Small Smart Stuff Page 3

Electronics December 2002
By Ben Ellison

Small Smart Stuff
Electronics Q&A

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Is it okay to ask for a radio check on VHF Channel 16? K.R., via e-mail
The answer depends on what kind of radio check you mean and which U.S. Coast Guard district you're operating in. Ensuring yourself that your VHF is transmitting by hailing "any boat out there" on 16 is firmly prohibited in some U.S.C.G. commands, discouraged in others, and allowed in yet others. The same variability applies to making radio checks directly with the Coast Guard, even though it used to be completely outlawed. For example, U.S.C.G. District One, which extends from Maine to northern New Jersey, is now answering radio checks on 16, operations permitting. A representative told me that the policy has been changed because, believe it or not, some folks have used false Mayday calls to check their radios!

Another way to be sure that your radio is going to be there for you in an emergency situation is to call a specific party like a local marina or even a towing service that monitors VHF full time. Except in a few areas, such as the Great Lakes, where the Coast Guard is trying to get all recreational-boat hailing onto channel 9, using 16 for this procedure is okay. However, it is preferable to use 9 or a working channel like 68 if possible, the idea being to leave 16 free to serve its primary function as a distress channel.

Good citizens of the waterways learn how the channels are used wherever they boat, transmit on 16 efficiently and properly, and don't broadcast over other users. By the way, one of the wonderful promises of DSC is "quiet watchstanding," whereby your radio won't make a peep until someone calls you specifically or issues a real Mayday (as easily traceable false ones should become rare). Also, there is a lot of good information out there about VHF usage. Visit the Web version of this column for links to good VHF education sites. --B.E.

Got a marine electronics question? Write to Electronics Q&A, Power & Motoryacht, 260 Madison Ave., 8th Fl., New York, NY 10016. Fax: (917) 256-2282. e-mail: No phone calls please.

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This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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