Skipper’s Tip – VHF

With approximately 59 VHF marine channels available to us there is often confusion as to what channels are to be used.  Hopefully this tip will clear some of the fog.

If the vessel has a VHF marine radio we are required to monitor channel 16.  Remember the Good Samaritan law where we are required to lend assistance to a vessel in distress?  This applies to distress messages heard over VHF as well as visual.  We also monitor 16 for navigational information & announcements.

Channel 16 is used for hailing and distress ONLY.  This means NO chit-chat and NO radio checks.  On 16 [pronounced “one six”] we can make distress calls for help, provide urgent navigational information, and make contact with another vessel.  After we make contact with another radio/person we must switch to a working channel to carry out the conversation.

Working channels available to us [pleasure vessels] are 68, 69, 70, and 71.  On these channels we can conduct boating information only.  A conversation such as “Joe order us a pizza and let’s go to the ball game tonight” is not an acceptable message as this does not directly relate to boating.  Also be aware channel 71 is sometimes used by Vessel Assist and tugs helping in ship movement.

A very useful channel is 14.  This is Vessel Traffic Service [VTS] for San Francisco bay inland.  Channel 12 is for VTS off shore.  This is useful to us for the tracking of commercial traffic movement.  Most all commercial vessels are required to check in with VTS prior to movement and as they pass certain waypoints.  With knowledge of vessel movement we can better access traffic that may be crossing our path and determining hazards.

An example for the use of channel 14 is when crossing the slot in fog.   If you  monitor 14 you will know if passenger ferries or ships are sharing the fog with you.

Channel 13 is used to communicate “bridge to bridge” .  This refers to ship’s bridge and not highway drawbridges. [ Some highway draw bridges monitor 13.]  This is useful if you need to communicate with a commercial vessel.  Use of this channel should  NOT be taken lightly and used ONLY in the event of an emergency or hazard to you or the other vessel.  Communications must be professional and concise.

An example of the use of 13 is if you lose power in a ship’s channel and there is commercial traffic bearing down on you, you could contact the Master on 13 to advise them of the situation.

Keep in mind that all communications on channels 13, 14, and 16 and some others are being recorded.

Submitted by Tradewinds Instructor Bill Yawn

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5 Responses to Skipper’s Tip – VHF

  1. Harry Chesley says:

    You say, “we are required to monitor channel 16.” But then say, “if you monitor 14 you will know…” How can we do both? Do we need to bring a portable VHF as well as the ship’s VHF?

    • ian Joseph says:

      Simply use the scan function on your VHF to automatically scan the two, or more channels for any activity.

    • TW-Matt says:

      Some don’t have scan functionality, but almost all VHFs now have “DW” – Dual Watch functionality. Go to 14 then hold down the button that has “DW” near it. This should monitor both channels. Worth noting: If you key the mic, you’ll be transmitting on 14, not 16. I use it a lot when I am working on a channel like 68 to communicate with the office or another boat, but want to also hear what is happening on channel 16.

    • Harry Chesley says:

      Yes, DW is great if you have it. And scan is great depending on how well it’s implemented — on some radios, you can lose half the conversation while the radio is off scanning other channels. Some radios have priority scan, where every other channel scanned is 16, so you’re less likely to miss something important. And some have memory scan, where you can select which channels are scanned — especially good for monitoring 16 and 14 (or 12 if you’re outside the Gate).

  2. ian Joseph says:

    There are other non-commerical channels available other than the 4 listed in Bill’s article, here is the full list:
    Channel Number Ship Transmit MHz Ship Receive MHz Use
    01A 156.050 156.050 Port Operations and Commercial, VTS. Available only in New Orleans / Lower Mississippi area.
    05A 156.250 156.250 Port Operations or VTS in the Houston, New Orleans and Seattle areas.
    06 156.300 156.300 Intership Safety
    07A 156.350 156.350 Commercial
    08 156.400 156.400 Commercial (Intership only)
    09 156.450 156.450 Boater Calling. Commercial and Non-Commercial.
    10 156.500 156.500 Commercial
    11 156.550 156.550 Commercial. VTS in selected areas.
    12 156.600 156.600 Port Operations. VTS in selected areas.
    13 156.650 156.650 Intership Navigation Safety (Bridge-to-bridge). Ships >20m length maintain a listening watch on this channel in US waters.
    14 156.700 156.700 Port Operations. VTS in selected areas.
    15 — 156.750 Environmental (Receive only). Used by Class C EPIRBs.
    16 156.800 156.800 International Distress, Safety and Calling. Ships required to carry radio, USCG, and most coast stations maintain a listening watch on this channel.
    17 156.850 156.850 State & local govt maritime control
    18A 156.900 156.900 Commercial
    19A 156.950 156.950 Commercial
    20 157.000 161.600 Port Operations (duplex)
    20A 157.000 157.000 Port Operations
    21A 157.050 157.050 U.S. Coast Guard only
    22A 157.100 157.100 Coast Guard Liaison and Maritime Safety Information Broadcasts. Broadcasts announced on channel 16.
    23A 157.150 157.150 U.S. Coast Guard only
    24 157.200 161.800 Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
    25 157.250 161.850 Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
    26 157.300 161.900 Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
    27 157.350 161.950 Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
    28 157.400 162.000 Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
    63A 156.175 156.175 Port Operations and Commercial, VTS. Available only in New Orleans / Lower Mississippi area.
    65A 156.275 156.275 Port Operations
    66A 156.325 156.325 Port Operations
    67 156.375 156.375 Commercial. Used for Bridge-to-bridge communications in lower Mississippi River. Intership only.
    68 156.425 156.425 Non-Commercial
    69 156.475 156.475 Non-Commercial
    70 156.525 156.525 Digital Selective Calling (voice communications not allowed)
    71 156.575 156.575 Non-Commercial
    72 156.625 156.625 Non-Commercial (Intership only)
    73 156.675 156.675 Port Operations
    74 156.725 156.725 Port Operations
    77 156.875 156.875 Port Operations (Intership only)
    78A 156.925 156.925 Non-Commercial
    79A 156.975 156.975 Commercial. Non-Commercial in Great Lakes only
    80A 157.025 157.025 Commercial. Non-Commercial in Great Lakes only
    81A 157.075 157.075 U.S. Government only – Environmental protection operations.
    82A 157.125 157.125 U.S. Government only
    83A 157.175 157.175 U.S. Coast Guard only
    84 157.225 161.825 Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
    85 157.275 161.875 Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
    86 157.325 161.925 Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
    87 157.375 157.375 Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
    88A 157.425 157.425 Commercial, Intership only.
    AIS 1 161.975 161.975 Automatic Identification System (AIS)
    AIS 2 162.025 162.025 Automatic Identification System (AIS)

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