If you carry a VHF radio onboard, (a good idea for all boaters) you should maintain a watch on channel 16 whenever the boat is underway. Commercial vessels and all vessels over 20 meters and those carrying passengers for hire are required to maintain a radio watch.  (see the Federal Regs… HERE)

Most radios have a memory scan option where you can add specific channels to the memory and press scan. The radio will quickly switch (scan) through and listen to each channel, pausing only if someone is talking on that channel and then resuming the scan.


VHF Channels & Their Use
 01A        Port Operations and Commercial. VTS * in selected areas.
 05A        Port Operations
 06         Intership Safety
 07A        Commercial
 08         Commercial (Intership only)
 09         Boater Calling. Commercial and Non-Commercial.
 10         Commercial
 11         Commercial.  VTS in selected areas.
 12         Port Operations.  VTS in selected areas.
 13         Intership Navigation Safety (Bridge-to-bridge).
NOTE: Ships >20m length must maintain a listening watch on Ch 13 in US waters.
 14         Port Operations.  VTS in selected areas.
 15         Environmental (Receive only).  Used by Class C EPIRBs.
 16         International Distress, Safety and Calling.
Ships required to carry a radio, USCG, and most coast stations maintain
a listening watch on channel 16.
 17         State Control
 18A        Commercial
 19A        Commercial
 20         Port Operations (duplex)
 20A        Port Operations
 21A        U.S. Government only
 22A        Coast Guard Liaison and Maritime Safety Info Broadcasts.
           Note: Broadcasts are announced on channel 16, continued on 22a.
 23A        U.S. Government only
 24         Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
 25         Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
 26         Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
 27         Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
 28         Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
 63A        Port Operations and Commercial.  VTS in selected areas.
 65A        Port Operations
 66A        Port Operations Commercial. Intership only.
 68         Non-Commercial-Working Channel
 69         Non-Commercial
 70         Digital Selective Calling (voice communications not allowed)
 71         Non-Commercial
 72         Non-Commercial (Intership only)
 73         Port Operations
 74         Port Operations
 77         Port Operations (Intership only)
 78A        Non-Commercial
 79A        Commercial
 80A        Commercial
 81A        U.S. Government only - Environmental protection operations.
 82A        U.S. Government only
 83A        U.S. Government only
 84         Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
 85         Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
 86         Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
 87         Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
 88         Public Correspondence in selected areas only.
 88A        Commercial, Intership only.

* VTS: Vessel Traffic Service is a marine traffic monitoring system established by harbor or port authorities,

 similar to air traffic control for aircraft. Typical VTS systems use radar, closed-circuit television (CCTV), VHF
 radiotelephony and automatic identification system (AIS) to keep track of vessel movements and provide navigational

 safety in a limited geographical area.

How do I make myself understood on the radio ?

Occasionally, because of conditions or distance it is difficult to be understood on the radio (or the phone). When that happens you must be able to revert to a common combination of letters and numbers that can be pronounced and understood by anyone, regardless of their native language. These universal “code words” are called the NATO Phonic Alphabet or International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet which was developed by 31 nations as the standard for voice communications.

You will recognize them instantly…. Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo….     see below.

NATO Phonic Alphabet

Letter

Code word

US Army
standard

ICAO and ITU
Roman standard

FAA
standards

A

Alfa
(ICAO, ITU,
IMO, FAA)
Alpha (ATIS)
ALfah AL FAH ALFAH or
AL-FAH

B

Bravo BRAH voh BRAH VOH
(1955: BRAH VOH)
BRAHVOH or
BRAH-VO

C

Charlie CHAR lee CHAR LEE or
SHAR LEE
CHARLEE or
CHAR-LEE or
SHAR-LEE

D

Delta DELtah DELL TAH DELLTAH or
DELL-TAH

E

Echo EKK oh ECK OH ECKOH or
ECK-OH

F

Foxtrot FOKS trot FOKS TROT FOKSTROT or
FOKS-TROT

G

Golf Golf GOLF GOLF

H

Hotel HO tell HOH TELL HOHTELL or
HOH-TELL

I

India IN dee ah INDEE AH INDEE AH or
IN-DEE-AH

J

Juliett
(ICAO, ITU,
IMO, FAA)
Juliet (ATIS)
JEW lee ett JEW LEE ETT JEWLEE ETT or
JEW-LEE-ETT

