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Author Topic:   Proper VHF Marine Radio Procedure
hauptjm posted 03-17-2011 01:37 PM ET (US)   Profile for hauptjm  
Brought up by another thread, I thought it would be nice to provide a basic primer on VHF use.

[Moved from another discussion area. Some links to a non-governmental website which provided information about radiotelephone procedures and facilities in certain ports of eastern Florida in c.1997 have been deleted from the original discussion.--jimh]

jimh posted 03-17-2011 02:49 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Every radio I have purchased in the last decade has come with a metallic-plastic self-adhering sticker that gave instructions on how to make a MAYDAY call, and with instructions to affix the sticker near the radio.
lizard posted 03-17-2011 07:35 PM ET (US)     Profile for lizard  Send Email to lizard     
Strange, in the past two years I replaced my hard wired mounted unit and bought a handheld (I-com and West Marine) and neither had stickers, both had owner's manuals.

[Editor's note: It is difficult to affix a 4-inch by 6-inch metallic-platic sticker to a hand held radio without interfering with the operation of the radio, and this fact may explain why such stickers are not included with the accessories of hand held radios--jimh]

pcrussell50 posted 03-17-2011 09:33 PM ET (US)     Profile for pcrussell50  Send Email to pcrussell50     
I haven't read this thread, but I was the one seeking a radio check, while underway, on both 16 and 9. There was no radio chatter WHATSOEVER on either channel, not even to hail, and then switch to discreet. I make my living in a high speed radio chatter environment full of high speed craft, so though I'm new to boating I'm not new to radio discipline. At the very least, my attempts at a radio check were not disruptive of any important actvities on 9 or 16, since there were none at all of any kind.


elaelap posted 03-18-2011 08:39 AM ET (US)     Profile for elaelap  Send Email to elaelap     

It's not a matter of whether or not there was a lot of chatter on Channel 16 (by design there never is); 16 is reserved for specific tasks, most importantly instant emergency communication with the Coast Guard, and radio checks are not one of them. Channel 16 is the powerful, direct channel to the Coast Guard, and is not intended for radio check use. It's kept as clear as possible, and the Coasties will almost immediately switch you off 16 and over to 21 or 22 Alpha when you use 16 to contact them. I'm surprised they didn't respond to your Channel 16 radio check by politely but firmly telling you not to use 16 for radio checks.

Up here in Bodega Bay, many use Channels 9 and 77/78 for radio checks and other inter-small boat communications (though this varies from location to location). In fact, BB is famous for being a very chatty location on those channels (compared, for instance, with the more somber, VHF-quiet SF Bay). One of the pleasures of spending a lot of time on the water up here is listening to the often witty and/or information-filled give-and-take between the locals, especially the recreational charter boat skippers. This is disconcerting to some out-of-towners and first time visitors to our area, who sometimes growl "clear the air" at the local chatterboxes. On the other hand, many boaters are pleased that there is lively radio communication in our ~600 square mile fishing grounds, both for help finding the fish and, more importantly, to have folks on hand to help out when assistance is needed.

Bottom line: please don't use Channel 16 for radio checks, and find out from more experienced boaters which channels are customary for such use in your location.

Can't wait to see some photos of your sweet Alert at sea, and sure hope you can make it up to chatty Bodega Bay for our Whaler rendezvous in mid-May.


Chuck Tribolet posted 03-18-2011 09:51 AM ET (US)     Profile for Chuck Tribolet  Send Email to Chuck Tribolet     
Radio checks on One-Six are a No-No.

Tony, if you think SF Bay is quiet, check out Monterey.


pcrussell50 posted 03-18-2011 10:15 AM ET (US)     Profile for pcrussell50  Send Email to pcrussell50     
I'm not saying that trying to find someone to respond on 16 is proper technique. I'm saying that in my case last Saturday, no important uses of 16 were disrupted by me, because not single word was transmitted during the time I was using that channel. Remember, I was also trying on 9, as well, and had no luck there, either. So, in a couple hours in the middle of a nice Saturday, within a handful of miles of the harbor, I heard not a single word on 9 or 16. And I had the squelch set to break at the slightest transmission, too. I don't know if that is typical or if I have to look into repair or replacement of my radio. I did hear some broken and unreadable transmissions on some other channels.


