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The Importance of Marine VHF

VHF marine radio
is probably the most important technology in the sailing world and is an essential piece of equipment on most boats, especially those that go out to sea. A VHF radio allows communication between vessels and between other organisations such as harbours, marinas and coastguards.

Types of Marine VHF Radio

•    Marine VHF can come either as a handheld radio set or a built in system with much more capabilities. Many people choose to have a handheld VHF radio on board as a back up. A handheld VHF radio such as the Icom M71 is a very capable handheld marine VHF that also has a buoyancy feature which means it will not sink.

•    Built in marine VHF systems often have much more range because they are attached to a radio on the ship’s mast and often have other functionality such as tracking capabilities and multiple tuners to monitor more than one channel at once.

•    The wattage of a VHF marine radio determines it’s power and range. A VHF radio attached to an antenna on land of the mast of a ship will have a much greater range than one at sea level. A maximum range of 60 nautical miles is possible with the best marine VHF systems and high masts while sea level transmissions will have a range of roughly 5 nautical miles.

•    Because of the importance of VHF marine radio, there are a number of rules and procedures as to its use. Penalties can be issued for misuse of a VHF radio. By default, everybody using marine VHF should set it to receive channel 16 as this is the international distress channel. If you are trying to make contact with another vessel in a non emergency via marine VHF, channel 16 is used to establish contact and decide upon another channel to use.

•    Everybody that uses the VHF marine radio system needs to know the correct terminology. The NATO phonetic alphabet is used and should be understood by everyone. Similarly a number of calls are used worldwide; ‘mayday’ is the international distress signal meaning ‘grave and imminent danger’ to life. This is broadcast over channel 16 and is repeated three times.

•    ‘Pan Pan’ is the internationally signal to signify a potentially dangerous situation that doesn’t (or is yet to) warrant a mayday call. This is often used on marine VHF to alert other vessels and rescue services of the situation and to stand by. It is common practice to inform people when said situation is over.