Tips to Sound Like a Pro on Your VHF Radio

Tips to Sound Like a Pro on Your VHF Radio

“Calling any vessel … calling any vessel on Channel 16 for a radio check. Can anyone out there hear me?”
“Hey, Charlie, this is Harry; is that you?”
“Sure is, Harry.” Blah, blah, blah.
Then both parties proceed to blah, blah, blah at length about how the blah, blah, blah was that day.
These two gabbing boat buddies have committed several sins in their radio communications. Maybe we’ve committed one or two trespasses ourselves. So we’re carving them on a tablet now. Boat forth and sin no more.

Sin the First: Making a “general” radio call

“Calling any vessel” on your radio is not only incorrect procedure, but it can also get you a citation and possible fine from the FCC. You must always call a specific vessel or shore station. Whatever you do, never call the Coast Guard for a radio check. The Coast Guard is in the business of saving lives and property, not providing a service to check your radio.

Tip: To Test your radio on the air, monitor one of the ship-to-ship channels and listen for radio traffic. After two parties conclude a conversation, call one of them by name and request a radio check. You’ll see that most captains will gladly reply out of courtesy.  Sea Tow also provides automated radio checks on VHF channel 28. Simply key your mike and speak, and the system will play back your message so you can check clarity of the message.

Sin the Second: Not identifying yourself

FCC regulations require that each party identify himself by either radio call sign or boat name at the beginning and at the end of a radio communication. That said, a pleasure craft is required to have a radio station license and call sign only if the boat is 65 feet or more, is engaged in transporting six or more paying passengers, has a single sideband radio aboard or visits a foreign port including Canada, Mexico or the Bahamas.

Tip: If you don’t fit the above criteria, ID yourself by using your boat name.

Sin the Third: Misuse of VHF Channel 16

Channel 16 is reserved primarily for emergency and boating safety communications. Using Channel 16 as a “calling channel” or channel to hold conversations is strictly prohibited. every channel has a purpose. Just because your radio might have more than 50 channels, it doesn’t mean you are allowed to use them all.

Tip: Unless you’ve prearranged to call others on a specific ship-to-ship channel (such as 68, 69, 71, 72 or 78A), use Channel 9 as your calling channel to contact another station. Then, mutually arrange to switch to a ship-to-ship channel that isn’t in use.

Sin the Fourth: Failure to keep communications brief

Unlike while on your cell phone, you’re sharing a few VHF channels with thousands of other boating radio users. Aimless, long-winded chitchatting ties up the frequency you are on and forces others who might need to get a message through to stand by and wait until you’re finished. Keep your on-air conversations short.

Tip: If you want to sound like a pro on the radio, learn to use certain words. Pro words (see below) are a sort of verbal shorthand developed to abbreviate communications and make what you’re saying crystal clear. 

VHF Vocabulary: In Laymen’s Terms

Over – I’ve completed my message and am asking the other party to reply.

Out – I’ve finished my message and expect no further reply.

Affirmative/Negative – Yes/no. (When speaking on a radio, the words yes and no can be easily misunderstood.)

Roger – I received and understood your message.

Wilco – OK. I not only understood your last transmission, but I’ll also comply. (This is a contraction of the two words will comply.)

Figures – I’m about to say numbers. (For example, if you wanted to tell a boat with a deep draft approaching your location that it’s entering shallow waters of only 15 feet, you might say, “My depth here is figures one-five feet.”)

I Spell – I’m going to use the phonetic alphabet to spell out something that might be difficult to understand. “I’m anchored at Bogg Harbor. I spell, Bravo, Oscar, Gulf, Gulf.” A complete listing of the phonetic alphabet is normally found in your radio’s owner’s manual. Post a copy of the list next to your radio.


Reposted in part from www.boatingmag.com FOUR VHF SINS By Ken Englert May 24, 2016