Know your VHF channels

Art Steinberg


If you carry a VHF radio onboard (and you should), you must maintain a watch on channel 16 when the radio is on and not being used to communicate. You may also maintain a watch on VHF channel 9. Note that urgent marine information broadcasts, such as storm warnings, are announced on channel 9 only in USCG First District waters (northern New Jersey, New York and New England).

Most radios have a memory scan option where you can add specific channels to the memory and press scan. The radio quickly switches through and listens to each channel, pausing if someone is using that channel and then resuming the scan.

Program these channels into your radio’s memory:

Channel 16: Used for hailing, safety, emergency and mayday calls, channel 16 must be monitored at all times. If you hail a vessel on channel 16, you must immediately switch to a working channel, such as 68. All emergency calls are made on channel 16.

Channel 9: This supplementary calling channel for noncommercial (recreational) vessels is used for hailing in New England, northern New Jersey, New York, and for bridges in South Carolina and Florida.

Channel 22A: The U.S. Coast Guard Liaison and Maritime Safety Information channel is used for Coast Guard marine information broadcasts. You may hear an announcement on channel 16 telling interested boaters to switch to 22A to hear the message.

Channel 13: This channel is used for drawbridges and commercial ship-to-ship communications. Along with channel 16, tugboats monitor channel 16 when entering or exiting a busy commercial port or traveling on the sound.

Channels 68, 69, 71, 72, 78 and 82 are general-use working channels for boat-to-boat and boat-to-shore communication. After establishing contact on channel 16, boaters switch to one of these frequencies.

Note: No longer used for voice communications, channel 70 is reserved for digital communications and is the frequency used by DSC radios.

Visit for a listing of U.S. VHF channels

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