Importance of Having VHF Radio Communications On Board

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Many new boaters may be unfamiliar with the waterways as well as traditional communication methods.  Both these factors have resulted in the marine VHF radio becoming an essential piece of equipment. As a result, most commercial users and new consumers are recommended to use marine VHF radio as their primary communication and navigational tool.

Why should you Avoid Using Cellular Phones onboard?

Cell Phone vs. VHF Radio

In some cases, cellular phones may not be as effective as VHF Marine Radio. Having a cell phone onboard allows you to keep in touch with land-based contacts and businesses easily but they shouldn’t be used in place of a very high frequency (VHF) radio. Here are some things to consider when it comes to cell phones.

What is a "Marine VHF Radio"?

A Very High Frequency (VHF) Marine Radio is not necessary for recreational boats under 65.5 feet long, but it provides fast communication between your boat and other boats, marinas, bridges, and the US Coast Guard (USCG).

It is the primary means of communication on coastal waterways, and it has a significant advantage over a mobile phone, a CB radio, or any other way of communication.

Most VHF Marine Radios also provide 24-hour access to NOAA weather forecasts.

Why do we need Marine VHF?

VHF marine-band radios have been around for a long time and are still the primary means of communication for vessels all throughout the United States. Unless you’re within shouting distance of shore, VHF radios should be your “go-to” equipment in an emergency. The following are the most common uses of VHF radio:

We recommend using either hand-held or fixed-mount VHF radios for reliable on-the-water communications. A VHF radio might be your lifesaver assistant if you have engine trouble, get stranded due to a storm, or are in a serious emergency.  VHFs are monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week in Coast Guard jurisdictions. The USCG and Vessel Assist towers can locate your boat by tracing your VHF signal for more assurance, but they can’t do so with a cell phone.

Do I need a license for a VHF Marine Radio?

As of October 26, 1996, most recreational boaters traveling within the United States are no longer required to obtain an individual Ship Station License from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). However, boaters still need a VHF Ship Station License in the following categories:

Digital Selective Calling (DSC)

All new radios, and some older ones, have Digital Selective Calling (DSC) capability which has the equivalent of a “mayday button.”. ” All new fixed-mount VHF radios come with this one-button feature, which is usually labeled “DISTRESS.” When activated, DSC radios broadcast an automated DISTRESS alert (on Channel 70) to the USCG and other nearby DSC and VHF-equipped vessels. If your radio is interfaced with your GPS, it will automatically broadcast the location of the troubled vessel. You’ll need an MMSI (Maritime Mobile Service Identity) number to use DSC. DSC radio has several useful features, such as calling or hailing a fellow boater or a group of boaters who are cruising or fishing together. You can accomplish this with the click of a button instead of having to hail by speaking into the microphone if you know their DSC numbers.

Going the Distance - EPIRBs and PLBs

If you’re planning an offshore trip, keep in mind that VHF radios and cellular phones have a limited range, approximately 15 to 25 miles from the coast.

Emergency Beacons

A satellite Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) or a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) may be your only hope for rescue if you need help or assistance in an emergency.

When all other communications fail, these beacons are part of a global crisis system that is meant to immediately and reliably alert rescue personnel, identify an accurate location, and route rescue units to the distress site. When these units are turned on, they send out a unique signal that includes your location as well as, in some cases, detailed information about your vessel. These beacons are required by law to be registered in order for rescue teams to have accurate information. PLBs can also be used for hiking and other trips, allowing vessel information to be updated to reflect a different activity with a different description.

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