How to Test a VHF Marine Radio

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The open sea has a charm that is irresistible to many people. That’s the reason why so many people enjoy boating and open water activities in the ocean, lakes, and rivers. Having the wind in your hair and waves of water surrounding you is great for the soul.

The sea and other water forms, however, can be unpredictable and extremely dangerous. Boaters need to be proactive and always make sure that safety precautions are being met. Fortunately, the ability to communicate with people on dry land while you’re in the water offers a sense of comfort.

It is no surprise that the VHF (very high frequency) marine radio is the most-used navigational device for communication. It is simple and straightforward, and it allows for two-way communication. It offers not only ship-to-shore communication but also ship-to-ship communication, making help more accessible.

In case of an emergency, your VHF marine radio could be your only way to get help. That is why your VHF marine radio must be fully functional when you are in open waters. It could be your only lifeline in a life or death situation. Therefore, be sure to always do a VHF test on your marine radio before heading out to sea.

How to Test a VHF Marine Radio

Here are the steps to performing a test on a VHF marine radio to ensure that it is in proper working order in case you ever need it.

1. Adjusting the squelch

A VHF marine radio comes with a built-in circuit designed to suppress the output of the radio signal. However, if the signal is relatively low, it can cause a great deal of static, making it hard to communicate and perform your test effectively.

The way to do this is by adjusting the squelch until it starts to make a hissing sound. As soon as you hear the hissing sound, turn it back until the hissing stops again. All unnecessary static should now have been removed, and you can continue with your test.

2. Tuning into your channel

Now you can proceed to tune into the channel that you will use for your test. Again, it is important to choose an open channel when performing a test. When you are ready to proceed, lift the microphone to your mouth and hold it closely. People with a lot of experience using VHF marine radios mostly agree that it is best to keep your microphone at a 90-degree angle when wanting to communicate.

man holding a vhf radion watching at the yachts in beautiful bay

3. Radio check

Now that you have eliminated your static and chosen your channel, you are ready to begin with your radio check. Repeat the words “radio check” three times, followed by the name of your vessel and your location after the third time. If I were doing a radio check on a boat called Second Wind, an example of my radio check would be, “Radio check, radio check, radio check. This is the Second Wind. Our position is 34:66′ north and 67:66′ west.”

All the information needed has been given, and now the receiving person can respond. It is essential to speak clearly and slowly. Listen and wait for a response. If anyone answers, you can start your engines because your VHF marine radio is functioning. If there is no response, try again. Be sure to continue trying until there is a response.

After several attempts without response, it would be advised to have your VHF marine radio checked before heading out on your vessel. Do not take a chance taking a vessel out in open water with a VHF marine radio that didn’t get a response after several attempts. The radio might be faulty and would offer no assistance in case of emergency.

4. Channel 16

It is important to note that you should never perform your VHF marine radio test on channel 16. Channel 16 is a distress channel used only in case of emergencies. Channel 16 is found at 156.8 MHz and is an international distress frequency. The primary intention of this channel is for emergencies and urgency. It also offers safety priority calls.

Of course, in case of emergencies, use channel 16 for your radio call. If you have a DSC-equipped radio, press the distress button. DSC stands for digital selective calling, and it simply means that whenever the boater hits the button, it will automatically send a distress call along with your location.

Your GPS must be linked if you are using a DSC radio. An accurate GPS signal could save a lot of time in an emergency. If you don’t have a DSC-equipped radio, choose channel 16 and then say the word “mayday” three times, followed by your vessel’s name and location. After that, clearly state the emergency.

An example would be: “Mayday, mayday, mayday. This is the Second Wind. Our position is 34:66′ north and 67:66′ west. We are sinking.” If you have time, you can go a step further and state the number of people on the vessel to prepare rescuers.

An example of this will be, “We are a 19-foot Mako, blue hull, red decks, with three adults and four children aboard.” Mention any injuries. After making your distress call, listen and wait for a response. If there isn’t a response, repeat the distress call, following the pattern as above. Try to stay calm. Speak loudly and clearly while giving your location every time. Remove danger as much as you can while waiting for a response.

Final Thoughts

Water offers us a great getaway from our day-to-day life where we can enjoy time alone or with friends and family. It gives us an almost primal satisfaction. We deserve to cherish time spent on the water as much as possible while always caring for our safety.

Having a VHF marine radio set up and ready to go as you take on your next adventure is the responsible thing to do. It can save not only your life but also those of the people around you. That is something that can offer all boaters great peace of mind.

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