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While the advent of cellular telephones has brought a new tool for communication between boaters and help on shore, don’t forget, there are no cell phone towers 20 miles offshore and a VHF radio can make the difference between speedy assistance to a vessel in distress and hours of waiting for a ship to pass. There is still no way to find a boater on a cell phone since direction finding equipment cannot track them and cell phone batteries have a way of failing when you need them most. Even if your radio can’t be heard all the way to the coast, chances are, another boater will be able to hear you and relay your message. It’s always a good idea to have a marine radio on board, especially if you spend any amount of time boating in the ocean.

Knowing proper radio use and etiquette will also make boating safer and more enjoyable. One of the main things to remember is that Channel 16 is for Hailing and Distress. If you hear someone hailing “MAYDAY”, stay off the air until you are sure that the boater in distress has been able to reach the Coast Guard and assistance is on the way to them. Good communications during an emergency can literally mean the difference between life and death.

Another point to keep in mind is that when you’re “on the air”, everyone within range can hear you (including children). Please folks...Let’s keep the language clean. Profanity over the radio is not only inappropriate, it’s illegal.

While it’s a great idea to do a radio check periodically to make sure your equipment is in good working condition, why not try a channel other than Channel 16 first? With hundreds of boaters a day looking for radio checks on Channel 16, it is becoming increasingly difficult for boaters in distress to get through to help they need or contact other vessels in our waterways. Several years ago, due to excessive traffic on Channel 16, Channel 09 was designated as a secondary calling channel. Florida bridge operators monitor Channel 09, many of the marinas monitor 08 and there are usually a number of other boaters standing by on other channels who will be happy to help you. Many of the commercial interests in the area scan several different channels so, chances are, you’ll be able to test your radio without using Channel 16. Don’t forget...the Coast Guard doesn’t give radio checks on Channel 16 any more!

Another thing to remember about Channel 16 is that it’s not for conversation. Unless you have an immediate emergency and are trying to get help, conversations with friends and other boaters need to be conducted on another channel. Once you reach the boat you are hailing, switch to a “working channel”. When other boaters ask you to change to another channel, it’s good procedure to acknowledge that you heard them and are switching to the requested channel so that you have both confirmed that you’re going to the correct frequency. If you’re trying to reach a bridge tender, all the bridges in the State of Florida monitor Channel 09. The locks are on Channel 13 and neither will answer on 16.The FCC has designated certain channels for particular types of transmissions:

Channel 16:
Hailing & Distress

Channel 22:
Coast Guard Liaison

Channel 81:
Coast Guard Working

Non-Commercial working channels for recreational boats include:
09, 68, 69, 71, 72,
78, 79, 80, 67

For Weather in the Palm Beach County area:

For the Marine Operator in the Palm Beach County area:
28, 85

The primary purpose of a VHF Radio is SAFETY. It’s one of the cheapest forms of insurance you can have on your boat but keep in mind, VHF radio communications can be described with 2 words: Clarity and Brevity. Be clear and be brief; it’s not a CB or ham radio and you’re sharing the airwaves with hundreds of other boaters.

Have a Safe & Happy Boating Season! Thanks to Coast Guard Auxiliarists Chris Abernethy & Ray Agee (Jupiter One) for their contributions to this article.
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