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Author Topic:   Marine Radio Procedure
jimh posted 06-15-2012 09:08 AM ET (US)   Profile for jimh   Send Email to jimh  
Recently I called a shore station on my VHF Marine Band radio. My transmission was something like this:

"[So-and-so] Marina, ["So-and-so"] Marina this is vessel CONTINUOUSWAVE, CONTINUOUSWAVE calling on one-six."

(ASIDE: I mention that I am calling on Channel 16 in case they are monitoring with two radios, one tuned to 16 and another tuned elsewhere. Otherwise I suppose it is superfluous to mention the channel. Anyone who receives the transmission will know what channel they're listening to.)

I received this reply:

"Vessel calling ["So-and-so"] Marina, please switch and answer channel seven one."

At this point I am a bit confused. I understand the shore station wants to change from Channel-16 to a working channel, in this case Channel-71. However, I do not understand the proposed meeting on Channel-71. The reply from the marina instructs me to "answer." My confusion is as follows:

--after switching to Channel-71, am I to call the marina again, that is, to answer their last call on 16 with a reply on 71, or

--after switching to Channel-71, am I to await a call from the marina?

Also, the marina has given me instructions before it has confirmed that I am able to copy their signal. If they transmit back to me on 16 and tell me to move to 71, they are assuming I will have heard them. It could very well be that I do not hear them. My radio may be not as sensitive as theirs. If I don't hear their reply on 16, this means they might change channels and be calling me on 71 while I am still calling them on 16.

padrefigure posted 06-15-2012 09:18 AM ET (US)     Profile for padrefigure  Send Email to padrefigure     
Based purely on anecdotal experience, on channel 16, you should reply, "Roger Marine so and so, going to channel seven one" and then change channels and hail the marina again.
bdb posted 06-15-2012 09:35 AM ET (US)     Profile for bdb  Send Email to bdb     
Why are you hailing on 16? Our understanding in this neck of the woods (Lake Michigan) is that 16 is strictly for emergency hailing and channel 09 is for general hailing. And should you deviate and use 16 the Coast Guard will let you know pronto and in no uncertain terms! I thought this was now the universal protocol.
number9 posted 06-15-2012 09:54 AM ET (US)     Profile for number9  Send Email to number9     
"Vessel calling ["So-and-so"] Marine, please switch and answer channel seven one."

"Answer" in this situation indicates say nothing more on 16 and once you switch confirm you understood their instructions.

they are assuming I will have heard them

You didn't indicate it was any sort of emergency and they didn't want to use 16 further. They will continue to monitor 16 or switch back to 16 if you don't immediately answer on 71.


6992WHALER posted 06-15-2012 01:13 PM ET (US)     Profile for 6992WHALER  Send Email to 6992WHALER     
What number 9 said.

I am sure it is not proper radio procedure but it is a procedure I have used.

I may use it when I am traveling with a second boat and I initiate a call on 16 with that boat who is in close proximity to me. I do not think of it as a reply when someone else initiates the call, especially someone who may not be expecting it.

jimh posted 06-15-2012 05:11 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Re marinas monitoring Channel 16: that's what they do around Grand Traverse Bay. After our traffic concluded, the marina said "If nothing further, [So-and-So] marina back to sixteen." This tells me they monitor Channel 16. That's why I called them on Channel 16.

ASIDE: In Ontario, all the marinas monitor Channel 68. That's where you find them listening for a call.

Going back to my initial calling sequence, I need explanation of how the instruction "switch and answer on seven one" should be interpreted. How do you know who is going to call who on Channel 71? It seems ambiguous to me.

It would be much clearer if the marina responded like this:

"Vessel CONTINUOUSWAVE this is [So-and-So] marina. Do you copy?

This allows the marina to determine if I copy them. I would reply,

"Marina [So-and-So] this is vessel CONTINUOUSWAVE. I copy. I have routine traffic for you.

THen the marina could suggest their working channel and we could arrange a meet on that channel, but it should be clear who is going to call who when we change channels. Otherwise we could easily collide and call each other at the same time. I have heard this happen and repeated a few times before the calls got out of sequence enough for one person to hear the other.

number9 posted 06-15-2012 06:00 PM ET (US)     Profile for number9  Send Email to number9     
How do you know who is going to call who on Channel 71? It seems ambiguous to me.

