One of our club meetings featured a presentation and discussion on the features of Marine VHF communications and why this is a subject which should be of interest to all skippers.  This article summarises the content of that presentation.


Every skipper should have a working knowledge of the essentials of Marine VHF Communications as this is an integral part of the safety precautions needed when in tidal waters.

The most important and international Channel is Channel 16, the distress channel .  Mariners normally listen in on this channel to keep an ear out for vessels in distress.  If one wants to call up another vessel, contact is established on this channel and arrangements are made to move to one of the four channels reserved for vessel to vessel communication.

These are Channels 06, 08, 72 and 77 .

There is an established protocol for calling another boat.  This requires the caller to call the boat twice, and then announce itself twice.  When the called boat acknowledges the call, arrangements are made to move to one of the above channels.  The recipient boat establishes contact on the new channel then then any messages can be sent and received as required.  The correct terminology at the end of the conversation is ‘Over’.

To call a marina to arrange entrance, to obtain directions or berthing instructions, the use of Channel 80 is normal.  Importantly, do ensure that your VHF set is tuned to International Channel 80, not USA Channel 80.  On US Channel 80 the marina can hear you, but you cannot hear their response.  This happened to us on the downriver cruise to the Medway last year.

There are three channels reserved for use on the Thames.  From Teddington to Crayfordness the Channel number is 14 .  Then, it switches to Channel 68 for use until Sear Reach Buoy No. 4.  Once past Sea Reach No. 4, the channel to use is Channel 69, right out into the open sea.

To avoid crowding the channels, it is strongly frowned upon if skippers engage in ‘chatter’, the channels being designed for genuine marine communication and passing on navigational information. For the same reason, it is advised that when boats are on the non-tidal Thames, VHF is not used and mobile phones are used instead.

The discussion which accompanied and particularly followed the presentation opened up a number of views, the conclusion of which is that it may pay us as a club to give the issue of communications more prominence in the planning for future downriver cruises.