How to Use a Marine Radio

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How to Use a Marine Radio
Use a Marine Radio

One of your most important boating necessities is a VHF two-way marine radio. They should be considered vital although the U.S. Coast Guard doesn't require you to have one unless your boat is over 20 meters (60 feet) in length. The good news is that they can be had for less than a hundred dollars. Thanks to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, recreational boaters no longer need an FCC ship station license, unless they're traveling internationally. Here's how to use one.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • A marine radio
  • A boat

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  1. 1

    Once the radio is installed, turn on the power, set it to channel 16 or 9. Listen to make sure the channel is not in use. Key the mic and introduce yourself, requesting the vessel you want to reach, such as "La Runa La Runa, calling Sea Dancer. Over." Release the mic button. Since VHF licensing was eliminated, you no longer have to announce your radio call sign. As soon as the vessel that you're calling responds, the crew member will announce that she is switching to another to continue the conversation, such as "This is Sea Dancer, La Runa, Switching to channel 65. Over" You have to keep Channel 16 clear. If the vessel you're trying to reach does not respond, you are allowed two more tries. Wait at least 15 minutes before hailing again.

  2. 2

    Channel 16 is the most important marine channel. Calling the Coast Guard on Channel 16 is the equivalent of dialing 911. Your call will be answered promptly. If it isn't an emergency, you'll be asked to shift to another channel. 16 used to be the general hailing channel. Today the Coast Guard prefers that recreational boaters hail other boaters on Channel 9, a change that is now mandatory on the Great Lakes. Hails to vessel assist, shore boats or dock masters are still allowed universally on Channel 16.

  3. 3

    Learn the marine alphabet and how to say your numbers: A - Alpha, B - Bravo, C - Charlie, D - Delta, E - Echo, F - Fox-trot, G - Golf, H - Hotel, I - India, J - Juliet, K - Kilo, L - Lima, M - Mike, N - November, O - Oscar, P - Papa, Q - Quebec, R - Romeo, S - Sierra, T - Tango, U - Uniform, V - Victor, W - Whiskey, X - X-ray, Y - Yankee and Z - Zulu .

    1 - wun 2 - too 3 - tree 4 - fow er 5 - fife 6 - six 7 - seven 8 - ait 9 - nin er 0 - zero For numbers bigger than nine go digit by digit.

  4. 4

    Make sure that your radio can monitor marine weather reports from the agency with the apt acronym NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. I check the forecast each time before I leave the dock. While underway, you should monitor Channel 16 or 9.

  5. 5

    Most importantly, know how to call for help. The term "may day" comes from the French term "M'aidez" which is pronounced "may day." It literally means "help me." Only use this call when your vessel is in dire straits, like a major fire on board or if it's in imminent danger of sinking. Use channel 16. Repeat mayday three times, give the name of the vessel, also spoken three times, and the call sign or registration number spoken once. Add mayday again. Give the vessel's position in longitude and latitude or by bearing of a landmark. Be sure to use nautical miles for distance. Describe the nature of the distress the kind of assistance needed, the number of people on board and describe the vessel to aid in the rescue. Finish with the word "Over," wait a bit for a response then repeat as needed. Here's an example "Mayday Mayday Mayday. This is Sea Dancer, Sea Dancer, Sea Dancer, Kilo Lima Fox Trot Fife Four Two Niner Struck a partially submerged cargo container. On a course bearing three four five magnetic en route from Rosarita estimate ait miles from Southeast Basin Long Beach Harbor. Three adults on board. Need pumps and tow. Estimate can keep afloat thirty minutes. Sea Dancer is a white Erickson tree fife foot sloop. Over." If you are not in severe danger, but still experience an emergency like the heart attack of a crew member, follow the same procedure using the call "pan - pan" sometimes pronounced "pahn," instead of "mayday."

Tips and warnings

  • If you hear a mayday call and it is not answered, you must answer and try to offer assistance if possible.
  • If you call mayday without an emergency, you can be subjected to felony prosecution and fined $5,000 plus all cost incurred by the Coast Guard in responding to your false alarm.

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