They said switch and "answer" on 71, in other, words don't even answer that you heard their request until you switch. They did want you to "copy" on 16, probably as an attempt to keep traffic off of 16.
number9 posted 06-15-2012 06:03 PM ET (US)     Profile for number9  Send Email to number9     
"Answer" in this case is synonymous with you calling them once on 71.
Phil T posted 06-15-2012 07:27 PM ET (US)     Profile for Phil T  Send Email to Phil T     
I think you are over analyzing it Jim.

While there are FCC as well as other rules for the usage of a VHF, there are common practices that vary region to region.

In Southern Maine, Marinas take calls on 16 but shift to other channels. Most commercial boats (ferries and fisherman) and year round boaters use a dialog with shortcuts to cut down on transmissions.

When hailing a boat, marina or other VHF device and a channel change is requested, it is the party initiating the first hail to initiate the new hail on the redirected channel:

Islander: Scrimshaw, Scrimshaw, Scrimshaw. This is Islander on channel one six

Scrimshaw: Islander 68

Islander: Roger 68

change to channel 68

Islander: Scrimshaw, this is Islander on 68

In contrast to the above, when a large boat (commercial dragger, tour boat or private vessel) is entering and a large boat is exiting long and deep piers, Captains will coordinate who will go first and who will wait on channel 16. While the transmissions are short, there is back and forth and a channel change is not requested.

jimh posted 06-15-2012 10:27 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
I am acquainted with radiotelephone procedure for simplex circuits.

I understand that there are many informal protocols in use on VHF Marine radio.

My only real question is what I should do as the station who has received a reply that tells me "to switch and answer on [such-and-such] channel."

It is not clear to me what the other station intends. As I see it there are two possibilities:

--the other station is going to call me on a working channel, and I should answer that call, or

--the other station expects me to call them on the working channel, and I should call them.

Which is it? It is not clear to me, and that is why I am asking.

As a general rule, I would say that the station that initiated the communication would be the station to direct the switch to a working channel. If I called another boat, I would not expect the other boat to know what channel I wanted to change to.

I realize that a marina might have a preference to use a certain working channel. In an area with several marinas, they might coordinate their channel selection to avoid all using the same channel. So I don't mind that in this case the called-station proposes the working channel. But normally I would expect the calling station to propose the working channel.

Now back to the question of who calls who on the working channel. I don't think this is "over thinking" the problem. There ought to be an understanding of who calls who first, so there is not a waste of time with the two stations trying to call each other simultaneously. I just do not find the instruction "switch and answer channel seven one" to be clear. Again, if it were clear to me, I would not be asking for opinions. I need others to give their opinion of who is to call who first on the working channel.

jimh posted 06-15-2012 10:40 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Also, I think the procedure (as I described it above) has another flaw: the marina does not identify the vessel it is directing its transmission to. It just says "vessel calling." Perhaps two vessels called at once--this often happens on a busy boating day at a busy marina--and now each of them think they are communicating with the marina. The marina ought to clearly identify the name of the vessel they are replying to.

I've had that exact situation occur. I called a marina simultaneously with another boat. It is my usual practice to call the marina on low power if I am in sight of their dock so that I don't overload their radio with a 25-watt signal. If another boat nearby calls with 25-watts, my signal will be lost by the marina; they'll only hear the other boat. Now we both change to a working channel and start calling the marina. Chaos!

jimh posted 06-15-2012 10:45 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
By the way, I completely reject the notion that because the called station (the marina) replies "switch and answer on seven one" that I must cease all transmission on Channel 16. This make no sense at all. I am trying to communicate with the marina on 16, and we have not established any exchange of information on 16 so far that indicates we can hear each other. All that has happened is the marina appears to hear me. The marina has no idea if I hear them. They might be replying on a hand-held and I might be calling them with a 25-watt radio using a 9-dB gain antenna mounted 50-feet above the water. We have not established two-way communication so far. It is not appropriate for me to stop replying on Channel 16 until I confirm I received their last transmission.
gusgus posted 06-16-2012 03:03 AM ET (US)     Profile for gusgus  Send Email to gusgus     
In aviation, is is an accepted practice to repeat all directions first, and if there is a problem repeat the question, or as to clarify, this is your responsibility, not the towers.
So my thought would have been to ask, right then, "switching to seven one? The possible mis-communication is troubling to me as well. I am a real N00B on the water, but have been using aircraft radios, meaning far different protocols.
Even though this is a small issue, it is a large problem if you don't understand their instructions or receive the information which you need.

