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Marine Communications

VHF Radios

Very High Frequency (VHF) Radios Very High Frequency (VHF) radios have been around for many years and
remain the primary means of communication for vessels throughout the United States. The main uses of a
VHF radio are:

  • Distress calling and safety
  • Ship to shore communications
  • Navigation (vessels to bridges, etc.)
  • Marine operator to place calls to shore
  • NOAA Weather Broadcasts
They come equipped with a choice of transmitter power: one (1) watt for very close communication
(approximately one mile or less) or twenty five (25) watts for extended communication (up to approximately
twenty five miles). All of this is done usually with the push of a button.

If you need to communicate over a greater distance consider installing a Single Side Band (SSB) radio -
which has the capability to transmit over hundreds of miles.

If you are not sure whether you might have the need for Single Side Band radio please feel free to contact
your local BOAT/U.S. or West Marine Center where you may discuss the pros and cons.

VHF radios come in many shapes, sizes and colors to meet anyone's needs today. Prices start at about
$150.00 for a basic model and can go as high as $1500.00 for the full - featured units. The main factor
governing prices of the VHF radios are the features available.

When choosing a VHF radio you should first make a list of the features you feel you want and need.

For additional information on VHF Radios, be sure to check out the BoatU.S. Foundation Findings at:

DSC Capability

Digital Selective Calling, or DSC, is the equivalent
of a "mayday button" on a VHF or SSB. When activated, it automatically broadcasts an encoded distress call that will be picked up by all nearby vessels equipped with DSC. If the radio is interfaced with a Loran or
GPS, it will also automatically broadcast the
distressed vessel's position.

All fixed-mount radios now include it as a feature, so when the USCG Rescue 21 System becomes fully operational, your VHF will be able to take advantage
of this latest feature. To use DSC, you must obtain a MMSI (Maritime Mobile Service Identity) number. To
find out when and where DSC and Rescue 21 will be fully implemented and functional, click here.

You may do so free of charge at this web address: (click on link or copy and paste into your web browser). Keep in mind that the U.S. Coast Guard is not yet responding to DSC transmissions nationally.


As of October 26, 1996, most recreational boaters are
no longer required to obtain an individual Ship Station License from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). However, boaters still need a VHF Ship Station License in the following categories:

  • Those traveling to or broadcasting in a foreign port (including Canada, Bahamas, Caribbean)
  • Those with boats 65 feet or longer
  • Navigation (vessels to bridges, etc.)
  • Those using single sideband radios or
    Inmarsat equipment
  • Commercial vessels
Those traveling to or broadcasting in a foreign port must also obtain a Restricted Radiotelephone Operator's Permit (RP). However, if you (1) merely plan to sail in domestic or international waters without docking in any foreign ports and without communicating with foreign coast stations, and (2) your radio operates only on VHF frequencies, you do not need an RP.

Forms can be obtained from your nearest FCC field office or from the FCC Wireless Communications Division (se below). Call the Gettysburg office to locate your nearest field office, or call the FCC Form Distribution Center at 800-418-FORM (3676).

For More information on FCC rules and regulations, and to download license applications, click on the button to visit the FCC Marine Radio Fact Sheet.