Using VHF Radios - 9 Top Tips

Using a Handheld VHF RadioA marine VHF radio is the primary link to the land when a vessel is at sea and it is a critical item of safety equipment. When used correctly, it provides a vital link to potential rescuers in an emergency, as well as providing excellent general communications, access to weather forecasts, navigational alerts and other Coastguard notices to mariners.

Here are some practical tips to help you and your crew get the best out of your VHF radio:

1. Understand the correct emergency procedures. Everyone should get to know the correct VHF radio procedure and what to do in an emergency - even when there isn't one. We recommend placing a 'VHF Distress Urgency and Safety Procedures Card' next to your VHF radio. This card gives novices simple guidance about how to use the VHF radio in an emergency situation and when under pressure.

2. Be familiar with your local VHF channels. Write a crib-card of the most useful VHF channel numbers in your area. These could include several useful working channels, which channels are restricted to harbourmasters only, and which channels are used by local marinas.

3. Be considerate. VHF radios are not toys! Don't ever clog important channels with idle chat, and never, ever make a false MAYDAY call. You are putting lives at risk, and you could be prosecuted.

Monitoring VHF Channel 164. Always monitor Channel 16. You can usually set a 'dual watch' function on the VHF radio if you happen to be monitoring another channel. If you receive a distress call, record it as well your boat's position and the time, and be prepared to render assistance if at all possible.

5. Speak slowly and clearly. When sending a radio message, press the radio handset's push-to-talk (PTT) button, and speak slowly and clearly into the microphone. Use the phonetic alphabet to spell out important information, and always confirm any messages you receive.

6. Be patient. Don't attempt to call another vessel while that channel is active. Breaking into an active radio transmission is poor VHF etiquette at best, and could interfere with an emergency transmission. When contacting another boat on Channel 16, establish contact first and then quickly switch to a working channel to continue the conversation.

7. Be polite and brief. Never use profanity, and keep conversations as brief as possible, remembering that most VHF calls are audible to any radio in range that is listening on the same channel. So watch what you say, you never know who is listening!

8. Never say 'over and out' at the end of a transmission. 'Over' means 'over to you' and 'out' means you are ending the transmission - so the phrase is contradictory. When you've completed your conversation, just simply say 'out'.

9. Attend a VHF Radio Operator's Course. The SRC (Short Range Certificate) is a simple one day course that will teach you everything you need to operate a VHF radio competently and will help you get the most out of your VHF radios features.

If you have taken the old VHF operator's course, but have never been trained on the new DSC equipment, then take a refresher course. Details of courses in your area are available on the RYA website

Attend a VHF Radio Training Course

For advice on how to choose a VHF radio for your vessel, visit the safety marine website, or contact the Safety Marine technical team on or call +44 (0)2380 226300.


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