I sure hope I find the right channels to use around the sound.

jimh posted 06-17-2012 09:30 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
In the situation I described above, it is my radiotelephone procedure to reply as follows:

"[So-and-so] marina this is CONTINUOUSWAVE. ROGER. I will call you on Channel 71."

This removes any ambiguity about who is to initiate the call on the new working channel.

WhatKnot posted 06-17-2012 07:11 PM ET (US)     Profile for WhatKnot    
I'm not sure what the 'official' procedure is but I would respond with "switching to channel (requested) and initiate the call on that channel.
White Bear posted 06-17-2012 07:27 PM ET (US)     Profile for White Bear  Send Email to White Bear     
Too much thought going into this one since the marina's practice probably depends upon which 16 year old dock boy is using the radio at the time. Call them back on the suggested channel to establish communications.
jimh posted 06-17-2012 09:59 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
The use of the phrase "switch and answer channel [such-and-such]" was employed almost universally by all the marinas I hailed this week while cruising. Apparently someone started using the ambiguous phrase and it caught on.

While on the topic of Marine radio procedures, here is another bad example to be avoided. I heard several boats call a marina like this:

"This is the vessel [boat name} calling [such-and-such] marina."

This procedure is terrible for two reasons. First, always give the callsign of the station you are calling at the beginning of your transmission. That way the station being called is alerted that they should pay attention to the rest of transmission. If done like my bad example above, the station being called does not know it is being called until the transmission is over. If everyone used this sloppy procedure, every marina would have to listen to every call in its entirety to see if they were the target of the call.

The second problem is lack of repetition. You should give the callsign of the station being called at least twice, and your own callsign at least twice when making the initial call.

[Interestingly, the boat hailing the marina in that manner received no reply after three transmissions to them.]

ConB posted 06-18-2012 08:09 AM ET (US)     Profile for ConB  Send Email to ConB     
Jim, all the young people that work at the marinas in the area you cruised last week are trained by the same person. I'll ask Captain Jack if I see him.


jimh posted 06-18-2012 08:12 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
A further problem in the example I give above is the use of Channel 71 as the working channel for the marina. The marina seems to me to be a commercial operation; you have to pay them to use the facility and they sell fuel. In the allocation of VHF Marine Band channels, the use of Channel 71 is designated "non-commercial." It seems inappropriate to use Channel 71 to coordinate the operation of a commercial marina.

Another marina we visited in our travels used Channel 73 as a working channel. The allocation table calls for Channel 73 to be used for "Port operations." This makes more sense for use as a coordinating channel for boats to communicate with a marina. The marina was a municipal marina and functions as the harbor authority or harbormaster for the facility we were entering.


for a listing of VHF Marine Band channels and their allocated uses.

jimh posted 06-18-2012 08:20 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
I should also mention the radio equipment used at one of the marinas we visited: it was top-notch. The marina station consisted of a top-of-the-line ICOM commercial grade VHF Marine Band radio. The high-gain vertical antenna was located above their dock building, which was built on the pier. The pier was about 8-feet above the water, and the base of the antenna at least 20-feet higher than that. The signal from the marina transmitter was copied at least 20-miles away on paths that included intervening high terrain. The signal from the marina was solid and their modulation excellent. Kudos to the marina for good radio installation.
6992WHALER posted 06-18-2012 01:57 PM ET (US)     Profile for 6992WHALER  Send Email to 6992WHALER     
Here is how the switch and answer communication works in my boating in MN.





At this point both vessels switch to 69.

