Use a VHF Marine Radio for Emergencies on the Water:
The Coast Guard encourages boaters to invest in a VHF-FM radio as their primary means of distress calling. VHF is superior to cell phones for boating emergencies. When a Mayday is sent out via a VHF radio it is a broadcast to Coast Guard radio stations as well as any VHF-equipped boat within listening range. Nearby boaters can often offer immediate assistance long before a Coast Guard vessel or towing service can arrive.
VHF Operator’s licence:
Any person who uses the radio to transmit must have a Restricted Radio Operator’s Certificate – Marine ROC(M). You don’t need a Certificate just to listen to weather channels. GMDSS (Global Maritime Distress and Safety System) was added to courses and ROC exams in 2005 – anyone with a current certificate remains qualified to operate a marine radio. Teach your children never to talk on the radio unless they have an ROC(M). More…
VHF ship’s radio licence:
Licences for a ship’s VHF radio station may be exempted for recreational boat radios used in Canadian waters. You should maintain the licence if you plan to travel to other countries or boat near U.S. waters. More…
To legally transmit using VHF radios on a foreign boat in Canada require a valid Ship Station Licence (2003: $150 for 10 yrs) and operator’s licence from your home country. Transmitting around the Canada/U.S. border is usually ignored, but make sure you follow proper radio procedures. More…
Global Maritime Distress and Safety System began in 1999. Ships will send distress calls electronically using Digital Selective Calling (DSC) on the Great Lakes, as well as coastal waters. The U.S. Coast Guard continues to monitor Channel 16 in coastal waters. Channel 16 (and 2182 kHz) will also be monitored by the Canadian Coast Guard until further notice.
Other Marine Radio Services in Canada includes telephone, high seas telephone, Navtex, pollution reports, satellite phones, radiomedical, links, and a cute cartoon about “boat anchors”.
New boats are now being sold with VHF radios as standard equipment, sending people onto the water without a proper operator’s licence which would at least ensure they know basic radio procedure.
Heard on VHF channel 16 (Lake Ontario summer 2001):
“Vessel going down, this is [station] Coast Guard radio. What is your position and the nature of your distress?”
… I’ll leave it to you to see the humour in this.
VHF Channel Usage
The VHF working channels table lists channels for pleasure boats in different parts of Canada. I created this table with input from two VHF instructors and Coast Guard employees since there is just too much information in the federal publication (RBR-2 (former RIC-13 Table of Transmitting Frequencies). Note that if you travel, channel usage is different in each part of Canada. Some channels are listed for non-commercial use, but use them with care (monitor for at least 10 minutes to make it is not currently in use). Read the letter from Industry Canada [Government Directory] explaining usage of unassigned channels. We also provide a Pacific region VHF channel list contributed by a course instructor on the west coast.
A after a channel indicates U.S. mode; B is International mode. Look for a switch on your VHF radio “International – U.S.” and set it to “International” setting in Canada. For general information about how VHF communications works, see Wikipedia.org: Marine VHF radio.
Channel 16 is for distress and calling only. The Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) provides continuous service (monitoring, response, weather alerts) on VHF channel 16 (156.8 MHz), and on 2182 kHz. Call a Canadian Coast Guard station on their working frequency (22A or 83A depending on region), for making a radiotelephone call or to report a Float Plan. In an emergency, mariners may obtain medical advice by calling an MCTS Centre and requesting to be connected to a medical professional via the MCTS Telephone System. (Marine Communications and Traffic Services)
In a typical day, the CCG handles:
1,127 marine radio contacts, assists in 19 search and rescue operations, services 55 aids to navigation, surveys 5 km of navigation channel, saves 8 lives, manages 2,346 commercial ship movements, as well as other duties.
The 8 primary Search and Rescue Stations in the Great Lakes are: Tobermory, Goderich, Meaford, Amherstburg, Port Dover, Port Weller, Cobourg, Kingston.
Making a VHF radio call:
Learn how to call another boat, harbour, bridge, or marina. Once a vessel has responded to your call, change to one of the VHF working channels authorized for pleasure boats to continue. If these are busy, you may use channels designated for non-commercial and intership communications, but you must note all restrictions. If channels are shared with commercial and official government organizations, use them only if they are “quiet” of that use for at least 5 minutes.
Canadian working channels:
General channels for recreational boaters are 06 and 68 when calling a ship or shore station. See our list of VHF working channels for Canadian regions. Note that the west coast uses different working channels from the east coast and Great Lakes, and Canadian channel usage is different from the U.S.A. Once you cross into American waters you must have the ROC(M), a valid ship’s radio licence, and follow their regulations for marine radio usage.
The St. Lawrence Seaway uses 11, 12, 13, 14. Contact locks and large ships on 13. Channel 68 is a main working channel for boats, but may also be used to call marinas and harbours (73 in the Pacific region). Don’t call them on 16!
It is illegal to use channel 70 for intership communication. Channel 70 is reserved exclusively for DSC: Digital Selective Calling digital safety and distress calls, part of the new GMDSS international marine emergency system. Channel 65A is restricted to Search and Rescue operations only. Boaters must not use these as a talking channel.
The U.S. allows Channel 9 as a second calling channel for recreational boats. This channel is not a calling channel in Canada. [www.uscg.mil]
Canadian Coast Guard monitors 83A (157.1 MHz). (CCG monitors Channel 22A in some areas that borders the U.S. in Pacific Region.) CCG uses 1-3, 23-28, 60, 64, 84-88 for public correspondence. They will tell you which channel to switch to for making a VHF radiotelephone call via the Marine Operator. For long-distance calling, you must have an existing account or a valid ship’s licence for billing purposes.