Very High Frequency - Frequency Modulated (VHF-FM) marine radio communications is used for a wide variety of purposes, including summoning rescue services and communicating with boats, harbors and marinas

    Very High Frequency - Frequency Modulated (VHF-FM) marine radio communications
    is used for a wide variety of purposes, including summoning rescue services and communicating with boats, harbors and marinas, and operates in the VHF frequency range, between 156 to 174 MHz.   A marine VHF set is a combined transmitter and receiver and only operates on standard frequencies known as channels.   A transmit button on the set or microphone determines whether it is operating as a transmitter or a receiver.   Transmission power ranges between 1 and 25 watts, giving a maximum range of up to about 60 nautical miles between aerials mounted on tall ships and hills, and up to about 5 nautical miles between aerials mounted on small boats at sea-level.   Marine VHF radios can also receive weather radio broadcasts, where they are available, on receive-only channels wx1, wx2, etc.

    The accepted conventions for use of marine radio are collectively termed "proper operating procedure".   These conventions include:

      * Listening for 2 minutes before transmitting
      * Using Channel 16 only to establish communication (if necessary) and then switch to a different channel
      * using a set of international "calling" procedures such as the "Mayday" distress call, and the "Pan-Pan" urgency call
      * using "pro-words" based on the English language such as Acknowledge, All after, All before, All stations, Confirm,
         Correct, Correction, In figures, In letters, Over, Out, Radio check, Read back, Received, Repeat, Say again, Spell,
         Standby, Station calling, This is, Wait, Word after, Word before, Wrong
      * using the NATO phonetic alphabet: Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, Foxtrot, Golf, Hotel, India, Juliet, Kilo, Lima, Mike,
         November, Oscar, Papa, Quebec, Romeo, Sierra, Tango, Uniform, Victor, Whiskey, X-ray, Yankee, Zulu
      * using a phonetic numbering system based on the English language: Wun, Too, Tree, Fow-er, Fife, Six, Sev-en, Ait,
         Nin-er, Zero, Decimal

    An FCC ship station radio license is NOT required for any vessel traveling in U.S. waters which uses a VHF marine radio, radar or EPIRB, and which is not required to carry radio equipment.   However, a license is necessary for any vessel required to carry a marine radio, on an international voyage, or carrying an HF single sideband radiotelephone or marine satellite terminal.   FCC license forms, including applications for ship and land station radio licenses, can be downloaded from the FCC site.


US Marine VHF Radio - Permitted Uses

Use these VHF Channels

DISTRESS SAFETY AND CALLING – Use this channel to get the attention of another station (calling) or in emergencies (distress and safety).


INTERSHIP SAFETY – Use this channel for ship-to-ship safety messages and for search and rescue messages and ships and aircraft of the Coast Guard.


COAST GUARD LIAISON – Use this channel to talk to the Coast Guard (but first make contact on Channel 16)


NONCOMMERCIAL – Working channels for voluntary boats.   Messages must be about the needs of the ship.   Typical uses include fishing reports, rendezvous,scheduling repairs and berthing information.   Use Channels 67 and 72 only for ship-to-ship messages.

9, 68, 69, 71, 72, 78A, 79A, 80A

COMMERCIAL – Working channels for working ships only.   Messages must be about business or the needs of the ship.   Use channels 8, 67, 72 and 88 only for ship-to-ship messages.

1A, 7A, 8, 9, 10, 11, 18A,
19A, 63A, 67, 72, 79A, 80A, 88A

PUBLIC CORRESPONDENCE (MARINE OPERATOR) – Use these channels to call the marine operator at a public coast station.   By contacting a public coast station, you can make and receive calls from telephones on shore.   Except for distress calls, public coast stations charge for this service.

24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 84, 85, 86

PORT OPERATIONS – These channels are used in directing the movement of ships in or near ports, locks or waterways.   Messages must be about the operational handling movement and safety of ships.   In certain major ports, Channels 11,12 and are not available for general port operations messages.   Use channel 20 only for ship-to-coast messages.   Channel 77 is limited to intership communications to and from pilots.

1A, 5A, 12, 14, 20,
63A, 65A, 66A, 73, 74, 77

NAVIGATIONAL – (Also known as the bridge-to-bridge channel.)   This channel is available to all ships.   Messages must be about ship navigation, for example, passing or meeting other ships.   You must keep your messages short.   Your power output must not be more than one watt.   This is also the main working channel at most locks and drawbridges.

13, 67

MARITIME CONTROL – This channel may be used to talk to ships and coast stations operated by state or local governments.   Messages must pertain to regulation and control, boating activities, or assistance to ships.


DIGITAL SELECTIVE CALLING (DSC) – Use this channel for distress and safety calling and for general purpose calling using only DSC techniques.


    For more information on marine Very High Frequency (VHF) radiotelephone channels see...

    U.S. Coast Guard – US VHF Marine Radio Channels

    For information on marine High Frequency (HF) radiotelephone channels (single-sideband radio) see...

    U.S. Coast Guard – HF Marine Radiotelephone Channels

    Can You Hear Me? – An introduction to radio communications for the recreational mariner.   This 7-part slideshow covers emergency signaling, the advent of Rescue 21, the VHF radio, the Digital Selective Calling (DSC) VHF radio, equipping your boat with a VHF/DSC radio, installing your VHF/DSC radio, and emergency and routine VHF/DSC operation.   A highly informative presentation brought to you courtesy of the USCG and the BoatU.S. Foundation.

    MMSI Registration for VHF/DSC – BoatU.S. is authorized by both the Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Coast Guard to assign MMSI (Maritime Mobile Service Identity) numbers to vessels with DSC capable radios that are not required by law to carry a radio, and do not make international voyages or communications.   BoatU.S. is responsible for relaying the MMSI registration information to the U.S. Coast Guard for search and rescue purposes.