But if we are traveling together and you know this system. I might use:

HOLLY MARIE, "CONTINUOUSWAVE, HOLLY MARIE switch and answer 69 over"

At this point both vessels switch to 69

The second version is much faster but it assumes that both operators are paying attention, it is not proper procedure. As I said before I would never use it with a stranger.

(I did not bother with call signs, that would be an entire new thread)

I also never tell them what channel I am calling on, I feel that they are unnecessary words.

jimh posted 06-18-2012 08:34 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
John--I don't quite agree with your procedure. The calling station should be the one to propose the working channel, not the called station.
6992WHALER posted 06-18-2012 09:06 PM ET (US)     Profile for 6992WHALER  Send Email to 6992WHALER     
You are correct Jim,
You made me pull out my copy of Chapman.

According to it I should change the procedure to:

Proper procedure: for HOLLY MARIE to call CONTINUOUSWAVE.





At this point both vessels switch to 69.

That should make you like the switch and answer procedure better. It is short and the originator of the call controls the channel switch.

I bet you would still talk to me if I did it my old way.

David Pendleton posted 06-20-2012 01:02 AM ET (US)     Profile for David Pendleton    
I too am having a hard time understanding why this is an issue.

I follow the procedure as documented in John's second post. I've encountered variations, and it didn't inconvenience me at all. Since there is no established protocol, no one adheres to one.

If anything, I have a problem with correspondents who insist on referring to me as "Tampico" on a working channel. Once you have established contact with me, you can call me Dave, since that's who you're talking to.

It doesn't keep me up at night though.

swist posted 06-20-2012 08:42 AM ET (US)     Profile for swist  Send Email to swist     
Just as an aside, the use of channels 9/16 for hailing is not consistently followed. Go to an adjacent CG District, and you may well find the opposite convention.
White Bear posted 06-20-2012 02:25 PM ET (US)     Profile for White Bear  Send Email to White Bear     
Not marine, but as an example of confusing practices: In our county the fire departments first state the name of the station or person being called, then the name of the caller. The police departments reverse the order and announce the caller's name first, then the station being called. It makes working a multi-agency response very interesting to say the least. I'm on the fire side!
jimh posted 06-20-2012 11:06 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Proper radiotelephone procedure for the VHF Marine Band is not often discussed in this forum, but based on the preponderance of sloppy procedure I hear when monitoring Channel 16 while underway there seems to be a lack of understanding of the subect on the part of most boaters. I began this thread only to discuss what I felt was a very ambiguous phrase that seemed to be in common usage. As a native speaker of English and being somewhat educated, I found the usage of that phrase to be ambiguous and not particularly clear radiotelephone procedure. Since radiotelephone communication is simplex by nature and subject to some distortions, noise, and interferences, it seems to me that any instructions sent via radiotelephone ought to be clear and concise. I don't see the value in using ambiguous phrases when their meaning is not clear to experienced and educated native speakers. I will be willing to listen to arguments that want to put forth a case that ambiguous instructions are to be preferred in radiotelephone communication or that there is no need to follow any sort of standard procedure. Proponents that want to argue that one ought to just make up their own procedure should step forward and explain themselves--clearly.

As for the notion that radiotelephone procedure is being subjected to "over thinking" I can only contrast it with instruction on how to polish a boat. There must be at least one hundred threads discussing how to polish a boat with perhaps a thousand replies. It does not seem particularly excessive that we have one discussion about proper radiotelephone procedure.

David Pendleton posted 06-21-2012 01:37 AM ET (US)     Profile for David Pendleton    
Jim, I know you'd love a standard procedure, but there isn't one, and no amount of wishing is going to bring one about.

daveweight posted 06-21-2012 05:48 AM ET (US)     Profile for daveweight  Send Email to daveweight     
Hi Jimh et al
This to me looks pretty much like a standard procedure.
I was pretty disappointed that after 9 years in the Royal Navy as a bridge watchkeeper and signalman that I had to take an 8 hour course and exam to give me the licence to use a civilian vhf set in the UK, despite the fact that I had used vhf on a warship every day whilst afloat.
Dave Weight
bluewaterpirate posted 06-21-2012 07:50 AM ET (US)     Profile for bluewaterpirate  Send Email to bluewaterpirate     
Having spent 31 years in the US Navy I can assure you radiotelephone (RT) procedures are taught at the Naval Academy, NROTC Units, Operations Specialist A School. There are defined rules and brevity codes used throughout the US Navy and members of the NATO community.

