Carrying a Radio
The FCC does not require operators of recreational vessels to carry a radio or to have an individual license to operate VHF marine radios (with or without digital selective calling capability), EPIRBs, or any type of radar. Operators must however follow the procedures and courtesies that are required of licensed operators specified in FCC rules. You may use the name or registration number to identify your vessel.
Vessels required to be licensed:
1. Vessels that use MF/HF single-sided band radio, satellite communications or telegraphy.
2. Power driven vessels over 65.6 feet (20 meters) in length.
3. Vessels used for commercial purposes including:
a. Vessels documented for commercial use, including commercial fishing vessels.
b. U.S. Coast Guard inspected vessels carrying more than six passengers.
c. Towboats more than 25 feet (7.8 meters) in length.
d. Vessels more than 100 tons certified to carry at least one passenger.
e. Cargo ships over 300 tons.
4. Any vessel, including a recreational vessel, on an international voyage.
Radio Listening Watch
If you’re not required to carry a marine radio (e.g. recreational vessels less than 20 meters in length), but choose to voluntarily, maintain a watch on channel 16 (156.800 MHz) whenever the radio is operating and not being used to communicate. Such vessels may alternatively maintain a watch on VHF channel 9 (156.450 MHz), the “boater-calling” channel.
Emergency Assistance Protocol-Channel 16
• Speak clearly and transmit “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday… this is (boat name/OR number), (boat name/OR number), (boat name/OR number).”
• Report your location latitude and longitude if known; or we are 3 miles west of Tongue Point; “or, last seen reference point (buoy, landmark, etc.).”
• Report the nature of your emergency (swamping, on board fire, collision, etc.).
• Report the number of people on board including yourself.
• Wait for a response for 10 seconds, and if there is none, repeat the message protocol.
Be prepared to give the following information:
• Describe the boat and its seaworthiness (“Boat is a 30 foot white cabin cruiser with a blue canopy. Engine has stopped due to flooding and boat is in danger of sinking.”)
• Condition of any injured persons.
• What assistance is needed (“Need to have people removed
from the boat, and we need a pump and tow.”)
Cell phones, although great for communication on land, may not work in an emergency situation out on the water. Several disadvantages include:
• Geography may limit or block cell phone signal;
• Caller’s location cannot be determined using the radio direction finders;
• 911 calls from maritime locations are frequently misdirected to police or fire departments, which can delay a water rescue response;
• Cell phones cannot be monitored by other boaters;
• It may not be possible for the caller to be contacted by the rescue boat or aircraft.
If a cell phone is your only means of making a distress call, take the following precautions before leaving the dock:
• Make sure the cell phone battery is fully charged;
• Keep the cell phone in a waterproof bag that floats;
• Have the U.S. Coast Guard and other appropriate water rescue phone numbers programmed into your cell phone;
• When you first place the distress call, immediately give your:
• Cell phone number, vessel name and/or description position and/or location, nature of the emergency number of people on board. Repeat cell phone number before ending the phone call.
• Speak slowly so that you can be clearly understood.