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