What Does Your Radio Say About You?

As with all things in life there are rules and etiquette governing our behavior. Breaking a rule gets your wrist slapped. Breaking etiquette shows ignorance or unconcern or perhaps self-importance. I illustrate using VHF radio as my example.

VHF channel 16 is the distress, safety and calling frequency.
VHF channel 9 as a supplementary calling channel for noncommercial vessels (recreational boaters).

Do not continue chatting on channel 16 after hailing.  Once you have contacted a vessel you should move your conversation to a “working channel”. That is, one designated as “non-commercial” such as channel 68 (six eight)

Example of seasoned mariner:
OK, what does that represent in the real world?  Example of a professional, experienced captain hailing another vessel:
Mary Jane, this is Ducky, over
Ducky, this is Mary Jane,  switch and answer channel 72, seven two, over
Seven two out

That’s it. They can now conduct business or chit chat without stressing the bandwidth on 16.  This really matters when it’s you calling the Mayday and you have exactly 8 seconds to get out as much info as you can to the Coast Guard before your radio is at the bottom of the seas.  There is nothing quite like hearing the laconic exchange of two tugs passing:
“Chubby Tug. This is Doldrums. One whistle.”
“This is Chubby Tug. One whistle understood. Out.

Example of a typical recreational boater trying to be friendly:
Mary Jane, Mary Jane, Mary Jane. This is Poker Face, the trawler right off your left, uh, port, uh stern.”
Hello Poker Face, this is Mary Jane. Good morning.
Hi Mary Jane. Good morning. If you slow down I will try to give you a slow pass to minimize my wake and not rock your boat….over
OK Poker Face. That’s very kind of you. I will slow down up here as soon as you get close enough. OK?
OK, 10-4. Thank you Mary Jane.
Boat passes…
Poker Face, Poker Face, Poker Face. Thank you for that fine, slow pass.  See you in Timbuktu.”
You’re welcome Mary Jane. Have a nice day. Over and out.”

Perfectly friendly conversation. CONVERSATION. This is NOT hailing!  Take the conversation to a working channel. Please.

Despite being on my soapbox about how we don’t want to hear about last night’s dinner party or tonight’s plans on Channel 16,  be assured we are following your conversation up to Channel 68 to hear the gossip! Oh, and one more point on over friendliness on the air, no matter how nicely you chat up the bridge tender it will not get him to open his bridge any faster or to open it just as a favor to you. It’s his job to open the bridge. He has to open the bridge. There are big fines for bridge tenders who do not open their bridge – bridge schedules considered, of course.

Over” means you are waiting for the other vessel’s reply. Only one person can transmit at a time on the radio so this clues the other person in that the air is clear and ready for their response.
Out” means the conversation has finished.  You do not say “over and out”. Those terms call for two contradictory behaviors.
Roger” means you have received the transmission.
Affirmative” means you agree.
Wilco” means you will comply.
10-4” means you are a trucker on a CB and need to get off the waterway and back on land.

An even better way to keep the airways clear is to use sound signals. Cheap, easy, and local. The whole world does not need to know you are passing another vessel.  Considering that a VHF radio is only required on vessels 20m (65.6 ft) or bigger, and many smaller vessels may not even have a radio, you need to know these 3 simple sound signals.

Sound signals you need to know:
Vessel doing the passing initiates negotiations for the pass by sounding either one whistle or two whistles (short blasts of a horn).
One whistle means you intend to leave the slower vessel to your port (port = one syllable = one whistle).
Two whistles means you intend to leave the slower vessel to your starboard (starboard = two syllables = two whistles).

The slower vessel, being passed, looks around to determine your intention will be safe and will not put him in danger and responds in like – one whistle to your one whistle, or two whistles to your two whistles.
IF the slower vessel determines the plan has a problem he sounds the danger signal – 5 short whistles.

More etiquette:
There is no need to say the vessels name THREE times. Say it once.  If there is no response then say it twice “Mary Jane, Mary Jane this is Ducky”. Wait for their response. If no response, then say it three times.  If there is still no response, go make coffee and plan your next anchorage.  See USCG’s Radio Information for Boaters and scroll down to PROCEDURE FOR CALLING A SHIP BY RADIO

This is not intended to be a comprehensive instruction on using your VHF radio but just a highlight of the more pervasive and annoying mistakes heard in almost every transmission by the yachties.  I hope this helps you demonstrate you are a seasoned mariner and not the  newbie boater that just bought a cool radio on Amazon.

So good night Good Buddies, 10-4 and over and out.

For your reference, US VHF channel assignments:

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)

2 thoughts on “What Does Your Radio Say About You?”

  1. We newbees to this boating stuff and ICW travel appreciate the help your offering. I did find a couple of books on boating that helped me. Where can I get info on any hands on courses? Thank you .

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