Chapter 2: Boating Safety

Very High-Frequency Radiotelephone (VHF)

Now to discuss the different tools and equipment to use when an emergency presents itself, starting with the Very High-Frequency Radiotelephone (VHF).

A VHF does not need to be approved by the U.S. Coast guard to be used. Recreational boats, under 20 meters long, are not legally required to have a station license in order to operate a VHF radio unless they travel to any foreign ports or transmit to any foreign stations. The U.S. Coast Guard enforces the use of VHF radios even though the device itself does not need to be U.S. Coast Guard approved. However, the U.S. Coast Guard enforces the proper use of VHF channels.

If your vessel is over 20 meters, travels to foreign ports, or communicate with foreign stations, a station license to operate a VHF radio is required.

Recreation boaters will only have access to the following channels:

Channel Number Channel Purpose
6 Inter-ship safety communications only
9 Commercial and non-commercial inter-ship communication channel
13 Ship to bridge tenders, locks, or tugs while towing (for ocean-going vessels)
16 Distress safety and calling, call U.S. Coast Guard. For hailing other vessels (establishing general contact)
22 Recreational and commercial communications with the Coast Guard. Also used for severe weather warnings, navigation hazards, and other safety information
24-28, 84-86 Public telephone calls. Used to contact the marine operator at public stations
66, 69, & 71 Non-commercial inter-ship and ship to coast communications
70 "Alert channel" for Digital Selective Calling (DSC)

Weather conditions are broadcasted on WX-1, WX-2, WX-3, etc., and feature forecasts which are updated at least every six hours; more frequently updated, as needed.

Certain VHF radiotelephones are capable of Digital Selective Calling (DSC). By sending out a distress alert to the Coast Guard and other rescue authorities, these VHF-DSC radios are one of the most effective ways to call for help in the event of an emergency. These devices can signal for assistance and, in certain cases, even transmit your vessel’s coordinates to rescue authorities automatically. When purchasing a VHF radiotelephone, be sure to consult the owner’s manual to get familiar with its features and operation.