Are Marine Radios VHF or UHF? Exploring Communication Technology at Sea

There are different types of marine radios, but one of the most common is the Very High Frequency (VHF) radio. These radios operate in a frequency range specifically allocated for marine communication and have become the standard for maritime communication due to their reliable short-range capabilities.

VHF marine radios are designed for bidirectional communication, allowing for ship-to-ship, ship-to-shore, and under certain circumstances, ship-to-aircraft communication. 

They are ideal for short-range communication, generally covering 5 to 10 miles and at least 20 miles to a US Coast Guard station, making them an indispensable tool for most boats, yachts, and commercial vessels.

UHF (Ultra High Frequency) radios are not an official form of marine communication. They have no part in maritime safety and emergency situations.

However, UHFs can still be used within the industry. Crews of larger vessels may use them to communicate internally during regular working routines.

Key Takeaways

1️⃣ VHF marine radios are the most common type of marine radio used for short-range communication.

2️⃣ Communication with other vessels, shore stations, and sometimes aircraft is possible using VHF marine radios.

3️⃣ Marine radios are essential for ensuring safety and coordination in the maritime industry.

📻 Understanding Marine Radios

Marine radios are essential communication tools for boaters, allowing them to maintain contact with other vessels, marinas, and rescue services. The most common type of marine radio is the VHF (Very High Frequency).

Marine VHF Radio

Marine VHF radios are the most widely used communication devices in the marine industry, as they offer clear, static-free communication that can cover up to 20 miles.

These radios operate as transmitter and receiver sets, allowing bidirectional voice communication between ships and maritime facilities such as harbormasters, coast guards, and bridges.

VHF marine radios are a line-of-sight communication system, meaning their range can be affected by factors such as the power of the transmitter and the height of the antenna.

To ensure efficient communication, learning how to talk on a marine VHF radio is essential, following proper procedures and etiquette.

If you are considering purchasing a marine radio, some factors to consider are the range, features, and reliability. For more information on what to look for, consult this guide on choosing a VHF marine radio.

Marine UHF Radio

Although less common than VHF marine radios, UHF radios can still be useful in certain situations.

UHF frequencies generally provide better penetration through obstacles such as buildings, superstructures, and hulls, making them suitable for communication in ports, marinas, or other crowded environments.

However, UHF radio signals do not travel as far as VHF signals, limiting their range and applicability in open waters. This means they have not been officially adopted, so compatibility with rescue services and other vessels may be limited.

In summary, while marine VHF radios are the preferred choice for short-range communication in the marine industry, UHF radios can offer some advantages in specific situations.

Regardless of which type you choose, it’s essential to understand their capabilities and limitations to ensure effective communication while out on the water.

🛥️ Usage of VHF Marine Radio in Vessels

Communicating Via VHF Radio

VHF marine radios are widely used in various types of vessels, from recreational boats to larger ships, for effective communication both on water and with shore facilities.

In the boating and marine world, these radios serve as an essential tool for ensuring safety and coordination between different parties.

VHF Channel 16 and 9

There are multiple channels assigned specifically for marine VHF radio communications. Among them, Channel 16 (156.800 MHz) is designated as the international distress, safety, and calling channel. 

All vessels, regardless of size, should monitor this channel while underway. Channel 9 (156.450 MHz) is another calling channel, but primarily used for non-commercial boat-to-boat communications.

The Working Channel

When initiating communication with other vessels, starting on VHF Channel 16 or 9 is crucial, and then switching to a working channel for further conversation. Usually, working channels are 68, 69, 71, or 72. 

This keeps the calling channels open for emergency communications and to avoid overcrowding. It’s important to adhere to this protocol to maintain efficiency and safety in marine communications.

Distress Channels

In case of emergency or distress situations, boats and vessels can use VHF radios to send out distress calls. Channel 16 is the primary distress channel, monitored by the United States Coast Guard and other vessels. 

When sending a distress call, the vessel in distress should first try to establish contact on Channel 16 and then provide relevant information, such as location, nature of the emergency, and the type of assistance required.

Overall, VHF marine radios play a vital role in ensuring the safety and effective communication between boats, vessels, and shore facilities.

Adherence to the proper usage protocols and understanding the different channels and their purposes is crucial for every boater who uses this communication tool.

🪪 Regulations and Licensing

FCC Licensing

In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates marine radio usage. Boaters traveling on international voyages, having an HF single sideband radiotelephone, or marine satellite terminals must carry an FCC ship station license.

Additionally, a Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) number is required for vessels equipped with a Digital Selective Calling (DSC) capable VHF radio.

Voluntary domestic ships do not need a marine VHF radio license. These usually apply to recreational or pleasure craft. Find out more about how to register a VHF marine radio.

Monitoring Channel 16

The U.S. Coast Guard and FCC regulations require boaters using VHF radios to maintain a watch on either channel 9 or 16 whenever the radio is turned on and not communicating with another station. 

Channel 16 is reserved for distress, safety, and calling purposes and is the primary channel for hailing other vessels and the Coast Guard.

Radio Watchkeeping

Radio watchkeeping is the practice of monitoring designated channels to ensure prompt response to distress calls and proper communication with other vessels or authorities.

The United States Coast Guard stresses the importance of constant radio watchkeeping for all mariners using VHF or UHF radios.

Canadian Channels

In Canada, marine radios also need a license, and Canadian channels may differ slightly from their counterparts in the United States.

Boaters operating in Canadian waters should familiarize themselves with the Canadian channels and follow the prescribed rules set by the Canadian government.

International Waters Rules

When navigating international waters, boaters should be aware of the regulations and licensing requirements put in place by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), as well as the local laws of the countries they may enter.

Compliance with these regulations ensures both safety and proper communication with other vessels and authorities during voyages.

I’m the founder and chief editor here at Sailing Savvy. I spent a decade working as a professional mariner and currently, I mix those experiences with digital publishing. Welcome, and I hope that we can be the hub you need for safe passage.