VHF Radio Use Questions

Greetings all,

I had some questions on VHF radio use for you users out there. I live in Wisconsin and currently paddle large inland lakes and rivers. I will be venturing out into Lakes Superior and Michigan this year and have been looking at VHF radios. I understand the different channels and their specific uses, etc.

My real question or scenario that I can’t seem to find an answer on whether this is ‘legal’ or ‘acceptable’ use is as follows. If I am in a small group of kayaks, say on an INLAND lake or river, can we, using the appropriate non-commercial use channel, communicate in general conversation with eachother? “Hey let’s pull over up here” or “Look at that blah blah blah over there”. I understand that there are family use radios that are more targeted at this use, but what does everyone else use - their VHF or a second FRS radio? I won’t have a VHF radio and then buy another waterproof FRS radio for this minimal use. Just wondering if that is accepted use or if the VHF radio is used strictly for emergency use only. I am also aware that I cannot use the VHF on land or would be looking at a fine if caught.

As far as those of you who use VHF on inland lakes in more populated areas - do you know if local authorities monitor channel 16 for boater distress calls? If I understand correctly, VHF is more line of sight communication, so maybe this is a moot point as they may not get a signal. A police officer friend of mine wasn’t sure if the channel was monitored by dispatch and was going to check.

Thanks in advance for your comments and advice!

on land is prohibited.

on use water , even inland lakes is OK…

Forget about help on a small inland lake using channel 16…it’s coast guard and large ship monitored…I would be totally suprised if anyone would be there for a small inland lake. (if the lake is large enough for fishing boats they might just happen to have their radio on …and could be of help…but…

Don’t bet on it though…they would never be expecting to need to moniter on a small inland lake

Best Wishes


Where I am in NH, the local dispatch center does not monitor marine 16.

The state marine patrol, which operates on lakes over 10 acres, does monitor 16. The small patrol boats are moved from lake to lake so you have to call to see if there’s coverage on a given day.

They types of communication that you are describing are acceptable on the non-commercial channels.

It is not acceptable on channels 9 or 16. Every so often I’ll hear banter on channel 9. Typically the offenders are reminded to take it to another channel.

Just check with locals
This may not be as much of an issue inland, but at one surf session we attended the coach found out that local users tended to rely heavily on one channels in the 70’s for weather info and alerts from a local station. Whichever channel it was, it was one of the ones that’d normally be considered free for paddler communications in the place we vacation in Maine.

So, it might be worth checking with locals to see if there is something like this around you.

Use calling land to land is prohibited. Calling from land base to someone on the water is allowed.

thanks to all of you who replied - some good information. Makes me feel even better about the VHF purchase!

We use them often

– Last Updated: May-14-10 6:21 PM EST –

for intraboat communication when seakayaking and the group gets separated or strung out. All of the non-commercial ship-to-ship (aka "pleasure" use) channels --68, 69, 71, 72, and 78A -- are acceptable for that sort of communication. Sometimes there is a lot of fisherman chatter on all of those during busy summer days. We also switch to a lower power transmission setting if the VHF has one. 1 watt will cover a lot of distance if it is a straight line without interference. No need to broadcast on full power if not needed, and it saves your battery life.

I guess you could use 67, 1A or 5A if you aren't anywhere near those areas (N.O., Houston, Seattle, Lower Mississippi), especially on low power settings on a small lake, but it's very doubtful you'll have much other traffic on the available channels. I haven't tried it to see if the CG says anything about it.

Why don’t you just get a couple of
FSR radios? You can pick them up for around $40 at Wal-Mart and many other stores. You don’t need a license and they work great for the use you want. I’m a member of the local SAR unit and we use them in training and when on searches.

Generally, you can’t use a frequency unless licensed or authorized to use a frequency. I doubt you are authorized to use those frequencies.

As above, we commonly hear banter from boaters of various ilk (not just fishermen) on channels like 71 etc when along the coast. No one shuts them down and I am sure no one bothers to get a license to confirm when their buddy should come over for the barbecue. There are reserved channels yes, but along the coast there is plenty of space for ad hoc use. Perhaps things are different inland.

No license is required for VHF Marine
radio use for the typical handheld that a boater would use, nor for FRS. It is OK to use VHF Marine when on the water, even if an inland lake.

A license is required for GMRS, which is often included in a lot of the “bubble-pack” radios. It would appear that many folks fail to properly obtain one (it only requires paying a fee) but that doesn’t make it OK.

GMR share some of the frequencies

– Last Updated: May-16-10 12:54 PM EST –

with the FSR radios; however, the GMR radios can transmit up to 5 watts while the FSR radios only 500 milliwatts. The FSR/GMR radios usually has the ability on the shared bands to transmit greater power than on the FSR bands by pressing the PTT switch differently. On the FSR bands the power is always 500 mw or less.

Concerning VHF Marine radios: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0BQK/is_4_4/ai_61555369/pg_2/

The Securite Call
The Securite Call

If you doubt whether you’re visible to other boats (powerboats, ferries, tugs, etc.,), while in fog or at night or other conditions which reduce visibility (deep swell, whitecaps, etc.), you can’t go wrong making a securite call (say-cure-ee-tay) on VHF channel 16.

Securite calls warn mariners about hazardous navigational issues – which in this case is you.

To make a securite call, turn your VHF radio on and choose low power so your call reaches only nearby boaters.

Decide on a simple descriptive call sign (“yellow seakayak”, for example), and choose an alternative channel should someone need to communicate with you in detail (example: channel 68, 69, 71, 72).

On channel 16 (“one six”), make a call similar to the following:

"Securite, securite, securite. This is Yellow Seakayak, repeat Yellow Seakayak, off Gap Head, Rockport making a transit in reduced visibility [fog, darkness, rain, rough seas, etc.] from Gap Head to Thacher Island. Our compass course is 150, our estimated transit time twenty minutes.


"This is Yellow Seakayak, Yellow Seakayak, on a transit between Gap Head, Rockport and Thacher Island in reduced visibility. Interested mariners contact Yellow Seakayak, repeat Yellow Seakayak, on channel X [68, 69, 71, 72].

“Yellow seakayak standing by one-six. Repeat.”

After a 30-second pause, repeat your broadcast, then conclude with “Yellow Seakayak OUT, monitoring channel X [68, 69, 71, or 72]”.

A securite call is perhaps your best defense against getting run down by another boat while paddling in reduced visibility on known or unmarked transit routes.

Not exactly
In order to legally call “shore to ship”, so to speak, you need a license. The only approved, unlicensed uses are “ship to ship” and “ship to shore” for services such as the Coast Guard, bridge and lock keepers, etc.

Discussions are legal…
…and appropriate, but out or courtesy to other users, you should try to keep conversations short and to the point. It’s pretty aggravating when you’re out on the water and you have to listen to people discussing their plans for the evening or rambling about their grandkids, while it runs your radio’s battery down. In areas with large boater populations, it can be difficult to find a channel that’s without a lot of chatter.