The VHF Radio Etiquette
The VHF Radio Etiquette

Effective communication via VHF radio is crucial for sailors to maintain safety and coordination with other boats, emergency services, and marinas.

The VHF Radio Etiquette

As you embark on your sailing adventure, one of the essential skills you’ll need to master is the proper use of VHF (Very High Frequency) radio. This communication tool is vital for ensuring the safety of your vessel and crew, as well as maintaining good relations with fellow sailors and the maritime community. In this article, we’ll cover the basics of VHF radio etiquette, including proper procedures, common phrases, and tips for clear and effective communication.

Table of Contents

Why VHF Radio is Important

VHF radio is a crucial tool for sailors, as it allows for communication with other vessels, marinas, and emergency services. It is essential for coordinating with other boats, receiving weather updates, and calling for assistance in case of an emergency. Additionally, proper use of VHF radio can help prevent accidents and misunderstandings, ensuring a safe and enjoyable sailing experience for all.

VHF Radio Channels and Their Uses

VHF radios operate on a range of channels, each designated for specific purposes. Here are some of the most commonly used channels and their functions:

  • Channel 16: This is the international distress, safety, and calling channel. It is used for making initial contact with other vessels or shore stations and for emergency communications. Once contact is established, you should switch to a working channel to continue your conversation.
  • Channel 13: This channel is used for bridge-to-bridge communication between vessels, primarily for navigational purposes.
  • Channel 9: In some areas, this channel is designated as an alternate calling channel for non-commercial vessels.
  • Channels 68, 69, 71, 72, and 78A: These are common working channels for recreational boaters. Once you have established contact on channel 16, you can switch to one of these channels for your conversation.

It’s essential to familiarize yourself with the specific channel assignments in your sailing area, as they may vary by region. Consult your VHF radio’s manual or local maritime authorities for more information.

Basic VHF Radio Procedures

To ensure clear and effective communication, it’s essential to follow proper VHF radio procedures. Here are the basic steps for initiating and conducting a VHF radio conversation:

  1. Listen before transmitting: Before you begin speaking, listen to the channel to ensure it is not currently in use.
  2. Select the appropriate channel: Choose the correct channel for your intended communication, as outlined in the previous section.
  3. Press the transmit button: Hold the microphone about 2 inches from your mouth, press the transmit button, and wait for a second before speaking to ensure your transmission is not cut off.
  4. State your call sign or vessel name: Begin your transmission by stating your vessel’s name or call sign, followed by the name or call sign of the vessel or station you are trying to contact. Repeat this process three times for initial contact.
  5. Switch to a working channel: Once contact is established, agree on a working channel and switch to that channel to continue your conversation.
  6. End your transmission: When you have finished speaking, release the transmit button and wait for a response. To conclude your conversation, state your vessel’s name or call sign and the word “out.”

Common VHF Radio Phrases

To ensure clear and concise communication, it’s essential to use standard VHF radio phrases. Here are some common terms and their meanings:

  • Over: This indicates that you have finished speaking and are waiting for a response.
  • Out: This signifies the end of your conversation. No response is expected.
  • Roger: This means that you have received and understood the message.
  • Affirmative: This is used to indicate agreement or confirmation.
  • Negative: This is used to indicate disagreement or refusal.
  • Standby: This means that you are temporarily unable to respond or need a moment to gather information. The other party should wait for your response.
  • Mayday: This is the international distress signal, used only in life-threatening emergencies.
  • Pan-Pan: This is the international urgency signal, used for situations that are not immediately life-threatening but require assistance.
  • Securité: This is the international safety signal, used to broadcast important safety information or navigational warnings.

Tips for Clear and Effective Communication

To ensure your VHF radio transmissions are easily understood, follow these tips for clear and effective communication:

  • Speak slowly and clearly, enunciating each word.
  • Use plain language whenever possible, avoiding slang or jargon.
  • Repeat important information, such as numbers or coordinates, for clarity.
  • Spell out words using the phonetic alphabet (e.g., Alpha, Bravo, Charlie) if there is any potential for confusion.
  • Keep your transmissions brief and to the point, avoiding unnecessary chatter.

VHF Radio Etiquette Do’s and Don’ts

To maintain good relations with fellow sailors and the maritime community, it’s essential to follow proper VHF radio etiquette. Here are some do’s and don’ts to keep in mind:


  • Monitor channel 16 when not actively using your VHF radio, in case of emergency calls or important announcements.
  • Use the lowest power setting necessary to communicate effectively, to minimize interference with other vessels.
  • Be patient and courteous when communicating with other vessels or shore stations, even if they are not following proper procedures.


  • Use profanity or offensive language, as VHF radio transmissions can be heard by anyone monitoring the channel.
  • Engage in unnecessary chatter or lengthy conversations, as this can tie up the channel and prevent others from using it.
  • Transmit false distress or emergency calls, as this is illegal and can result in severe penalties.

By following these guidelines and mastering the art of VHF radio etiquette, you’ll be well-equipped to communicate effectively and safely with fellow sailors and maritime authorities. This essential skill will not only enhance your sailing experience but also contribute to the safety and enjoyment of all those who share the open sea.