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An interesting subject that has a following of dedicated radio enthusiasts, marine-band VHF radio is obligatory on craft navigating tidal waterways such as parts of the Ouse, Humber, Trent, Witham and Thames and is widely used on the larger inland freight waterways.
Now, many canal boaters spend a lifetime afloat without any need or desire to invest time in VHF marine-band radio so you need to assess whether it is to become a necessary part of your cruising kit.
Aside from the obligatory requirement on commercial waterways, marine-band VHF radio can be used as a means of calling for help in an emergency and communicating with other similarly equipped vessels. A good example of it’s benefits could be for craft regularly navigating the Thames, where commercial traffic regularly mixes with pleasure craft.
So what’s it all about?
Marine-band VHF radio is a system of two way radio communication between shore stations and other craft. Specific channels are allocated to specific permitted uses such as communication with marinas , shipping movements or the broadcasting of distress signals. It is a short range system, limited to a few miles inland due to the short wavelength and is subject to strictly guided protocols and licensing.
Operators are required to attend at least a one day course, costing around £75, in order to be qualified to use either fixed or hand-held equipment. Both the user and the vessel have to be licensed.
The resulting Royal Yachting Association/Maritime and Coastguard Agency Short-Range Certificate, or SRC, is a legal  requirement. Heavy penalties can be enforced for illegal or improper use of marine-band VHF and OFCOM can issue on the spot fines for such.
Severe penalties of up to £5000 in fines or 6 month imprisonment can be enforced for serious offences.
As far as the equipment is concerned, there are also regulations surrounding this. All kit must be type approved and any equipment that is Digital Selective Calling (DSC) enabled has a unique number that is registered with OFCOM. DSC is primarily used on ocean going vessels and is a system used for initiating distress signals. This, for obvious reasons, is closely managed.
Hand-held marine-band VHF radio sets are covered under a Ships Radio Licence and if you want to use them on another vessel, you have to apply for a Ships Portable Licence.
Good advice we have had from one of our readers is to consider hand held radios that float if accidentally dropped into the water. Costing from upwards of £100 for a set we think that is good advice indeed!
Our advice to anyone who has a need or interest in marine-band VHF radio is to contact one of the training providers who are well equipped to answer further questions in more detail.
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