating.club.