Using Your VHF Radio

January 27, 2014

Leave it to those Hollywood movies to teach all us boaters a bad habit or two. When they've run out of gas and are running late for a wedding, the first response for actors on the big screen seems to be to grab the radio microphone and start shouting MAYDAY! But while that may be fine for dramatic effect, it's the last thing you should do in real life.

Understand that if there’s one piece of safety equipment on your boat that rivals a life jacket in terms of being valuable to you (and your guests) in an emergency, it’s your VHF marine radio (either handheld or fixed-mount). When you’re out of cell phone service coverage (or the battery’s dead or you left it on your charger at home), your VHF radio can summon the help you need in the case of an accident. Certain frequencies, such as channels 9 and 16, are monitored by the Coast Guard (or other boating law enforcement agency) and, when used properly, a marine radio can be an effective way to communicate with other vessels, along with harbormasters and marinas, for various reasons.

And it’s important to know and respect the appropriate etiquette for using a VHF radio to make sure your messages are clearly understood and a proper response can be put into effect. Here are some key points to remember when using your marine radio.