Here are the rules and brevity codes we use for ships movements and manuevering,

This further layes out the brevity codes used by RT talkers in combat situations. 12931024-US-Multi-Service-Brevity-Codes


bluewaterpirate posted 06-21-2012 08:06 AM ET (US)     Profile for bluewaterpirate  Send Email to bluewaterpirate     
To add to the conversation ......

I sat many hours as the Strike Controller on a number of aircraft carriers. The Strike Controller is responsible for safe movement of all tactical aircraft launched from the decks and proceeding on their assigned mission plus all returning aircraft. They would switch to the Strike Controller right after departure and after the completion of their missions. The conversation would go as.

Strike Dakato 201/202 (s F14's)checking in.

Roger 201/202 radar contact 110/5 left to 360 angels 25 (climb to 25000 ft) for station 1 (predetemined Cap Station). Parrots sweet (IFF working). Switch button 10 (air combat control frequecy) contact Cliche no joy pogo (switch back to Strike frequecy).


jimh posted 06-21-2012 08:48 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
In radiotelephone communication there are several identifiers for a station. If the station is a licensed station its fundamental identity is the official station license designator for the transmitter. In the USA the FCC assigns designators like WAA1234 for a VHF Marine Band radio transmitter. The most formal identification of the station would be to say, "This is WAA1234."

The VHF Marine Band radio service is a bit unusual. It permits voluntarily equipped recreational boats to have unlicensed stations. For such boats there is no formal FCC identifier for their station. In the past there was a recommended practice to use the boat's state registration number as a callsign, preceding it with the letter "K" (to conform with the international callsign allocation tables). A boat in Michigan with registration number MC1234AA would then use the callsign KMC1234AA as their identifier. I have not heard this done in several decades. It is probably no longer a recommended practice.

On vessels it is common practice to use the name of the vessel as a callsign in radio communication. The vessel name is often used along with the official FCC identifier. You might hear something like this: "...this is WE6279, the vessel ARMCO..." On vessels without a FCC licensed station, the vessel name is the preferred callsign, as far as I can tell.

In police and military radiotelephone procedure tactical callsigns are often used, particularly with mobile stations. There may be a fleet license for the transmitters which then all operate under the same FCC designator. The mobile units will employ tactical callsigns such as "Unit 10" or "Red Leader."

Use of an individual's name as a radiotelephone identifier is an unusual practice. It would be very unusual to hear a radio transmission in which a station was referred to by the name of the person operating the radio..

On military ships, I believe it is a common practice for just the opposite to occur, that is, a person is referred to by the name of the ship. For example, I have been aboard a ship when the commanding office was not on board. When the commanding officer comes aboard, his arrival is announced by referring to him with the name of the vessel. For example, when I was aboard the USCGC BRISTOL BAY and the commanding officer came on board, his arrival was announced on the ship's public address system as "USCG BRISTOL BAY now arriving."

jimh posted 06-21-2012 08:55 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
As several examples above show, it is common to employ jargon or other short expressions in radiotelephone communication. This is perfectly normal as long as all stations understand the jargon. The point of my initial inquiry was exactly on this topic: the phrase "switch and answer" was jargon that I did not understand.

A much clearer statement in lieu of "switch and answer seven one" would be to say, "Call me on seven one." This reply is shorter and is not ambiguous.

swist posted 06-21-2012 09:12 AM ET (US)     Profile for swist  Send Email to swist     
I'm in an area with many commercial fishing interests. It doesn't help recreational boaters to use proper procedure when they hear these "professionals" use a long list of inconsistent abbreviations, incorrect channel usage, and other dubious procedures. Having lived around these people for a long time, I can assure you that any attempt to have proper procedure forced on them would likely have the opposite result.

Although once their boats go past a certain size and require some advanced form of master's license, things start to get a little more organized. You don't want to have a miscommunication with a 700' LNG tanker with a stopping distance of 1-2 miles.

