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Old 09-30-1999
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Marine Radios Overview

Every sailor should have one or more radios on board not only for safety reasons but also for normal communications. With all the different types of radios and telephones available, the big problem will be determining which system is best for you.

Let's get the cell phone question out of the way right off the bat. If you spend most of your time on the water within 10 to 30 miles of land and you need to stay in touch with friends, family, and your business, a cell phone is necessary and the best way to do this. If you are offshore, then you will want a satellite communication system. However, a cell phone and/or Sat Com system cannot be your sole means of communication. You must have a two-way marine radio to talk with other boats; and to monitor weather and the distress channels (9 and 16).

There are three types of two-way marine radios available: VHF, Single Sideband (SSB), and Citizen Band (CB). The CB radios have a very limited range and are not recommended for serious marine communication. With a maximum output power of four watts, they cannot be counted on to call for and receive help. Also the 40 CB channels are usually very busy with land-based communications. The only reason to have a CB on board is to communicate with friends on nearby land who do not have a cell phone or VHF radio. Most lobster fishermen in Maine use them to talk between the local boats and their home station.

The VHF radio  The VHF radio offers the best value and noise-free communication for line-of-sight distances of up to 40 to 60 nautical miles between ship-to-shore stations and up to 20 nautical miles between ships (depends on antenna heights). Don't expect to reach shore stations beyond 40 nautical miles unless their antennas are mounted on very high towers. VHF is the primary two-way radio you should have on board. The VHF fixed-mount radios have 25 watts of power and while costing a bit more than a good quality CB, they offer a whole lot more capability, reliability, and quality.

VHF marine radios are also available as a portable handheld and are an ideal back up to your fixed-mount VHF. They are available with power outputs ranging from one to five watts and can transmit up to 10 nautical miles. In the event of a complete power loss, the battery-operated handheld VHF could be a lifesaver. Besides providing a back up to your fixed-mount VHF, it will also function as a piece of safety equipment for your life raft. Do not plan on using the portable VHF radio as your only means of two-way communication at sea. Many sailors also use them to maintain contact between themselves and their boat when they are ashore or in the dinghy.

The SSB radio  Marine Single Sideband (SSB) radios provide long-range communication and can cost up to 10 times as much as a VHF radio. SSB radios operate at a power output of 150 watts and have a transmission range of 6,000 miles under the right conditions. SSB radios can operate in both the medium frequency (MF) and high frequency (HF) bands. They are also capable of accessing marine operators for normal ship to shore telephone calls and weather fax. SSB radios, like the marine VHF radio, allow unrestricted party-line communication between ships, ship to shore, and ship to aircraft. Some SSB radios are capable of legal operation on both marine and HAM radio frequencies. However, there are big differences in licenses and permitted use.

  1. License requirements for a marine SSB are the same as for a VHF: a ship's license, endorsed for SSB frequencies, and a restricted radiotelephone license. No testing is required—fill out the form and send the FCC your money. However, FCC requires a marine VHF radio be installed and licensed on your boat prior to the installation of an SSB. Furthermore FCC also requires that VHF radio be used for all communications less than 25 miles.
  2. The minimum, useful license for worldwide HAM use is the general class. You must pass the test before you can legally operate a HAM radio and you cannot do business over HAM radio, that generates profit for you.

Choosing the right communication system for your boat is primarily a matter of cost effectiveness, your communication requirements, and area of operation. For most sailors a fixed-station marine VHF radio with only US channels will suffice. Of course, you will also want to bring your cell phone along. If you are going long distance cruising then a marine VHF with US and international channels will be required. Most cell phones today can be used anywhere in the US, so bring one along. Add an SSB, portable VHF radio, and an Epirb, if you are going well offshore. Also a Sat Com phone is an expensive extra, but may be well worth the cost if you need to avoid party-line calls on the SSB.

