Proper Use of a VHF radio
The VHF radio is a very important safety feature aboard sail and power boats but is also the standard form of communication between other boats, marinas, and the USCG. The VHF, standing for “Very High Frequency” is simple to operate but also needs to be used properly, lets review operation and proper use of the VHF.

The VHF is made up of three basic components. The antenna (usually at the top of the mast), the interface, and the receiver (the mic). The antenna and the mic are pretty self explanatory but the interface has serval settlings, modes, buttons, etc., that your should know the use of.

Keep in mind, the VHF can only be used within line of sight for most boats. If the boat you are hailing is on the other side of the Island or 20+ miles away, the VHF will likely not work.

Power Setting– You can select between high and low powers and should always use the radio on the low setting until you are not being received, this keeps the radio clear for others.

Channel Selections– Allows for frequency change and use of channels as intended, more on this below.

Squelch– Filters out static, turn the squelch all the way to the left and then back to the right until the static noise stops. Too high of a squelch will filter everything out so tuning it just until the static stops is the proper squelch setting.

Volume– Controls the speaker volume of the transmission being received

DSC– Normally a red button under a protective cap, the “Digital Selective Calling” sends a distress alert to the USCG. Not all radios are equipped with DSC and this is for emergency use only.

WX-  24 hour NOAA weather broadcast loop for you local area

While a complete list of channels and their use can be found here, we have summarized the most common below. It’s very important to use each channel as intended and to monitor channel 16 at all times.

9– Used to hail other boats (“calling”) and then switch to “working channel”
16– Emergency channel used by the USCG and “calling channel”. Never use 16 as a “working channel”.
22- Used by the USCG after calling on 16 and for Maritime Safety Information Broadcasts. A notice of broadcast will first go out on 16 and then switched to 22.
68,69,70,71,72- Working channels used for ship to ship communication that can be previously established or used after first calling on 9 or 16.

Although not by the book, the VHF can be used to communicate with marinas, local ports, other boats in a fairly informal manner except in emergency situations.

When hailing (calling) for another boat, the radio operator should use the example below to hail a boat and switch to a working channel:

Nancy Jean, Nancy Jean, Nancy Jean, this is Luna Sea, Over.

Luna Sea, this is Nancy Jean, Over.

Nancy Jean, switch to channel 68, Over.

Luna Sea, Luna Sea, Luna Sea, this is Nancy Jean on 68, Over.

…… conversation continues.

MAYDAY, PAN-PAN, AND SECUITY are three calls you and your crew should know how to make and understand using channel 16.

Mayday– This call is made when in immediate distress of sinking, fire, crew overboard, medical emergency, etc. and all boaters receiving this transmission are required to render assistance.

Example of a Mayday call

MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDE, this is TITANIC, TITANIC, TITANIC, MAYDAY. Position 41.7325 N, 49.9469 W, taking on water and abandoning ship. 2,240 crew and passengers onboard, require immediate recovery of people in the water, OVER.

Pan-Pan– A pan-pan call is a step below mayday and is made to report an urgent problem but not a life threating emergency. A Pan-Pan can be upgraded to a Mayday or a Mayday and be downgraded to a Pan-Pan.

Example of Pan-Pan call

PAN-PAN, PAN-PAN, PAN-PAN, this is EVER GIVEN, PAN-PAN. Position 30.0176 N, 32.5801 E, we are hard aground and blocking northbound transit of the Suez Canal, OVER.

Security– Actually pronounced SAY-CURE-IT-TAY, is a general broadcast notice for mariners to be aware of large ship movements or other hazards to navigation. We hear this all the time in San Diego with the Navy.

Example of Security call

SECURITY, SECURITY, SECURITY, attention all stations. This is WAR SHIP 07 conduction left turns in the vicinity of 32.3915 N, 117.2314W. All vessels must maintain 5 miles separation. WAR SHIP 07, OUT.