How to use the VHF radio like a pro!

So you have got to grips with the sails and all the long stringy things that make them work. The charts and all those buoys, shapes and lights are starting to make sense. What about that VHF radio at the chart table? Did you know –

  • You need a VHF Radio licence to operate the VHF radio on board your boat unless you are in distress
  • Many countries popular for flotilla holidays insist that you hold a VHF Radio licence when chartering a yacht
  • The RYA VHF Radio course includes training about EPIRBS and Personal safety devices.
  • A distress situation is not the best time to operate your VHF radio for the first time!

The DSC button

Thanks to modern DSC radios and GPS, the Coast Guard will know your exact location the moment you press the distress button. The RYA VHF course will teach you how to do this but just in case you need it, here is what you need to do:

Making an emergency call:

The UK Coastguards prefered method for distress calling is by DSC. (pressing the big red button!). Then back up your DSC distress alert with a voice MAYDAY call.

1. Be sure your radio is tuned to channel 16, this channel is constantly monitored by the coast guard.

2. If lives are in immediate danger, use the call sign “mayday” If the situation is not life-threatening, but could deteriorate, use the call sign “pan-pan”.

3. Be concise and clear when sending your message. Repeat the appropriate call sign clearly three times, followed by the name of your vessel. (“Mayday, mayday, mayday, this is Yacht XXXXX…”). The RYA VHF Radio Course will include the full Mayday proceedure.

4. When the Coast Guard answers, be ready to tell them the nature of your emergency, the number of people onboard, and if your radio doesn’t have active DSC, your exact location (in latitude and longitude from GPS, if at all possible).

5. Remember, all vessels in the area who are tuned in to channel 16, will be able to hear your emergency call and will respond if they are able.

RYA VHF Radio Licence

Weather Forecast

Weather forecasts may be broadcast on VHF Channels 10, 23, 73, 84 or 86, and exceptionally on Channel 67, after an initial announcement on Channel 16. Times are in UT (GMT) and will vary depending on where you are located. Broadcast times and channels may be found in a nautical almanac or coastguard website.

Inshore forecasts are broadcast every 4 hours with the Shipping forecast every 12 hours.

Calling marinas

All ports and marinas monitor the VHF radio. When entering a port or requesting a berth in a marina, you should use the correct marine channel to contact the Port Captain or Marina Staff. The channel will be listed in local port information or your nautical almanac however all UK marinas listen on channel 80.

Flotilla in Simi

Sailing overseas?

Don’t leave it too late to obtain your VHF licence before chartering, especially overseas. In many countries including Croatia and Greece, the Port Captain will ask to see your VHF licence along with your ICC and boat paperwork.

Getting licenced

It is easy to gain your VHF Radio licence by taking a short course followed by an assessment. The course can be taken either online or in the classroom. Which ever option you choose, you will need to attend an assessment. We offer assessments every Friday and Sunday afternoon throughout the year to enable you to combine this with other RYA training or chartering.

RYA Interactive VHF online course

Click on the links below for more information regarding VHF Radio training and how to book a course.