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ContinuousWave: Small Boat Electrical
Boat VHF Radio Watch Required
|Author||Topic: Boat VHF Radio Watch Required|
posted 03-08-2015 10:52 AM ET (US)
In the USA, according to the Coast Guard's web page at
the requirements for keeping a radio watch are as follows:
My interpretation is as follows:
--if you have a digital selective calling (DSC) radio, the radio must be kept ON at all times when underway, and the DSC radio will monitor channel 70; the voice radio receiver could be kept on another channel, if desired;
--if you do not have a digital selective calling (DSC) radio, the radio must be kept ON at all time when underway, and a radio watch maintained on channel 16, except when the radio is being used to communicate on another channel.
The Coast Guard website does not cite the actual rule of the FCC. I believe they intend to refer to 47 CFR 80.310 -- Watch required by voluntary vessels. See:
That rule says:
The reference to maintaining a watch on 2182-kHz seems out of date. The Coast Guard announced in July 2013 that it no longer maintains a radio watch on 2182-kHz. See:
It seems paradoxical that the FCC would insist vessels that voluntarily equip themselves with radios would be required to maintain a watch on 2182-kHz if the Coast Guard themselves no longer does.
posted 03-09-2015 09:52 AM ET (US)
Many modern VHF Marine Band radios provide a scan function in which Channel 16 can be set as a priority channel, that is, the radio will perpetually monitor Channel 16 for traffic while set to another channel. This is a reasonably good way to satisfy the requirement to maintain a radio watch on Channel 16 for non-DSC radios.
posted 03-11-2015 04:38 PM ET (US)
I’ll claim ignorance. I keep my radio off to avoid the non-stop noise.
Poorly written. Paragraph starts out with “All vessels over 20 meters…” and I stop reading. My Revenge 22 – W.T. doesn’t quite make that length. Then they throw in “…all users or marine radios…”
“All vessels over 20 meters in length are required to stand watch for voice calls on VHF channel 13 or 67, the bridge-to-bridge safety channels which are restricted to low power communications involving safety of navigation, when operating within the 12 mile limit. FCC Rules require that all users of marine radios, including voluntary users, keep the radio turned on and watching the appropriate emergency channel at all times when underway and not working on another channel.”
Reminds me of several years ago when Tony (elaelap) and Edie came to visit us in Alaska. The girls went hiking so Tony and I went fishing. Tony said, “Hey, not much radio traffic going on up here.” And I said, “That’s because the radio is off.”
posted 03-11-2015 05:45 PM ET (US)
I leave my VHF on at all times but keep the squelch turned up so only hear nearby calls plus any notices to mariners and DSC calls.
posted 03-11-2015 07:19 PM ET (US)
I agree that the language of the rules is very poor. There is no way in the world I can maintain a radio watch on 2182-kHz, and I have no plans to comply with that. It is a very poorly written regulation. I have no equipment that can transmit 2182-kHz on board, and I am not required to have any. Why in the world would I be required to have a 2182-kHz receiver if I happen to voluntarily have installed a VHF Band radio?
Despite the poor language, the intent of the rule is good. We should all be maintaining a radio watch on the safety and emergency channels when underway on our boats. The more boats listening for an emergency call the better the chances such a call might be heard. I have a modern Class-D DSC radio, and it automatically monitors the DSC Channel 70 all the time. That is enough compliance for me.
posted 03-16-2015 08:05 PM ET (US)
One thing to be sure to do, if you're interested in the USCG's Safety Notices to Shipping--which should be everybody--is set your scan to cover Channels 16 and 22A. The USCG only announces that there is a Safety Notice to Shipping on Channel 16, the real message is on Channel 22A. I'm in the Florida Panhandle right now and USCG Mobile is frequently on the air with rapidly change Security Zones because of the helicopter crash. The specifics about them is on Channel 22A.
posted 03-21-2015 10:52 AM ET (US)
Here is the Unites States Power Squadron's interpretation of the laws.
From "The Boatowner's Guide to GMDSS and Marine Radio" by the United States Power Squadron, page 31.
I find it interesting that they point out that only class A to D DSC radios can actually meet the law.
