Deck the Hulls: VHF-FM Radio

Post co-authored by Michael Baron, USCG Recreational Boating Safety Specialist.

Looking for the perfect gift for the boater on your holiday list? The holiday season is a perfect time to arm your friends and family with safe boating essentials. No matter what the time or temperature, it is always important to encourage your loved ones to “boat responsibly.” Over the next two weeks the Compass will feature gift-giving ideas that every boating enthusiast will love, but more importantly will keep them safe.

DSC VHF-FM marine-band radio

A digital selective calling VHF-FM marine-band radio allows for a digital transfer between radios versus voice transmission which allows mariners to instantly send an automatically formatted distress alert to the Coast Guard. Coast Guard photo by PA2 Brandyn Hill.

One of the most important and frequently overlooked pieces of equipment for boaters is a VHF-FM marine radio. While this may not show up on your loved one’s wish list, this is THE gift to give.

A cell phone simply won’t cut it for the offshore boater. Cell phones have limitations and should not be used as a replacement for the marine radio. Too many boaters rely on cell phones for emergency communications and while that may work on land and near shore, marine radios are designed for distant communications between vessels and shore stations with safety in mind.

While many boaters stay within close range of the shore, there is no telling how reliable a phone’s signal can be. Coverage offshore for cell phones is limited, and may change without notice. Also, a VHF-FM marine radio is a perfect gift for travelers, as they can be used anywhere in the United States or around the world.

The Coast Guard and other response agencies monitor radio frequencies 24 hours a day, and can hear your call for help. Highlighting a radio’s ability to alert multiple people, any nearby vessel with a radio can also hear a call for help. This means when you call for help on a radio you instantly multiply who can hear you – and who can help you.

Command Center watchstanders

Coast Guard personnel stand the watch at command centers across the nation ready to respond to distress calls. Coast Guard photo by PA1 CC Clayton.

Because the Coast Guard is continually enhancing its capabilities, its new Rescue 21 direction-finding technology allows the Coast Guard to triangulate a boater’s exact position. The multiple towers, now covering nearly half of the nation’s coastline, can pick up and triangulate where a distress call is made providing a specific position that leaves no doubt for responders in distress situations, when every second counts.

Many older radios and all new models are equipped with a Digital Select Calling (DSC) capability. These radios will automatically send out a distress signal with the touch of a button. When properly registered and connected to a Global Positioning System (GPS) unit, these radios automatically provide exact position information and can even provide responders with the nature of the emergency.

VHF-FM marine radios also allows boaters to hear urgent marine information broadcasts that pass vital information about storm warnings and hazardous sea conditions.

Now that you know that VHF-FM marine radios are essential for boating, go out there and buy one, because this is a gift that could save your loved ones life!

The U.S. Coast Guard asks all boat owners and operators to help reduce fatalities, injuries, property damage, and associated healthcare costs related to recreational boating accidents by taking personal responsibility for their own safety and the safety of their passengers. The U.S. Coast Guard reminds all boaters to “Boat Responsibly!”

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