Using aVHF Radio
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When making large open water crossings, paddling in fog or other times you might be a hazard to navigation you can send out a "Security" signal. On some advance programs we will use a Security message to warn other boaters that we are out there. Security is the third level of priority below Mayday and Pan. Security is used to report navigation or weather warnings. On these programs we will also keep our radios on to monitor channel 16. If we see a large ship or ferry we can call them on channel 16 to tell them where we are, where we are going and to ask what they would like us to do. These are all uses that make a VHF Radio indispensable. On a Long Island Crossing in eight foot seas we had on a VHF radio and heard the Coast Guard issue a Pan message that there were kayakers missing. I called them and told them we were all right. If not for the radio a search would have started. This is were a VHF out performs a cell phone.
Historically, channel 16 has been the "Distress and Hailing" channel, but that is now changing in many areas, because of over use. In those areas, channel 16 is for emergencies only, while channel 9 is for hailing. Ether way a VHF is not for chit-chat, but for "business" use only. The Coast Guard requests that you limit calls to 30 seconds. If you receive no reply, wait 2 minutes; then try again. Know the FCC rules and don't think having a radio will allow you to push limits.
Boater Calling Channel (VHF Channel 9)
The Federal Communications Commission has established VHF-FM channel 9 as a supplementary calling channel for noncommercial vessels (recreational boaters).
A ship or shore unit wishing to call a boater would do so on channel 9, and anyone (boaters included) wishing to call a commercial ship or shore activity would continue to do so on channel 16. Recreational boaters may continue to call the Coast Guard and any commercial facility on channel 16.
The purpose of the FCC regulation is to relieve congestion on VHF channel 16, the distress, safety and calling frequency. FCC regulations require boaters having VHF radios to maintain a watch on either VHF channel 9 or channel 16, whenever the radio is turned on and not communicating with another station.
The Coast Guard announces urgent marine information broadcasts and storm warnings on channel 9 in the First Coast Guard District only: waters off the coast of northern New Jersey, New York, and New England. For that reason, we strongly urge boaters to use channel 9 in these waters. Use of channel 9 in other waters is optional, and we recommend boaters keep tuned to and use channel 16 in those waters unless otherwise notified by the Coast Guard.
United States Radio Watchkeeping Regulations
U.S. recreational vessels not required to carry radios
Vessels not required to carry a marine radio (e.g. recreational vessels less than 20m length), but which voluntarily carry a radio, must maintain a watch on channel 16 (156.800 MHZ) whenever the radio is operating and not being used to communicate. Such vessels may alternatively maintain a watch on VHF channel 9 (156.450MHZ), the boater calling channel. Note however that urgent marine information broadcasts, such as storm warnings, are announced on channel 9 only in First CGDistrict waters (northern New Jersey, New York and New England).
U.S. vessels required to carry a marine radio
U.S. vessels required to carry a VHF marine radio, such as commercial fishing vessels, must maintain a watch on channel 16 (156.800 MHZ) while underway whenever the radio is not being used for exchanging communications.