One of the most important accessories to purchase for your boating hobby is a radio. Your phone likely isn’t going to work as effectively or even at all if you’re out at sea, and a radio is the most common form of communication available to boats out on the water.

Whether it’s to contact other boats, to listen in for SOS signals or even to contact the coast during an emergency situation, there are plenty of reasons to pick up a feature-packed radio so that you can remain safe when you’re out on the water. So to help you out, we’ve put together this useful guide to help you learn more about the different types of marine radio, how they can be used and also their advantages.

General Marine Radio Usage

To start off, it’s important to understand what marine radios can and can’t do. This is so that you don’t purchase one without fully understanding how to actually make use of it for your personal situation.

  • Marine radios are not private telephones. If you transmit your voice, it can be heard by anyone else on the frequency.
  • Regardless of what type of radio you use, it’s important that you obey the coastguard if they feel that you’re congesting the radio or that you should switch to a working channel in order to get one-to-one advice or rescue information.
  • Transmitting any false distress alerts or a hoax is considered an act against the law and could land you in very serious trouble.
  • If you’re found using a marine radio on land then it could land you in trouble especially if you’re using it excessively.
  • Learn what channels are for what purpose. Each type of radio has its own channels and frequencies which must be followed if you want to make effective use of your marine radio.
  • Always keep your radio on and tuned in to distress channels even if you’re not planning to use it. This will allow you to listen out for any emergency distress signals in the vicinity so that you can react and relay the information or act quickly to help someone in need. This isn’t enforced by law for recreational boaters, but more of an unspoken rule among all boaters.

Hopefully, these general tips will help you get a better understanding of how to use your radio and some common practices and courtesies to follow. In addition, you’ll also want to learn some of the common language used during emergency situations such as:

  • Mayday – A phrase used when you demand an immediate response or are experiencing an emergency situation. You should only use this if you are in danger that requires assistance as soon as possible because someone’s life is in danger.
  • Pan-Pan – Pan-Pan is used when you’re in an emergency situation that you currently have under control but would still like someone to be ready in the event that the situation gets worse. For instance, perhaps you’re in the process of fixing a leak or engine failure and although you think you’ve got it under control, you might want a specialist standing by to help.
  • Sécurité – This is a signal that is often used to transmit navigational information. For instance, if a large boat is moving through narrow channels then this will be used to transmit information.

Once you’ve mastered these basic phrases and information, you’ll have a much easier time operating your boat and generally be safer when you’re out on the water.

The Type of Marine Radios Available

There are several different types of marine radio available. This is because different radios serve different purposes. Some operate on more public frequencies and are simple to use for most general purposes while some are designed for longer range communication and are more difficult to operate. In order to understand marine radios and their purpose, it’s important to realize that there are a couple of common types ot look out for.

VHF Marine Radios

Very High Frequency marine radios are among some of the most popular options for communicating at sea. Whether you’re going out on a relatively small vessel or a larger boat, marine VHF radios can be used for a wide variety of different purposes. From contacting other ships to coastguards and even requesting rescue services at sea, VHF marine radios are suitable for a range of different purposes.

There are many channels specific to VHF marine radios with Channel 16 being the most commonly used distress channel. However, it’s worth printing out several copies of a list of VHF marine radio channels so that you can reference it in the future. It’s vital that you learn which channels are designed for what purpose so that your messages don’t interrupt other people and that you can get assistance when you need it. The two main types of VHF marine radio are handheld versions and fixed or mounted ones. Handheld ones are suitable for smaller boats while fixed or panel-mounted VHF marine radios are great for larger vessels. They come with a range of features such as better waterproofing and even replaceable spare batteries to ensure your VHF radio is always working.

It’s important to understand that VHF radios require you to be within line of sight of your target. This means that, due to the curvature of the earth, there is a limited range on VHF marine radios and if you stray too far from the shore, you may be unable to contact the coastguard. This is where other radios can come in handy such as longer-distance medium and high-frequency radios which we’ll explain below. You also need to consider taking a course to learn how to use the VHF radio effectively. While owning one doesn’t require any kind of certification, legally using a VHF marine radio does.

Medium or High Frequency Marine Radios

The other option is a medium or high frequency marine radio. These offer much further range that could even cover the entire globe if installed correctly. However, MF/HF frequency marine radios are definitely not something that beginners can install on their boats and it’s also not designed for smaller vessels. Instead, MF/HF marine radios are designed for much larger vessels that have commercial purposes or travel very far out to sea. If you’re just using a small vessel for recreational purposes then a VHF marine radio is often enough for your needs.

Installation of a MF/HF marine radio is a massive consideration. This usually means that an expert has to be brought in to ensure that your MF/HF radio works correctly and that it can offer you the desired range. When installed correctly, the transmitting can actually affect other electrical equipment such as GPS, hence the importance of hiring an expert to help you install them.

Lastly, you also need to remember that the user and the vessel need to hold a license to use MF/HF marine radios. The course involved in obtaining the license will teach you everything you need to know about MF/HF radios and why they’re so important. You’ll also learn about the different frequencies that are used for things like distress calls so that you can be sure that you’re always speaking on the right channel. In short, MF/HF marine radios should only be considered if you have a specific purpose for them. Otherwise, VHF radios are the perfect choice for beginners.

Hopefully, this guide has shown you some of the basics in understanding marine radios and why they’re such an important accessory to add to your boa.