Marine VHF radio
Tips for how to properly use your marine radio
A marine VHF radio set includes a combined transmitter and receiver and operates on standard international frequencies known as channels. Channel 16, the international calling and distress channel, should be monitored by all vessels underway.
VHF transmission power ranges between 1 and 25 watts, giving a maximum range of up to about 50 nautical miles between antennas mounted on tall ships and high elevations and 5 to 10 nautical miles between aerials mounted on small vessels at sea level.
Modern marine VHF radios also offer Digital Selective Calling capability, which allows you to send a distress signal by pressing a single button.
Don’t use Channel 16 for radio checks. Sea Tow offers free automated radio checks on VHF channels 24, 25, 26, 27, 28 and 84, depending on your location. An automated radio check lets you know if your radio is transmitting, and you can hear your test message played back to you to verify modulation and clarity. Visit Sea Tow for more information.
A handheld VHF radio makes a great backup radio. We use both on our boat, leaving our main fixed-mount VHF on Channel 16 and using our handheld for local short-distance communications to bridges and other vessels.
Most cruising guides include VHF calling information, which will help you become familiar with each individual area you plan on traveling through.
Boost your communications signal by taking our two-hour online All About Marine Radio seminar.