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How to Use Marine VHF Radio

Having a Marine radio can be critical when operating a boat on any type of water. There are many uses for a Marine radio, but the most important is to send a distress signal -- here's how to do it.


  • Step 1: Call distress signal Tune your marine radio to channel 16 and call out the word "mayday" three times in a row. This is the international hailing and distress frequency.
  • TIP: Collect as much information as you can about your vessel, your condition, and your location before making a distress call.
  • Step 2: Name your vessel Call out the name of your vessel by saying "This is" and then repeating the name of your vessel three times in a row.
  • TIP: Call out your call sign and registration number once each if you know them.
  • Step 3: Repeat mayday and name Repeat "mayday" and the name of the vessel once more.
  • Step 4: Give position Give the position of your vessel finding your latitude and longitude on a nautical chart, and approximate distance to a known landmark or island.
  • TIP: Give your bearing information by describing the direction you're heading using your compass.
  • Step 5: Describe your condition Describe the nature of your distress by saying something like, "struck a submerged object," "taking on water," or "fire on board."
  • Step 6: Describe what you need Describe any specific assistance you might need, like medical attention for someone on board, or pumps needed to remove water.
  • Step 7: Describe number of people on board Describe how many people are on board, their age if pertinent, and their condition.
  • Step 8: Give other information Give any other pieces of information that may further assist the rescuer. Then end the call with the word "over."
  • Step 9: Switch channels Switch to a mutually decided on, free channel once you have established contact with a rescuer. Simply call out a switch to a numbered channel and then tune to that channel to continue communicating with the rescuer.
  • FACT: The distress signal "mayday" was created in 1923 by Fredrick Stanley Mockford, based on the French word m'aider, which means "come help me."

You Will Need

  • Boat
  • Marine radio
  • Nautical chart
  • General information about your boat and passengers
  • Call sign and registration number (optional)
  • Compass (optional)

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