VHF Marine Radio Procedures

(Supplied by the North Pacific Marine Radio Council and U.S. Coast Guard)

Guidelines for the use of marine VHF radio

VHF equipment should be used correctly and in accordance with FCC radio regulations. If you call on Channel 16, before speaking, find a clear working channel to switch to, and prepare remarks to ensure that no time is wasted on a busy channel. When calling, state the name of the ship or coast station you are addressing (twice in heavy traffic conditions or if the connection is weak) followed by the phrase, "this is…" and the ship's name twice, followed by the call sign. In answering, reply using the ship's name. If necessary to switch channels, so indicate and wait for acknowledgement before carrying out the change. If you understand a transmission say, "Message received." The end of a communication is indicated by the word "out."

Example of proper calling

Blue Duck: "Mary Jane, this is Blue Duck, waz1234."

Mary Jane: "Blue Duck, Mary Jane."

Blue Duck: "Reply 68."

(USCG website information: www.navcen.uscg.gov/marcomms/boater.htm

VHF Radio Checks Moved to VHF Channel 09

If you’ve been calling the Coast Guard on VHF Channel 16 for a radio check, use VHF Channel 09 instead. Channel 16 is not for the purpose of radio checks. This from a Coast Guard communication dated October 19, 2020.

For a Digital Selective Calling (DSC) test call, do the following:
Enter the US Coast Guard’s coast station group identity “003669999” into the radio’s DSC memory. Once entered and stored, follow these steps to make a DSC test call:
1. Select “Test Call” from the radio’s DSC menu
2. Select the USCG number entered into memory
3. Transmit the call

The information sheet says the radio display should indicate when the test call is acknowledged and display the acknowledging station’s nine-digit identity. That identity may be different from the group identity previously entered into memory. Marine radios transmitting and successfully receiving a response from a DSC test call can be expected to operate acceptably in the voice mode as well.

Sea Tow Automated Radio Check Discontinued on October 2, 2020.
Source:  https://mariners.coastguard.blog/2020/10/19/performing-a-vhf-marine-radio-check/


Channel 16

Used only for distress and urgency traffic, safety calls and contacting other stations. Listen first to ascertain that the channel is clear. Do not transmit if a SEELONCE MAYDAY or SEELONCE DISTRESS is declared. Keep communication short. Do not repeat a call to the same station more than once every two minutes and wait at least fifteen minutes after the third try. Do not call marinas for moorage on 16—use 66A. In US waters pleasure craft are authorized to use Channel 9 as a calling channel.

Channel 13

is designated "bridge to bridge" and is intended for use between the bridges of vessels over 20 meters in length to reduce the chance of accidents. Channel 13 may only be used to transmit information necessary for the safe navigation of vessels. It is the backup channel for the Puget Sound Vessel Traffic Service.

Channel 14

is the Vessel Traffic Service channel in Puget Sound. Channel 5A is used in the US waters of Admiralty Inlet, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and San Juan Islands. These channels are used by vessels required to participate in the PSVTS, but all vessels operating in commercial traffic areas are encouraged to monitor them to become aware of major vessel movements and hazardous conditions. Emergency communication will be accepted from any vessel by the Seattle Traffic watch. Use low power (1 watt).

VHF Marine Radio Channels & Frequencies

Channel Number

Frequency (MHz)

Communication Purpose

Distress, Safety Calling
16 156.800 International Distress, Safety and Calling
70 156.525 Digital Selective Calling Only. NO VOICE
Intership Safety
06 156.300 Intership Safety Only
Coast Guard
22A 157.100 U.S. and Canadian Coast Guard Liaison & Safety
Non-Commercial - Pleasure Craft Working Frequencies
09 156.450 Intership/Ship to Shore
67 156.375 Intership (U.S. only)
68 156.425 Intership/Ship to Shore
69 156.475 Intership/Ship to Shore
71 156.625 Intership/Ship to Shore (U.S. only)
72 156.675 Intership(U.S. only)
78A 156.925 Intership/Ship to Shore, some U.S. marinas
Navigation/Port Operations – Use low power only
13 156.650 Vessel Bridge to Bridge (Mandatory for >100 tons) U.S. only: Locks and Bridges
14 156.700 Vessel Traffic System (Puget Sound)
5A 156.250 Vessel Traffic System (Straits)
11 156.550 Vessel Traffic System (B. C.– Victoria)
12 156.600 Vessel Traffic System (B. C. – Vancouver)
66A 156.325 All Marinas in Puget Sound and Canada
73 156.575 Port Operations
74 156.725 Vessel Traffic System (B. C. – Fraser R. and Tofino)
  1. In B.C. Channel 66A is used to call all marinas. The FCC requests that all U.S, marinas use Channel 66A. Also in Canada, Channels 11, 12, 13, 71 & 74 are reserved for vessel traffic management. In Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca Channels 5A and 14 are reserved for vessel traffic use.
  2. A VHF Ship Station license and a Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit are required if your VHF radio is used in foreign waters (including Canada and Mexico), for vessels over 20 meters in length. (www.fcc.gov).
  3. Intership Channels 67 & 72 can now be used for communication between commercial and noncommercial vessels (same as Channel 9) in Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and in British Columbia.
  4. The noncommercial (pleasure craft) intership frequencies are: United States: 09, 67, 68, 69, 72, 73, 78A
    British Columbia: 09, 67, 68, 69, 72, 73

~ From the FCC and DOC (Canada) and provided by the North Pacific Marine Radio Council.

The Coast Guard does not advocate cellular phones as a substitute for the regular maritime radio distress and safety systems recognized by the Federal Communications Commission. However, cellular phones can have a place on board as an added measure of safety.

For more information, consult the pamphlet VHF-FM Frequencies for Pleasure Vessels published annually by the Recreation Boating Association of Washington (www.rbaw.org) and North Pacific Marine Radio Council. The FCC public information telephone number is 1-888-225-5322

Power? Try one watt first if the station being called is within a few miles. If there is no answer you may switch to higher power.