Here are VHF-FM non-commercial channels recreational boaters may use in specific situations.
Federal Communications Commission regulations require boaters having VHF radios to maintain a watch on either channel 9 or channel 16, whenever the radio is turned on and not communicating with another station. All non-emergency traffic should be communicated on another channel (not channels 9 or 16).
For safety purposes, boats are supposed to monitor channel 16 at all times. Channel 16 is also a hailing frequency, but the FCC wants recreational boaters to use channel 9 for hailing (designated as a hailing channel in 1992) in order to keep 16 open to distress calls.
Recreational Boating Marine Radio Channels
|New Channel Number||Old Channel Number||Ship Transmit MHz||Ship Receive MHz||Use|
|1001||01A||156.050||156.050||Port Operations and Commercial, VTS. Available only in New Orleans / Lower Mississippi area.|
|1005||05A||156.250||156.250||Port Operations or VTS in the Houston, New Orleans and Seattle areas.|
|08||08||156.400||156.400||Commercial (Intership only). VDSMS|
|09||09||156.450||156.450||Boater Calling. Commercial and Non-Commercial. VDSMS|
|11||11||156.550||156.550||Commercial. VTS in selected areas. VDSMS|
|12||12||156.600||156.600||Port Operations. VTS in selected areas.|
|13||13||156.650||156.650||Intership Navigation Safety (Bridge-to-bridge). Ships >20m length maintain a listening watch on this channel in US waters.|
|14||14||156.700||156.700||Port Operations. VTS in selected areas.|
|15||15||—||156.750||Environmental (Receive only). Used by Class C EPIRBs.|
|16||16||156.800||156.800||International Distress, Safety and Calling. Ships required to carry radio, USCG, and most coast stations maintain a listening watch on this channel. See our Watchkeeping Regulations page.|
|17||17||156.850||156.850||State & local govt maritime control|
|20||20||157.000||161.600||Port Operations (duplex)|
|1021||21A||157.050||157.050||U.S. Coast Guard only|
|1022||22A||157.100||157.100||Coast Guard Liaison and Maritime Safety Information Broadcasts. Broadcasts announced on channel 16.|
|1023||23A||157.150||157.150||U.S. Coast Guard only|
|24||24||157.200||161.800||Public Correspondence (Marine Operator). VDSMS|
|25||25||157.250||161.850||Public Correspondence (Marine Operator). VDSMS|
|26||26||157.300||161.900||Public Correspondence (Marine Operator). VDSMS|
|27||27||157.350||161.950||Public Correspondence (Marine Operator). VDSMS|
|28||28||157.400||162.000||Public Correspondence (Marine Operator). VDSMS|
|1063||63A||156.175||156.175||Port Operations and Commercial, VTS. Available only in New Orleans / Lower Mississippi area.|
|67||67||156.375||156.375||Commercial. Used for Bridge-to-bridge communications in lower Mississippi River. Intership only.|
|70||70||156.525||156.525||Digital Selective Calling (voice communications not allowed)|
|72||72||156.625||156.625||Non-Commercial (Intership only). VDSMS|
|77||77||156.875||156.875||Port Operations (Intership only)|
|1079||79A||156.975||156.975||Commercial. Non-Commercial in Great Lakes only. VDSMS|
|1080||80A||157.025||157.025||Commercial. Non-Commercial in Great Lakes only. VDSMS|
|1081||81A||157.075||157.075||U.S. Government only – Environmental protection operations.|
|1082||82A||157.125||157.125||U.S. Government only|
|1083||83A||157.175||157.175||U.S. Coast Guard only|
|84||84||157.225||161.825||Public Correspondence (Marine Operator). VDSMS|
|85||85||157.275||161.875||Public Correspondence (Marine Operator). VDSMS|
|86||86||157.325||161.925||Public Correspondence (Marine Operator). VDSMS|
|87||87||157.375||157.375||Public Correspondence (Marine Operator). VDSMS|
|88||88||157.425||157.425||Commercial, Intership only. VDSMS|
|AIS 1||AIS 1||161.975||161.975||Automatic Identification System (AIS)|
|AIS 2||AIS 2||162.025||162.025||Automatic Identification System (AIS)|
- Channel 16: For hailing, safety and emergency use only
- Channel 9: Pleasure-boat hailing channel
- Channels 68, 69, 71, 72 and 78A: Recreational working channels
- Channels 1, 7A, 8, 10, 11, 18A, 19A, 63, 77, 79A, 80A and 88A: Commercial channels (Pleasure boaters are supposed to stay off them.)
- Channel 13: For requesting bridge openings, although in some areas it’s channel 67.
- Channels 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 84, 85, 86 and 87: Used by marine operators.
- Channel 22: Coast Guard working channel, the one where safety broadcasts are made after they alert you on channel 16 and ask you to switch over
- Channel 6: For Inter-ship safety communications
- Channels 1, 5, 12, 14, 20, 63, 65A, 66A, 73, 74 and 77: For port operations (Many of these are used by recreational boats in areas where no port operations exist.)
- Channel 70: A dedicated Digital Selective Calling (DSC) channel. DSC is an automated distress system that allows us to make digital phone calls through our VHFs. Is your VHF set up properly?
Do I Need A License To Transmit On VHF Marine Radio?
The FCC decided in 1996 that “voluntary users” need no longer obtain a radio license. Voluntary users are defined as being boats less than 20 meters in length that don’t carry people for hire and don’t broadcast outside of U.S. waters. If you meet those criteria, you can operate a VHF, radar and EPIRB without a license.
VHFs (very high frequencies) work on a line-of-sight basis, meaning that their FM signals don’t follow the curvature of the earth, so antenna height is critical. Basically, the higher your antenna (and the higher the receiving antenna), the farther you can talk.
Baofeng Radio For VHF Marine Band
TIP: You can use a handheld Baofeng radio (UV-5R / BF-F8HP) for this. Using CHIRP software, you can program in whatever channels you want. I keep one particular set of channels for VHF Marine frequencies.
Incidentally, if you do have a Baofeng, there’s an antenna upgrade that is specifically tuned to transmit within these frequencies. That’s exactly what I did…
[ Read: Best BaoFeng Antenna Upgrade for Ham Radio or GMRS, FRS, MURS, Marine Bands ]
Side note: In my local area (which is out of range from boating communications on ocean waters), I’ve heard loggers and hunters using the VHF Marine radio band for comms.