A listen to a VHF radio band

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Special to the News-Herald

This past week a friend of mine, who is an active duty Navy Captain and former cruiser Commanding Officer and I were discussing Marine VHF channels. The previous weekend the Captain had gotten his pleasure boat underway, and remarked how crowded the marine bands were on VHF radio.

Between the fishing vessels, merchant traffic, work boats, pleasure boats and the military some bands of VHF radio have begun to resemble the congestion experienced on Citizen band (CB) radio in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Everyone &uot;had their ears on&uot; during that period.

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The reason for the increase in the use of marine bands in Hampton Roads mirrors what boating communities throughout the country are experiencing. Just as Hampton Roads automobile and truck traffic has begun to resemble northern Virginia or Los Angles in volume, so has the amount of boat traffic increased exponentially?

More cruise ships, a new merchant facility and more recreational boaters have made the local waterways in Hampton Roads quite busy, but no different than Miami or Boston. A lot more people are on the water, which means a lot more people are using their radios. Most do it correctly… others do not.

The use of the VHF radio spectrum is controlled by the Federal Communications Commission, under 47 CFR 80/37 which provides the rules for the use of the different channels.

I wanted to discuss four major uses of the marine VHF band and what channels are appropriate for what. It should be stated up front that there are lots of categories and lots of rules. This column is a VERY quick overview.

According to the FCC the following guidelines apply:

Emergencies: Channel 16 is probably the most used channel in the VHF spectrum. This is designed to get the attention of another unit or station. Once communications are established both parties switch to one of several working channels. Channel 16 is also the primary channel for emergencies.

Non-Commercial Operations:

The FCC has designated a few channels for boats to use that must be about &uot;the needs of the ship.&uot; The FCC Web site states, &uot;Typical uses include fishing reports, rendezvous, scheduling repairs and berthing information.&uot; These include channels 67, 68, 69, 71, 72, 78, 79, 80.

Commercial: These channels are for &uot;working&uot; ships only, such as tugs or ferries. Communication on these channels should be about the &uot;business&uot; needs of a ship. The FCC has specifically stated that channels 8, 67, 72 and 88 are for &uot;ship to ship&uot; messages.

Navigational: These channels are also referred to as bridge-to-bridge and are used to exchange information of a navigational nature. For example, if two vessels are in a classic meeting situation you would use bridge-to-bridge to agree on courses of action. These channels are not for ideal chatter. They are established for short, quick communications. They are also the primary channels that are used to establish communications with drawbridges.

Understanding the rules regarding all the channels and their uses on the VHF band is important for every mariner. From merchant captain to weekend fisherman VHF radio is a powerful tool, as long as its use is not abused.

Detailed information on all Marine VHF Channels can be found at the FCC web site at http://wireless.fcc.gov/marinevhfchanl.html

Until next week…Boat Safe…and Boat Smart!!!