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Marine radios are usually packaged neatly in a box surrounded by Styrofoam, accompanied by an instruction pamphlet and warranty information. The pamphlet explains proper use and advises how radios can be lifesaving tools.

Included in the paperwork is a table of marine channels available for various uses. Channel 16 is for distress and safety calls, if your radio is turned on you must monitor channel 16. If you are to follow this rule, you may want a unit capable of scanning two or more channels.
Channels 21, 22 and 23 are designated for Coast Guard communications. Use of specific channels has changed over the years, and it is recommended everyone using a marine radio review current marine channel table list.

Installation can take some time, and you may experience interference from other electrical equipment. A radio is only as good as its antenna so don’t purchase a good radio and go cheap on the antenna. A better antenna will extend above the vessels structure and will have a higher DB rating to allow extended transmissions and clean reception. Short wire type antennas are usually intended for use at a very high position such as on top of a mast or high pole.

When purchasing a radio use care to understand what you are buying. Radios are available that join to your G.P.S. system by means of a DSC feature that you will program with a MMSI identification number. The number will connect you to the Coast Guards Rescue 21 system available throughout the nation. With the flick of a switch, the radio automatically transmits an emergency signal and gives a receiver your exact position.

Common sense is a real plus when using a marine radio. If you hear an emergency transmission (MayDay) call or a broadcast requesting silence, stop transmitting on your unit and standby until the channel is cleared. All radios have a hi-low switch; some read 5 to 25 watts. This switch adjusts the output of transmissions. If you can reach your intended station on low watt, you are leaving the airways clear for other users nearby. Be sure to switch back after your transmission.

Broadcasting a false MayDay or emergency call is illegal. These calls can be pinpointed by direction finding equipment and fines are very steep. It is also illegal to allow children to play on the marine radio and it is the responsibility of the boat owner to oversee his equipment.

Your marine radio may be your only way to call for help in an emergency, don’t depend on a handheld radio for primary calling. They have less wattage and can reach only a short distance. We all carry cell phones, but they won’t serve well in an emergency. If you broadcast a MayDay on marine radio, numerous listeners can quickly assist you. Emergency resources need to use a direction finder to locate you, and they cannot locate a cell phone.

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5 Responses to Marine Radio – Boaters Lifeline

  1. Chris Proulx says:

    Hi, Thanks for the great articles. Is there a radio that will interrupt commercial channels? We have 2 radios. One marine radio and one commercial radio for music etc. We can’t hear both. We need a commercial radio that will automatically stop for channel 16 announcements.

  2. Robert Newton says:

    I do have a HH600, its programmed to my phone and my SeaTow app. Very useful, I tried a radio check but never get a response, its always on 16 and it does scan, naturally I try on the non-emergency channels and possibly the handheld does not have enough wattage, my next purchase will be one I can mount and buy a good antenna.

  3. OB says:

    Thanks for the periodic tips. They are helpful.

  4. Pete P says:

    Great & very useful VHF Marine Radio information. I truly wish all boaters would read the informative articles you put out.

    Thanks, Pete

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