The most popular way of communicating at sea is via a marine VHF (Very High Frequency) set. These are combined transmitter/receivers that operate on allocated frequencies known as ‘channels’.
Marine VHF radios are used for a variety of purposes including; contacting harbours, marinas, locks, summoning the rescue services and ship-to-shore or ship-to-ship communication. To prevent maritime transmissions creating interference with other radio users, a section of the radio spectrum has been allocated specifically for marine communications.
To make operation within the spectrum as simple as possible, radio frequencies have been organised into numbered channels (eg. Ch.16 actually refers to 156.800MHz).The VHF marine radio band remains consistent around the world, ensuring that vessels travelling on international voyages can always communicate. There are 55 international marine channels, a similar number of private channels (allocated on a local basis to commercial organisations), and some unique national channels. Channel 16 (156.800MHz) is the international calling and distress channel.
Handheld VHF Marine Radio
Handheld VHF radios work in exactly the same way as their fixed equivalents. Many of the features are shared and in ICOM’s range they even follow the same operating protocol, to help users who use both types. As with any tool there are advantages and disadvantages.
Handheld advantages include small size and portability, usefulness in an emergency, should a vessels electrical power fail, independence from the vessel’s power and antenna, and value. Disadvantages are related to the power output and battery life, which affects range and how long the handheld can be used.
To summaries, compact size makes handhelds more suitable for small vessels without their own battery source; or as emergency back-up for fixed radios or as additional radios for crew and use in tenders etc.