elaelap posted 03-18-2011 10:55 AM ET (US)     Profile for elaelap  Send Email to elaelap     
You might want to ask which channel(s) your harbor master and the fuel dock personnel monitor, and check with them via radio when you leave. Also, ask around the dock and find out which channels the recreational guys use.
fluke posted 03-18-2011 06:02 PM ET (US)     Profile for fluke  Send Email to fluke     
Peter Santa Barbara is a quiet radio area from my expeience, but channel 78 and 68 will get some chatter sometimes. I usually keep my radio on 16 just incase a local cryout for help could use my assistance.
jimh posted 03-18-2011 09:57 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
For radio advice, I would defer to the USCG. Here is a link to information about watch keeping with your VHF Marine Band radio:

Note that monitoring of Channel 16 is mandatory.

jimh posted 03-18-2011 10:10 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
For up-to-date advice about channel assignments, I would defer to the USCG web page which lists that information. See:

In general, for matters which are subject to federal regulations, I find the best source of information about federal regulations is the federal agency that regulates the activity.

andrey320 posted 03-18-2011 10:52 PM ET (US)     Profile for andrey320  Send Email to andrey320     
Peter, I think I was the one that prompted this thread by my Santa Barbara trip thread.... Thanks to all for the input on proper radio use. By the way, I just bought an 8 foot antenna to replace the three foot one. It will probably look really funny on my 15 foot boat....
elaelap posted 03-19-2011 08:46 AM ET (US)     Profile for elaelap  Send Email to elaelap     

Here's a photo taken last year of my old Sport 15 CC, 'Cetus', with an eight foot VHF antenna I installed immediately upon buying the boat. The guy who bought my boat a couple of years ago is chatting away while salmon fishing south of Bodega Bay. I'm sure he's glad of the increased radio range provided by the long antenna, and it doesn't look strange at all, IMO, just functional. TreecutandsalmonWhalers247.jpg


P.S. I miss that sweet boat! Just a little too tender for me on Northern California ocean waters, but what fun zipping around the SF Bay.

elaelap posted 03-19-2011 08:58 AM ET (US)     Profile for elaelap  Send Email to elaelap     
...on closer examination of that photo, he's talking on his cell phone. But you get the idea ;-)
jimh posted 03-19-2011 11:23 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Tony--He probably resorted to his mobile telephone when he could not raise the public correspondence station in his area to make a marine radio telephone call.
placerville posted 03-20-2011 01:24 AM ET (US)     Profile for placerville  Send Email to placerville     
You can also put your radio on scan. That way it will pick up any transmission on any channel. Then when you radio check, identify the station you're transmitting on.
jimh posted 03-20-2011 08:43 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Just for the sake of my own curiosity, I randomly chose a VHF Marine Band radio, in this case a Standard-Horizon GX1600, and reviewed the owner's manual. In the owner's manual I found substantial advice on what I would consider to be "proper VHF use." For example, I found:

--elaborate step-by-step procedure for making a DISTRESS call;

--warnings about improper radio use with specific actions to avoid;

--procedures for calling another vessel;

--procedure for making telephone calls using a public correspondence shore station;

--specific advice regarding use of certain channels for special purposes; and,

--procedures for making automatic radio checks in specific regions where a third-party vendor (Sea Tow) provides such a service.

All of this information was contained in the owner's manual of the VHF Marine Band radio under the chapter heading "GETTING STARTED."

The VHF Marine Band radio owner's manual also contained a chart or table listing all VHF Marine Band channels, their allocated frequencies, and the restrictions on the type of radio traffic which should be handled on each channel. Further, the chart provided the information for three distinct regions: the U.S.A, Canada, and International waters.

Anyone who read the owner's manual would have a good understanding of proper VHF radio use, in my opinion.

I also checked on the U.S. Coast Guard website for advice on VHF Marine Band radio use, and I found this resource, in addition to the ones I have already mentioned:


This web page provides procedures for proper use of a VHF Marine Band radio, and also gives hyperlinks to additional resources for more information about VHF Marine Band radio procedures.

jimh posted 03-20-2011 02:05 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Note that in the USCG recommended procedure for calling another vessel suggests that the call by made with a 1 X 1 format, not the (often seen recommended) 3 x 3 call format.


Blue Duck: "Mary Jane, this is Blue Duck" (the name of the vessel or MMSI being called may be said 2 or 3 times if conditions warrant)

Mary Jane: "Blue Duck, this is Mary Jane. Reply 68" (or some other proper working channel)

Blue Duck: "68" or "Roger"

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