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VHF Marine Radios
VHF Marine Radios Save Lives!
And they're really not that complicated to use...
VHF Marine Radios provide many more advantages to the boater than CB radios or cell phones. And, in recent years, their price has dropped so they are quite affordable. Here are some good reasons, if you boat in larger rivers, estuaries or the ocean, why you should get a VHF radio.
  • No license is needed: The telecommunications act of 1996 permits recreational boaters to have and use a VHF marine radio, EPIRB, and marine radar without having an FCC ship stationlicense.
  • More reliable than cell phones: Most VHF radios are weather and/or water resistant - they stand up to coastal weather better. A boat-mounted radio will have much longer battery life than a cell phone. Cell phone towers are not evenly placed on Oregon's coast - they may be completely useless in some areas.
  • Instant contact: If you're in trouble, your may-day call on VHF channel 16 will be heard by the Coast Guard and other boaters with VHF radios. Help will come much faster, even if it's just advice on bar conditions. A cell phone, if it gets through, will only be heard by the Coast Guard and precious minutes could be lost.
  • VHF signal is locatable: Even if you're lost in the fog, the Coast Guard can locate you by the VHF signal from your radio. They can't do that with a cell phone.
  • They're affordable: Hand-held VHF radios are under $100 now, and there are good boat-mounted radios available for under $200.

DSC (Digital Selective Calling) VHF Radios
BoatU.S. Offers Online Tutorial
"Can You Hear Me?" -tutorial about DSC VHF radios, their cost, the GPS instant notification they provide the Coast Guard, and more!
All a boater needs to do after purchasing and installing a DSC radio is:
  1. Register the radio to obtain an MMSI number.  (It's free and can be done online).
  2. Program the MMSI number into the radio.  (The DSC radio Distress Alert button will not work without the MMSI number programmed into the radio.)
  3. Connect the DSC radio to the GPS.  (A boater might need help by a qualified technician to do this).
If boaters take these three steps, help will come quickly when pressing the "Distress" button.  The GPS system is accurate and the DSC alerts the Coast Guard digitally, vs. through a "Mayday" call.

Frequently Asked Questions:
Q) Aren't VHF radios complicated?
A) No, but you do need to learn some basics. Here's an overview:

  • If you have a VHF radio, you must monitor channel 16 while you're on the water. Channel 16 is the International Distress and Calling frequency. It is used for distress and urgency traffic, for safety calls and contacting other stations. You can use it to make contact with another station (boat), then move to a non-emergency frequency such as 68 or 69.
  • Channel 22 is used by the Coast Guard for announcements on fishery closures, inclement weather or other notices.
  • Channel 9 is a calling and reply channel for recreational vessels.
  • Use the one-watt setting except in an emergency.  This lessens the potential of your "routine" call from interfering with an emergency call and keeps your call more localized. 

Q) Should I buy a hand-held or a mounted VHF radio?
A) This depends on where and how you boat. Hand-helds are less expensive and portable from boat to boat. They will serve the more casual boater well. However, portables have battery and antenna size limitations which result in less power, range or use time compaired to a hard-wired built in unit.  Portable radios are prone to damage if dropped and not all models float or are weather-resistant.  You might consider having a mounted VHF radio with a portable as a back up. 

Q) What if I need help?
A) If you are in a life threatening situation:
  • Have all persons put on life jackets!
  • Make sure the radio is on and it's on Channel 16.
  • Press/Hold the trasnmit button.
  • Speak slowly and clearly, saying: MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY
  • Give the following information: Vessel Name and/or description; Nature of emergency; position and/or location; number of people aboard.
  • Release the Transmit Button.
  • Wait for 10 seconds. If no response, repeat "MAYDAY" call again.
  • If not in immediate danger, follow the same steps as above, except do not use the word "MAYDAY."

Q) What if I just want to contact a fellow boater?
A) Here's an example:
  • Call the vessel on channel 9 or 16 in the following manner.
  • Name the station being called, speaking it three times.
  • Say "This is" and name your vessel or call sign.
  • Say "Over."
  • Wait for the station being called to answer. The answer should be made in the same manner as your call.
  • When answered, ask the station to move to a working channel.
  • Say "Over."
  • Wait for a reply, then switch to the working channel.
Here's an example call: 
  • Calling station: "Coho One, Coho One, Coho One, This is motor vessel Salmon Man OR 760 ZD, Over.
  • Responding station: "Salmon Man, Salmon Man, Salmon Man, this is Coho One, OR 82 XY, Over.
  • Calling station: "Please switch and listen channel 68, over."
  • Responding station: "Switching channel 68, over."
  • You then switch to channel 68 and call Coho One using the same procedure. All conversations should be kept short and to the point.