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A VHF Marine Walkie Talkie is an essential piece of equipment in coastal waters. Marine radio allows instant communication between your boat and other boats, marinas, bridges, and the United States Coast Guard. Most VHF Marine Radios also have instant access to NOAA weather forecasts, 24 hours a day.
Using a marine radio may appear to be pretty straightforward, but you have to know some rules, procedures and the most important frequencies to fully utilize this critical communication device.
If you are in distress, use the words MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY to get the attention of others listening on the channel. “MAYDAY” is to be used ONLY in an emergency in which the boat and/or persons on board are in imminent danger of sinking or major injury or death. MAYDAY calls are serious business. Issuing a MAYDAY call for something not immediately threatening loss of life, serious injury or loss of property is subject to a $10,000.00 fine.
The Federal Communications Commission established VHF-FM channel 9 as a supplementary calling channel for noncommercial vessels (recreational boaters) at the request of the Coast Guard. Radio traffic is monitored by all boats with radios on and by the Coast Guard on Channel 16. This is known as the distress frequency. Channel 13 serves as the navigation and piloting channel. Other important channels include 22A, which is the channel the Coast Guard uses to broadcast weather warnings, navigational hazards and other vital facts. Storm warnings and forecasts are also made by NOAA Weather Radio.
Digital Selective Calling (DSC)
DSC protocol is a globally applied system used to send and receive digital calls. DSC uses a unique Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) number to direct DSC calls directly to your radio, much like a telephone number. When the DSC signal is received, the radio quickly switches over to channel 70 and performs the corresponding operation. DSC radio will send an automated digital distress signal that consists of your position and your MMSI number to other DSC-equipped vessels and rescue agencies within VHF radio range.
A rule change in 1996 allows U.S. recreational boaters operating in domestic waters to operate marine VHF, EPIRB’s and Radar without a license. If your boat will be traveling internationally or communicating with foreign stations, or if you will operate HF single side band or a marine satellite terminal (such as INMARSAT) then a license is required. Currently the Inmarsat Organization is the sole provider of worldwide maritime mobile satellite communications offering emergency calling capability.