The Ship’s Radio

Proper use of the ship’s radio reflects well on the professionalism of the vessel’s operator and his or her crew. Knowing how to communicate professionally, and understanding the USCG’s broadcast communications are key components to keeping you safe whether you are docked, underway, drifting, or anchored.


Voice radio transmissions are much like talking on the telephone, except that only one person can talk at a time. This means you must wait for a person to stop talking before you can reply to or make a new call. Also, when you are finished talking remember to take your finger off of the broadcast button so that someone can respond to you.


All boaters with a ship’s radio are required to monitor Channel 16 whenever the radio is on and not in use. 16 is the international distress frequency on which all urgent calls are broadcast. These calls come in 3 categories who’s names are repeated 3 times when sent. SECURITE’ alerts boaters to matters concerning safe navigation, or weather warnings. PAN-PAN is an urgent message concerning the safety of a ship, watercraft, aircraft, or person. MAYDAY is a very serious call indicating that a person, boat, or aircraft is in grave or imminent danger. When you hear a MAYDAY call cease any transmissions that may interfere with distress traffic. Continue to monitor Channel 16, and be ready to respond if you are able and in near proximity to the distress event.


Channel 9 is another designated calling channel. It is intended to be used by recreational and noncommercial boaters as a way to alleviate traffic on Channel 16. So; if you are in need of boat-to-boat, boat-to-shore, or shore-to-boat communication you should use Channel 9.


Lastly, it is a good practice to test that your radio is working before leaving the dock. Using Channel 9 make an open call as follows: “Any vessel, any vessel. This is (name of your boat) requesting a radio check.” Wait for a response. If none are received move to an area where reception may be better and try again. If that fails pull out the hand-held. When you return to port have a technician test the ship’s radio system.

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