K

Kilo KEY loh KEY LOH KEYLOH or
KEY-LOH

L

Lima LEE mah LEE MAH LEEMAH or
LEE-MAH

M

Mike Mike MIKE MIKE

N

November NOH vem ber NO VEM BER NOVEMBER or
NO-VEM-BER

O

Oscar OSScar OSS CAH OSSCAH or
OSS-CAH

P

Papa PAH pah PAH PAH PAHPAH or
PAH-PAH

Q

Quebec keh BECK KEH BECK KEHBECK or
KEH-BECK

R

Romeo ROW me oh ROW ME OH ROWME OH or
ROW-ME-OH

S

Sierra see AIR ah SEE AIR RAH SEEAIRAH or
SEE-AIR-AH

T

Tango TANG go TANG GO TANGGO or
TANG-GO

U

Uniform YOU nee form YOU NEE FORM or
OO NEE FORM
YOUNEE FORM or
YOU-NEE-FORM or
OO-NEE-FORM

V

Victor VIK ter VIK TAH VIKTAH or
VIK-TAH

W

Whiskey WISS key WISS KEY WISSKEY or
WISS-KEY

X

X-ray or
Xray
EKS ray ECKS RAY ECKSRAY [sic] or
ECKS-RAY

Y

Yankee YANG kee YANG KEY YANGKEY [sic] or
YANG-KEY

Z

Zulu ZOO loo ZOO LOO ZOOLOO or
ZOO-LOO

(hyphen)

Dash

Digits

Digit

Code word Pronunciation

0

Zero (FAA)
Nadazero (ITU, IMO)
ZE-RO (ICAO), ZE RO or ZEE-RO (FAA)
NAH-DAH-ZAY-ROH (ITU, IMO)

1

One (FAA)
Unaone (ITU, IMO)
WUN (ICAO, FAA)
OO-NAH-WUN (ITU, IMO)

2

Two (FAA)
Bissotwo (ITU, IMO)
TOO (ICAO, FAA)
BEES-SOH-TOO (ITU, IMO)

3

Three (FAA)
Terrathree (ITU, IMO)
TREE (ICAO, FAA)
TAY-RAH-TREE (ITU, IMO)

4

Four (FAA)
Kartefour (ITU, IMO)
FOW-ER (ICAO), FOW ER (FAA)
KAR-TAY-FOWER (ITU, IMO)

5

Five (FAA)
Pantafive (ITU, IMO)
FIFE(ICAO, FAA)
PAN-TAH-FIVE (ITU, IMO)

6

Six (FAA)
Soxisix (ITU, IMO)
SIX (ICAO, FAA)
SOK-SEE-SIX (ITU, IMO)

7

Seven (FAA)
Setteseven (ITU, IMO)
SEV-EN (ICAO), SEV EN (FAA)
SAY-TAY-SEVEN (ITU, IMO)

8

Eight (FAA)
Oktoeight (ITU, IMO)
AIT (ICAO, FAA)
OK-TOH-AIT (ITU, IMO)

9

Niner (FAA)
Nine or niner (ICAO)
Novenine (ITU, IMO)
NIN-ER (ICAO), NIN ER (FAA)
NO-VAY-NINER (ITU, IMO)

100

Hundred (ICAO) HUN-dred (ICAO)

1000

Thousand (ICAO) TOU-SAND (ICAO)

. (decimal point)

Point (FAA)
Decimal (ITU, ICAO)
DAY-SEE-MAL (ITU) (ICAO)

. (full stop)

Stop (ITU)

 

Marine Safety Tip: Sending a VHF Distress Call

 

You may only have a very short time to send a distress call on the VHF radio.  Here is the step by step procedure:

  1. Turn on and tune your VHF radio to channel 16.
  2. Say “MAYDAY,  MAYDAY,  MAYDAY”
  3. “This is (name of boat )” Repeat boat name three times.
  4. Describe your boat, such as, size, rig type, color and tell the number of persons aboard.
  5. Indicate the nature of distress (sinking, fire, etc.)
  6. Give position by latitude and longitude or by bearing and distance to a well-known landmark or navigational aid, or in any terms that will assist a responding station in locating the vessel in distress. Include any information, such as, vessel course, speed, and destination.
  7. Indicate the kind of assistance desired.
  8. End with “over.”

If you do not receive any answer, repeat your call every 2 minutes.


Note: If you are NOT in a life-threatening situation but still are in real need of assistance, use the same procedure as above, EXCEPT that in step 2, you replace the word MAYDAY by the the words “Pan Pan” (pronounce PAHNN PAHNN).

A Tip:  Push the button on the microphone to talk, release to listen!

.

Capt.  Rick Delfosse  rdelfosse@rexmarine.com

Rick is a Coast Guard captain, the editor of Harbor Talk Weekly, a National Safe Boating Council close-quarters boat-handling and open water boat handling instructor, Connecticut and New York certified safe boating instructor and a US Sailing-certified instructor.   He also conducts on-the-water courses and classroom seminars on coastal cruising and boating skills. The owner of a 43-foot pilothouse cutter and an Aquasport powerboat, he has extensive cruising and one-design, coastal and offshore racing experience.