Required Radio Watch

VHF Marine Band radios, protocol, radio communication theory, practical advice; AIS; DSC; MMSI; EPIRB.
jimh
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Required Radio Watch

Postby jimh » Sun Sep 15, 2019 1:30 pm

The U.S. Coast Guard maintains a very good website under the heading "NavCen." A web-page on that site remarks on marine radio communication procedure at

https://www.navcen.uscg.gov/?pageName=mtBoater

Under the heading of "Radio Watchkeeping Regulations" they tell readers to jump to another page specifically for radio watchkeeping at

https://www.navcen.uscg.gov/?pageName=mtWatch

However, further down the general information page under the heading "Boat Calling Channel", the U.S. Coast Guard says:

...FCC regulations require boaters having VHF radios to maintain a watch on either VHF channel 9 or channel 16, whenever the radio is turned on and not communicating with another station.

Since the Coast Guard generally does not have the capability of announcing an urgent marine information broadcast or weather warning on channel 9, use of channel 9 is optional.


Unfortunately no cite of an actual federal regulation is given.

The USCG NavCen page on Radio Watchkeeping Regulations refers to two sections of federal regulations. The first of these is in regard to vessels that are compelled to carry a VHF Marine Band radio:

§ 80.148 Watch on 156.8 MHz (Channel 16).
Each compulsory vessel, while underway, must maintain a watch...

Since recreational boat are not required to carry a radio, those regulations are not applicable, so I won't quote them here.

Another section of federal regulations is also mentioned in the U.S. Coast Guard page on watchkeeping, 47CFR80.310. These regulations appear under the heading "Subpart G - Safety Watch Requirements and Procedures." This suggests these regulations are distinct from an earlier subpart titled "Subpart C - Operating Requirements and Procedures." That is, they are special safety watch procedures.

§ 80.310 Watch required by voluntary vessels.
Voluntary vessels not equipped with DSC must maintain a watch on 2182 kHz and on 156.800 MHz (Channel 16) whenever the vessel is underway and the radio is not being used to communicate. Noncommercial vessels, such as recreational boats, may alternatively maintain a watch on 156.450 MHz (Channel 9) in lieu of VHF Channel 16 for call and reply purposes. Voluntary vessels equipped with VHF-DSC equipment must maintain a watch on 2182 kHz and on either 156.525 MHz (Channel 70) or VHF Channel 16 aurally whenever the vessel is underway and the radio is not being used to communicate. Voluntary vessels equipped with MF-HF DSC equipment must have the radio turned on and set to an appropriate DSC distress calling channel or one of the radiotelephone distress channels whenever the vessel is underway and the radio is not being used to communicate. Voluntary vessels equipped with a GMDSS-approved Inmarsat system must have the unit turned on and set to receive calls whenever the vessel is underway and the radio is not being used to communicate.


The first element of this federal regulation that raises a question for me is the requirement to maintain a watch on 2182-kHz. The U.S. Coast Guard announced several years ago that they, themselves, no longer maintain a watch on that frequency.

In regard to non-commercial voluntarily-radio-equipped boats, the regulation says:

Noncommercial vessels, such as recreational boats, may alternatively maintain a watch on 156.450 MHz (Channel 9) in lieu of VHF Channel 16 for call and reply purposes.


The curious part of this regulation is that is use of the qualifiers "may", "alternatively", and "for call and reply purposes." This regulation in under the subpart on "Safety Watch Procedures" yet it talks about "call and reply purposes."

I read the quoted regulation above as saying as the radio watch on Channel 09 is only for call and reply purposes as an alternative to using Channel 16 for that purpose, and a recreational boat may use it for that purpose. Even the U.S. Coast Guard advises recreational boaters to use Channel 16 as their radio watch:

We recommend boaters normally keep tuned to and use channel 16 in those waters unless otherwise notified by the Coast Guard.


(There is no preceding explanation for "those water" so I have no idea where "those waters" might be located.)

But I don't see where there is a relief of the boat's obligation to maintain a watch on Channel 16 for distress calls. Channel 16 is the international distress frequency. How would keeping a watch on Channel 09 and abandoning a watch on Channel 16 contribute to the general purpose of the required watchstanding: improving boater safety by increasing the number of radios listening to the recognized distress channel. My understanding of USCG radio procedures is they DO NOT maintain any radio watch on Channel 09--it is not a distress channel.

A "voluntary ship" is defined at 47 CFR 80.5:

Voluntary ship. Any ship which is not required by treaty or statute to be equipped with radiotelecommunication equipment.

jimh
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Re: Required Radio Watch

Postby jimh » Sun Sep 15, 2019 2:50 pm

The USCG page also mentions the NTIA or National Telecommunications and Information Administration (and who knew we had this wonderful bureaucracy) and their NTIA Manual at pararaph 8.2.29.6.c(2)(e). After some considerable effort and searching--no help from GOOGLE--I found the cited material and reproduce it below:

(e) Channel 16, 156.8 MHz, is designated nationally and internationally for distress, safety and calling. Federal ship and coast stations, during their hours of service of VHF radiotelephony, shall maintain a watch for reception of 156.8 MHz whenever practicable. Federal ships transiting portions of the St. Lawrence Seaway or a Coast Guard operated VTS may terminate the listening watch on 156.8 MHz when directed by the Seaway or VTS authorities to call and work on a designated ship movement frequency. Assignments on 156.8 MHz shall include Record Note S035


Cf.: https://www.ntia.gov/files/ntia/publica ... 8_17_9.pdf

This appears to be a requirement that applies only to government ships stations and government shore stations. I don't see any applicability to a voluntary-equipped recreational boat.

jimh
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Re: Required Radio Watch

Postby jimh » Mon Sep 16, 2019 10:37 am

Regarding required radio watch on 156.800-MHz for compulsory ships, I earlier did not reproduce the entire section of regulations, but I now want to mention some provisions 47CFR80.148 contains.

The regulations require all compulsory ships to maintain a watch on 156.800-MHz even if they have a DSC radio, and explains the reason:

For GMDSS ships, 156.525 MHz [i.e. DSC Channel 70] is the calling frequency for distress, safety, and general communications using digital selective calling and the watch on 156.800 MHz is provided so that ships not fitted with DSC will be able to call GMDSS ships, thus providing a link between GMDSS and non-GMDSS compliant ships.