The Captain Rob Cozen
Certified Marine Surveyor NewsLetter
February 2001 Archive


Misuse of the VHF radio is a real problem on busy waterways, where the frequencies with specified uses are overcrowded with idle chatter between boats. The FCC has strict regulations for the of use of VHF radios, but these regulations (See Chapman Piloting, chapter 22) are not sufficient by themselves to keep the airways clear, and too many skippers seem unaware of the regulations anyway. Skippers must know the regulations and have the courtesy to observe the intent of the regulations as well; particularly these:

  1. Use Channel 16 for distress and hailing only.
  2. Keep communications as short as possible.
  3. Use minimum power (one watt) whenever possible.
  4. Listen before transmitting so you don't "step on" other calls.

Keep in mind the assigned purpose of the different VHF channels. Channel 16 is the most important one: It is the distress, safety and call frequency. It is also the most abused channel. It should be monitored by all vessels whenever the radio is turned on but not actively in use. Transmissions should be brief and to the point: "Serenity, Serenity, Serenity, this is the vessel Gutsy Gal, WJZ1234, Come in please, over" "Gutsy Gal, this is the vessel Serenity, WYX3212, switch and answer channel 72, channel 7-2" The reply..."Switching to channel 7-2" End of transmission on channel 16. If no reply is heard, wait two minutes before hailing again. If there is still no reply after three tries, hold off for fifteen minutes; your party is not listening or is out of range. Channel 6 is for the intership safety communications; with the emphasis of safety. Along with channel 16, all radios are required to have channel 6. Non-commercial craft, that is pleasure craft, have five assigned intership channels: 68, 69, 71, 72, and 78. To select a working channel, determine which of these is free of traffic before raising another vessel on channel 16, then switch to that channel as soon as contact is made. Noncommercial boats should use channel 9 to communicate with commercial vessels and with commercial shore facilities such as marinas and yacht clubs. Channel 13 is for navigational matters between ships (large vessels must monitor channel 13 in addition to channel 16) in constricted waters. An approaching barge can often be raised on channel 13. Locks and bridges typically monitor channel 13. It should always be used with only one watt of power. The Coast Guard delivers safety messages on channel 22(A), which is also used by pleasure craft to converse with the Coast Guard; although it is basicall used by the U.S. Government. Channels 25, 26, 27, 28 and 84 are the Marine Operator channels used to patch VHF radios in the local landlines i.e. for ordinary calls home. Cellular phones are a better alternative for the skipper who frequently needs landline service. Skippers who want to contact another boat can plan ahead by pre-arranging a VHF channel to monitor at a certain time of day (or a certain time during each hour; such as twenty minutes after every hour). Most modern radios can monitor at least two chancels simultaneously, so skippers can monitor the pre-determined channel and channel 16 at the same time. This plan can free up channel 16 for other uses. In a Future newsletter, I'll discuss the different levels of distress calls and the proper procedures to use when contacting the Coast Guard or other vessels.


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Captain Rob Cozen
Master Marine Surveyor
P.O. Box 220
Somers Point, NJ 08244
Office: (609) 926-4949 - Cell: (609) 335-1500
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copyright 1997, Captain Rob Cozen, all rights reserved.