"Classes A to d VHF-DSC radios support a separate receiver for Channel 70, which gives the radios true dual-watch capability. Radios that meet the SC101 standard only have one receiver and thus cannot monitor channels 70 and 16 simultaneously."
posted 03-21-2015 12:33 PM ET (US)
The U.S. Power Squadron is a fine organization, but their interpretation of the rules is not binding. I defer to the actual regulation, which I cited above and gave a hyperlink for. In that regulation I cannot find anything that says as a voluntarily equipped vessel I have to maintain a watch on both Channel 16 by voice and Channel 70 by DSC at all times.
If someone can find that in the regulations, I'd like to know where.
posted 03-21-2015 12:52 PM ET (US)
Here is a URL and hyperlink to the actual government regulation
for required radio watch for voluntarily-equipped vessels.
posted 03-21-2015 03:36 PM ET (US)
I said this is the Power Squadrons Interpretation.
Here are two more I found interesting:
From the Department of Homeland Security
Radio Watchkeeping Regulations
Source: FCC 47 CFR §§ 80.148, 80.310, NTIA Manual 188.8.131.52.c(2)(e), ITU RR 31.17, 33.18, AP13 §25.2
Digital Selective Calling
Looks like while at sea you don't have to watch Channel 16 if you have DSC. Is at sea different than under way?
But more fun the FCC says
How to Call Another Ship using DSC
Yes neither of these statements are direct quotes from the rules. They are just there to help clarify the rules (or maybe make it more confusing)
I personally think if you are going to try to keep a radio watch you should monitor both 16 and 70. Dual scan or two radios if you spend a lot of time on working channels.
DSC alone is not enough at the current time; we still need voice on channel 16.
As you said law or no law our job is to be there for other boater in need.
posted 03-22-2015 08:03 AM ET (US)
The qualifying phrase mentioned above in the quoted rules, "If operating in a GMDSS Sea Area A1..." is interesting. In the USA, the Coast Guard has just recently declared a GMDSS Sea Area A1. See my earlier posting on that topic at:
The declaration of a Sea Area A1 means that the government of that area is keeping a radio watch using digital selective calling methods. The formal Sea Area A1 for the USA is only in the ocean coastal areas, but informally the Great Lakes are being monitored by the same radio watch system.
In the cited regulation, a ship operating in a declared GMDSS Sea Area A1 is relieved of the burden of maintaining a radio watch on Channel 16 and can instead maintain a watch on the DSC Channel 70.
Since I do most of my boating on the Great Lakes, I am not in the formal Sea Area A1 region. The inference is that the relief of having to watch Channel 16 is not provided to me as mentioned in that particular reference to the rules. This may be the difference between being "at sea" and being "underway."
posted 03-22-2015 11:30 AM ET (US)
That is how I interpreted it as well.
It also makes sense that in Sea Area A2 and A3 you would need to monitor VHF 16; in these two zones you only use VHF if you are in sight of the vessel you are calling. The primary emergency communication in A2 and A3 is handled by different communication systems (e.g., HF, MF, or Satellite).
posted 03-22-2015 11:42 AM ET (US)
Although the formal regulations seem to be poorly written and unclear on the question of maintaining a radio watch on Channel 16 for voluntarily-equipped non-commercial vessels, the many other agencies and citations of such a requirement suggest that such a Channel-16 watch is mandatory, at least in the interpretation of those agencies. It is also a good idea in the spirit of good seamanship, even if the CFR cited section does not make the need for it entirely clear.
posted 03-23-2015 08:31 PM ET (US)
So, if I set up my non Class D DSC radio to scan channels 16, 22A, and XX am I in compliance? These past three weeks I've caught all USCG CH 16 and CH 22A broadcasts, during a high intensity period, as well as Ch 11 traffic with the local marina.
posted 03-28-2015 09:16 AM ET (US)
David--The solution for you is to get a new VHF Marine Band radio with DSC capability to CLASS-D rating. You love electronic gadgets, so you should think of this as an opportunity to get a new gadget.
There is no mention in any of the interpretations of the FCC rules that a watch be maintained on Channel 22A. Broadcasts from the Coast Guard on Channel 22A are always first announced on Channel 16.
The real question becomes: if you were monitoring Channel 16, as required, and you hear the Coast Guard announce a marine information broadcast to occur on Channel 22A, can you discontinue the monitoring on Channel 16 and switch to Channel 22A to hear the broadcast?
You are supposed to maintain the radio watch on Channel 16 unless your radio is being used "to communicate" on another channel or unless the radio is being used for "working on another channel." You are not going to be "communicating" with the Coast Guard. You will just be monitoring their broadcast on Channel 22A.
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