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Safe at Sea: The importance of automated radio checks

By PAT SCHMIDT - | Nov 3, 2020

On Oct. 2, Sea Tow announced its automated radio check system has been discontinued. For several years, boaters relied on completing their VHF radio checks through the service, which was provided in over 130 locations. On our coastal waters, the automated system was invaluable.

Fortunately, the U.S. Coast Guard’s Inspections and Compliance Directorate has issued MSIB 2020 to inform boaters of the proper procedure for performing a VHF radio check.


The U.S. Coast Guard continues to offer an automated Digital Selective Calling (DSC) test call capability from each of its Rescue 21 coastal stations. All fixed-mount marine radios certified by the FCC since 1999 are required to have a DSC capability. Radios sold since 2011 must also have a DSC test call capability. Marine radios transmitting and successfully receiving a response from a DSC test call can be expected to operate acceptably in the voice mode, as well.

To perform a DSC test call, enter the U.S. Coast station identity “003669999” into the radio’s DSC memory. Once entered and stored, a DSC test call can be made by executing the following three steps:

– Select “Test Call” from the radio’s DSC menu

– Select the USCG number entered into memory

– Transmit the call

The radio display should indicate when that test call is acknowledged and display the acknowledging station’s nine-digit identity. (That identity may be different from the group identity previously entered into memory.)


VHF Channel 16 is not for the purpose of radio checks. Channel 09 has been designated by the FCC as a boaters calling channel. On its Website, Sea Tow offers the following instructions:

Hail: “Radio Check. Radio Check. Radio Check. This is the vessel ______.”

Sea Tow or another boater that hears you will respond indicating how well they can hear you. For example, “loud and clear” or “broken but readable” are typical responses.

In all cases, if no response is received, check your radio equipment as you may have a failure.

A frequent radio check is one more safety procedure all boaters need to take.

Pat Schmidt is a member of America’s Boating Club of Sanibel-Captiva. For more about the chapter and its boating education courses, visit www.sancapboating.club or contact education@sanibelcaptivasps.org or 612-987-2125.