VHS Marine Radio

In this day and age of ubiquitous smartphones and increasingly powerful apps, you may wonder, if I have a phone, why do I even need a marine radio on my vessel?

If you think you can depend on your cell phone, or other mobile device for reliable marine communications, you had better think again!

While it is true that a cell phone on board allows you to “stay connected” to land bound friends, family and business associates, a cell phone  shouldn’t be thought as a replacement for very high frequency (VHF) radio,  which as an essential part of your boat’s safety and communication gear.

Cell Phone Vs VHF

VHF marine-band radios have been the standard for marine communications for centuries, and they remain the primary means of ship-to-shore, and ship-to-ship communication for boats the world-over. The advantages of VHS over cellular communications are many:

  • Cell phones are far less reliable on the water, and become less so the further you get from shore due to the proximity of land based towers and repeaters. In addition to their limited range, most smartphones and mobile devices are not water-proof.
  • Most importantly, if you are in distress, a cell phone, even if you have a signal will only allow you to connect to a single person or entity you are trying to call. A VHS radio can broadcast a wide distress call to the Coast Guard, and any other vessels or agencies that may be in range and listening. This is extremely urgent in the event of any real emergency.
  • The US Coast Guard and vessel assist/towing services can triangulate your location via a VHS radio signal, they cannot do so with a cell phone.
cell phone vs marine radio

There’s No Contest!

On the other hand, unless you are only taking your yacht out close enough to shore to yell for help, a VHS Marine Radio should be your “go to” communications system because:

  • The have been specifically designed for distress calling and safety
  • The can connect you with ship-to-shore communications
  • They are an aid to navigation, and can receive broadcasts about other vessels in the area, bridge openings, other hazards, etc.
  • If you must connect to a land-bound telephone, a VHS radio can connect to a Marine operator, who can place calls to shore
  • They all can receive NOAA Weather Broadcasts

Most modern Marine VHF radio include a very handy feature known as Digital Selective Calling, or DSC. This is basically a “one-push mayday button.” When activated, it automatically broadcasts an encoded distress call that will be picked up by all nearby vessels equipped with DSC as well as US Coast Guards vessels and their shore stations. The signal will indicate your vessels location, and can even be selected to indicate the nature of your emergency.

USCG and radio

The USCG Always Monitors VHF Ch. 16

VHF radios can be handheld or fix-mounted. Most modern motor yachts will have a fix-mounted VHF radio as part of the electronics console. However, you should also have a hand-held radio to take aboard your tender, or if you have to abandon your vessel for any reason in an emergency. In Coast Guard jurisdictions, VHFs are monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In the event of a true emergency at sea, a VHF radio can be a real lifesaver!

Other Marine Communications Devices

With all of their advantages, understand that even VHF marine radios have their limitations. If you want to be sure you are never out of range of help in an emergency situation, in addition to a VHF radio it is highly recommended that you also have an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, or EPIRB, on board. This is a specialized emergency radio beacon that uses satellite technology to connect to a worldwide distress system. An EPIRB, or a similar device known as a Personal Locater Beacon (PLB) have been designed to quickly and reliably alert rescue personnel and accurately guide them to your position when all other communications fail. 

EPRIB in action

How an EPIRB Works

Before you Considering New or Upgraded Communications Gear

Before considering the purchase of new, or upgrading to more sophisticated communications equipment, it is important to have all of the wiring, connections, and other components of your electrical system inspected. These may also need to be upgraded to be compatible with any new marine electronics.

Did you know that routine inspection and maintenance of your electrical system, communications and safety gear, is all part of our On Demand yachting solution?

That is only one advantage of being part of On Demand yachting. Members are aware of when any upgrades to any system from hydraulics to your engines, may be necessary, and you can be sure your yacht is always maintained for peak performance and the personal safety of you and your guests.



Operating a motor yacht can be costly. You can reduce your expenses, and avoid costly repairs by keeping her well maintained. On Demand yachting from FYM can help. If you would like to learn more, or if you have any questions or comments about this blog post, do not hesitate to contact our Yacht Management specialists, or call us at (954) 900-9968.