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Marine VHF Radio l Very High Frequency Radio

Which VHF radio channel is used to make a distress call?

If you have a VHF radio, keep it tuned to channel 16. Be aware of where you are at all times, and be prepared to describe your specific position. Currently, all VHF marine radio operators must have a restricted operator's certificate (Maritime) — ROC(M). Industry Canada has delegated the ROC(M) to the Canadian Power & Sail Squadrons (CPS). Contact the CPS or visit for more information about courses available in your area.

Do I need a VHF radio licence for my boat in Canada?

Industry Canada has exempted Canadian vessels that are not operated in the territorial waters of another country from the requirement for a station licence.

Do I need a radio operator's certificate in Canada?

Marine radiotelephones fitted onboard Canadian vessels, must be operated by a person holding a Radio Operator's Certificate (ROC-M).  


If you are buying a new VHF radio, make sure it has the new Digital Selective Calling (DSC) feature on channel 70. This provides automatic digital distress alerts. The Canadian Coast Guard provides DSC channel 70 service on the east and west coasts, as well as on the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River.Remember, VHF radio channel 16 is used for emergency and calling purposes only. Once you contact another vessel on channel 16, switch to another working frequency. VHF channel 70 is used only for DSC (digital) communication — not voice. Use your VHF radio as described in the VHF Radiotelephone Practices and Procedures Regulations. Your owner’s manual will explain how to make a DSC call to another vessel or to a shore station that has DSC capability.

While you may be able to get search and rescue assistance from the nearest Canadian Coast Guard Marine Communications and Traffic Services (MCTS) centre by dialling *16 on a cell phone, it is not the best substitute for a marine radio. This is not the best way to issue a distress call for the following reasons:  

  • Cell phones can lose their signal or get wet or damaged.
  • Calling from your cell phone does not alert nearby vessels that you are in distress — they could be the ones to help you if they could hear you.
  • Some cell phone signals cannot be traced back to your location by rescuers.
  • Not all cell phone providers offer the *16 service. Find out if this service is available for your phone.

When in extreme danger (for example, your boat is taking on water and you are in danger of sinking or capsizing), use your VHF radio channel 16 and say “Mayday” — “Mayday” — “Mayday.” Then give the name of your boat, its position, the number of people on board, the nature of your problem and the type of help you need.

If you need help but are not in immediate danger (for example, your motor has quit and you cannot reach shore), use channel 16 and say “Pan Pan” — “Pan Pan” — “Pan Pan.” Then give the name of your boat, its position, the number of people on board, the nature of your problem and the type of help you need.

Finally, in order to avoid finding yourself in a compromising situation, keep up-to-date about the changing weather as well as the most recent navigation security alerts put out by the competent authorities,such as a cargo boat navigating in narrow waters and which could possibly put your safety at risk. The calling station will then issue a warning using the word « SÉCURITÉ », repeated three times.

The main differences between VHF and UHF come both from their frequencies and their connectivity; two-way radios that use UHF frequencies, for example, are much less likely to be interrupted during transmissions.

Marine vhf radio frequencies

VHF radios operate on "very-high frequency," between 30 and 300 MHz. VHF radios are most frequently used by amateur radio broadcasters and stations that broadcast on FM channels.

UHF radios operate on "ultra-high frequencies," between 300 and 3,000 MHz. Global positioning systems (GPS), satellite and many wireless Internet systems use UHF radio frequencies.

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