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How to Use a VHF Radio

A VHF Radio Could Save Your Life
If you don't already own one, consider purchasing a Very High Frequency (VHF) marine radio. VHF radios have channels which are reserved for distress calls and are continuously monitored by the U.S. Coast Guard. Don't think it's enough to just carry your cell phone on board - there no no cell phone towers 20 miles offshore and cells have a way of going dead when you need them the most! You have a much greater chance of being heard (and helped) by another boater using VHF.

Which Channels To Use
Channel 16 - hailing & distress (note: do not use Channel 16 for radio checks - try one of the non-commercial working channels first)

Pan-Pan (pronounced pahn-pahn) should be used when there is a risk to the safety of the crew and vessel, but that risk falls below the threshold of immediate and grave.

Security (pronounced securi-tay) is the lowest-priority call and involves messages relating to safety and traffic, such as serious hazards to navigation.

Channel 22 -
Coast Guard Liaison

Channel 81 -
Coast Guard Working

working channels for recreational boaters include - 09, 67, 68, 69, 71, 72, 78, 79, and 80.

Channel 03:

Channels 28 & 85:
Marine Operator

The Phonetic Alphabet
Use this alphabet to spell your vessel name if the person you're communicating with can't understand you.

A - Alpha
B -
C -
D -
E -
F -
G -
H -
I -
J -
K -
L -
M -
N - November
- Oscar
P -
Q -
R -
S -
T -
U -
V -
W -
X -
Y -
Z -

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How To Make A Mayday Call

Select channel 16 on your VHF radio and transmit: "MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY - This is (name of boat three times, call letters once)." Repeat once more, "MAYDAY" and your boat's name. Report your location. Report the nature of your emergency. Report the kind of assistance needed. Report the number of people onboard and condition of any injured. Describe the boat and its seaworthiness.

Then wait for a response. If there is none, repeat the message.

Operating Procedures
Ship-to-ship communications are usually initiated on Channel 16. Immediately after contact is established, the communicating vessels are require to shift to an appropriate "working" channel. A typical contact and shift would proceed roughly as follows:

"Bluejay, Bluejay, this is Red Robin"
"Red Robin, this is Bluejay."
"Bluejay, switch to six-eight."
"Roger, Red Robin, switching to six-eight."
(Both vessels switch to Channel 68)

After the communication has ended, you might want to announce that you have completed the call and are returning to Channel 16.
"Red Robin back to 16."

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