Coast Guard recommends VHF-FM radios for boaters in distress

300 Boat ResponsiblyNEW ORLEANS — While boaters may feel safe with just a cell phone, as part of National Safe Boating Week the Coast Guard recommends marine-band radios set to channel 16 for all boaters in case of distress.

VHF-FM radios are intended mainly for short-range communications, generally 5-10 miles, and at least 20 miles to a Coast Guard station. Boaters are urged to stay by the radio, if possible. Even after the message has been received, the Coast Guard can find you more quickly if you can transmit a signal that a rescue boat or aircraft can receive. With marine-band radios on board and set to channel 16, a boater is only a call away from help.

The Coast Guard, other first responder agencies and fellow mariners monitor channel 16 24/7, which increases the number of people who can respond.

“Radios are better than cell phones because their signals can assist in locating people in distress,” said Ed Huntsman, boating safety program manager for the 8th Coast Guard District. “Though a cell phone is better than no communication device at all, cell phones tend to have gaps in coverage while on the water, plus limited battery life. Many VHF radios are now water resistant and some are even waterproof.”

A growing number of boaters unsuccessful in getting a radio check on VHF channel 16 are calling mayday to get a response. Every hoax, including Mayday radio checks, is subject to prosecution as a Class D felony under Title 14, Section 85 of the U.S. Code, liable for a $5,000 fine plus all costs the Coast Guard incurs as a result of the individual’s action.

For information on marine-band radios and procedures making distress calls on channel 16, click here.

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