Marine Radios Overview

U.S. VHF and SSB Channels
ChannelTransmitReceiveIntended use

1A
5A
6
7A
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18A
19A
20
20A
21A
22A
23A
24
25
26
27
28
63A
65A
66A
67
68
69
70
71
72
73
74
77
78A
79A
80A
81A
82A
83A
84
85
86
87
88
88A
156.05
156.25
156.3
156.35
156.4
156.45
156.5
156.55
156.6
156.65
156.7

156.8
156.85
156.9
156.95
157
157
157.05
157.1
157.15
157.2
157.25
157.3
157.35
157.4
156.175
156.275
156.325
156.375
156.425
156.475
156.525
156.575
156.625
156.675
156.725
156.875
156.925
156.975
157.025
157.075
157.125
157.175
157.225
157.275
157.325
157.375
157.425
157.425
156.05
156.25
156.3
156.35
156.4
156.45
156.5
156.55
156.6
156.65
156.7
156.75
156.8
156.85
156.9
156.95
161.6
157
157.05
157.1
157.15
161.8
161.85
161.9
161.65
162
156.175
156.275
156.325
156.375
156.425
156.475
156.525
156.575
156.625
156.675
156.725
156.875
156.925
156.975
157.025
157.075
157.125
157.175
161.825
161.875
161.925
161.975
162.025
157.425

Port operations and commercial
Port ops USCG VTS in Seattle
Intership safety only
Commercial working ch.
Comercl. intership only
Boater calling, comercl. & non- comercl.
Comercl. working ch
Commercial, VTS in selected areas
Port operations. VTS in selected areas
Intership navigation safety (bridge to bridge)
Port operations VTS in selected areas Environmental (rcv. only); Class C Epirbs Distress, safety, & calling. listening watch
State control
Commercial
Commercial
Port operations (duplex)
Port operations
U.S. Coast Guard only
USCG liaison & maritime safety info
U.S. Coast Guard only
Public use (marine operator)
Public use (marine operator)
Public use (marine operator)
Public use (marine operator)
Public use (marine operator)
Port operations & commercial
Port operations
Port operations
Comercl intership only
Non-commercial
Non-commercial
Digital selective calling only
Non-commercial
Non-commercial (intership only)
Port operations
Port operations
Port operations (intership only)
Non-commercial
Commercial
Commercial
U.S. Government only. EPA ops
U.S. Government only
U.S. Coast Guard only
Public use (marine operator)
Public use (marine operator)
Public use (marine operator)
Public use (marine operator)
Public use only near Canadian border Commercial intership only

Note: VTS (Vessel Traffic Services)


Single Sideband Radio
FrequencyIntended Use

2182 kHz
2670 kHz
4125 kHz
6215 kHz
8291 kHz
12290 kHz
16420 kHz
2.5 MHz
5.0 MHz
10.0 MHz
15.0 MHz
20.0 MHz
3330 kHz
7335 kHz
14670 kHz
International hailing & distress
USCG Safety, NTM's, & WX
Primary HF distress & safety
Primary HF distress & safety
Primary HF distress & safety
Primary HF distress & safety
Primary HF distress & safety
WWV & WWVH U.S. time signal
WWV & WWVH U.S. time signal
WWV & WWVH U.S .time signal
WWV & WWVH U.S .time signal
WWV & WWVH U.S .time signal
CHU Ottawa Canadian time signal
CHU Ottawa Canadian time signal
CHU Ottawa Canadian time signal
Note: Refer to DMA Pub. 117, Radio Navigation Aids for a complete listing

HF Frequency Selection Guide
Local Time 200-750NM over 1500NM 6-11 Mhz

0
400
800
1200
1600
2000
3-5 MHz
3-5 MHz
3-7 MHz
4-7 MHz
4-7 MHz
3-7 MHz
6-9 MHz
4-7 MHz
6-11 MHz
8-13 MHz
8-13 MHz
6-11 MHz
6-9 MHz
11-22 MHz
13-22 MHz
13-22 MHz
11-22 MHz
Note: This table is very simplified and doesn't take into consideration seasons of the year or sunspot activity and their cycles. If you can hear traffic from a calling station clearly, you should be able to transmit to them successfully on that same channel.



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