6992WHALER posted 06-21-2012 10:29 AM ET (US)     Profile for 6992WHALER  Send Email to 6992WHALER     
In the world we live in who is teaching boaters how to use the VHF radio? There have always been people who had bad procedures but I think at least in my area there are basically no proper procedures anymore.

My father trained me, I had my required at the time radio operators license when I was 12 or 13, He expected me to use proper procedures at all times.
I will never forget the call signs for his boat "Whiskey Zulu Mike 9696".

I just purchased a new VHF radio. The owners manual does include a section on proper radio use, including the proper procedure for making a call. It is a 119 page manual. I wonder how many people actually read the procedure and then how many memorize it.

It also says the USCG recommends that you use your state registration numbers as your call sign. As Jim H pointed out no one does this, including me.

Besides my father, Jim H is the only person I have communicated with by VHF radio in recent years who actually uses correct procedure. One of our cruising companions on the GB trip summer 2011 commented to me about the fact that he realized he did not know the proper procedures after listing to us.

I wonder how much of this loss of proper radio etiquette is connected to the loss of nautical etiquette and tradition in general. The use of the words left, right and bumpers come to mind.

daveweight posted 06-21-2012 10:48 AM ET (US)     Profile for daveweight  Send Email to daveweight     
Hi Tom/Bluewater pirate
The Navy manuals in your link were exactly the way I was taught and the way I still communicate on VHF. I have been accused of being a little "stiff" but whenever I have been in trouble it is without doubt my use of correct procedure and "stiffness" that has got the attention of the proper authorities.
Dave Weight
jimh posted 07-15-2012 09:08 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
I recently heard this exchange on VHF Marine Band Channel 16. For the name of the marina I will substitute "Zulu" and for the working channel I will substitute 99. This procedure is about a bad as you can get:

FIRST UNKNOWN STATION: Zulu Marina, Zulu Marina, Zulu marina [transmission ends]

SECOND UNKNOW STATION: Boat calling Zulu marina switch and answer channel 99.

Nothing further was heard from the two unidentified stations. My observations on this exchange:

Neither station identified themselves in any way. The marina used the apparently now ubiquitous phrase switch and answer which I find not particularly clear. In this case the marina was 250-miles away from the last marina I heard using this phrase. On this basis I think use of this phrase is spreading like Zebra mussels across the Great Lakes

The called station (the marina) never established who they were talking to. They never established if the calling station heard their reply.

The calling station never acknowledged they heard the reply from the station they called.

Here is another interesting exchange I heard while underway and monitoring Channel 16. The squelch broke and a strong signal came on, saying:

UNKNOWN STATION: Radio check--loud and clear in [name of port].

At the time I heard this I was in open water and only a mile away from the port. I never heard the station asking for a radio check. I only heard the reply telling him that his radio was loud and clear. I figured if the station asking for a radio check had a signal that was "loud and clear" in the port, it ought to be similarly loud and clear a mile away, but there was no trace of it. I could hear the unknown station in the port reporting on the radio check, but nothing of the station asking for the radio check. The guy asking for the radio check is now thinking his radio works well, but I can't hear a trace of him and I am only a mile farther away than the other station.

I am also reminded of another problem with hailing marinas. Often the marina has a really fine radio installation, with a 25-watt transmitter connected to a large antenna by a low-loss feed line, and with the antenna mounted on a tall mast. We used to often visit such a marina in the North Channel.

We could hear the marina radio at a range of 25-miles or more. We were on a sailboat with an antenna atop a 40-foot mast. Unfortunately, the VHF Marine Band radio we had was not the greatest, and it would tend to be overloaded by really strong signals. We would try to hail the marina as we approached to get instructions from them about our slip assignment. If the marina responded with their radio set on 25-watts, our boat radio would be so badly overloaded that we could not copy them at all if we were in sight of the marina. I would have to ask them to switch to 1-watt so I could hear them.

Radios are better now than they were back in the 1980's, and problems with overloading by strong local signals may not be as common today. But if two stations are in sight of each other, there is no need to run 25-watts to communicate.

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