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Use of International Maritime VHF Channels



The use of International Maritime Mobile VHF channels by the international Radio Regulations as laid down by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in Geneva. The ITU is the branch of the United Nations responsible for the co-ordination of radio use worldwide. The Radio Regulations have treaty status for member nations of which the UK is one. The information in this sheet can be found in a fuller form in the "Manual for use by the Maritime Mobile and Maritime Mobile-Satellite Services" available from the ITU.

What is the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)?

The ITU was founded in Paris in 1865 as the International Telegraph Union. It took its present name in 1934 and became a specialised agency of the United Nations based in Geneva in 1947. The ITU is an intergovernmental organisation, within which the public and private sectors co-operate for the development of telecommunications worldwide. The ITU adopts international regulations and treaties governing all terrestrial and space uses of the radio frequency spectrum, within which countries adopt their national legislation.

Distress, Safety and Calling Channels

Channel 16 (156.800 MHz)

Channel 16 is the international distress, safety and calling radiotelephony channel. Where it is necessary to call a station on Channel 16, other than in cases of distress, urgency or safety, both stations should switch to an alternative channel as soon as possible. All calls on Channel 16 should be kept brief and should not exceed one minute, when not concerning distress, urgency or safety. For a call between ship stations an inter-ship channel should be used, such as Channels 6, 8, 72 or 77. For a call to a coast station the station's assigned channel should be used. Vessels equipped with Channel 70, where practicable should maintain a continuous listening watch on Channel 16 until 1 February 2005.

Channel 70 (156.525 MHz) - Digital Selective Calling

The Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) became fully operational on 01 February 1999 and Channel 70 is now the primary channel for Distress, Urgency and Safety alerting using Digital Selective Calling (DSC). It may also be used for initiating routine calls using DSC. It must not be used for voice communications.

It is strongly recommended that any newly purchased equipment be DSC equipped and any existing non-DSC radios are replaced well before 01 February 2005. Non-DSC radios will very likely cease to be available by the end of 2000.

Further information about the GMDSS is available from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

Channel 13 (156.650 MHz)

This channel is used for bridge to bridge voice communications under GMDSS. It will normally be monitored by commercial vessels if a danger of collision exists. This channel is one of the few, under GMDSS that can be used without a preceeding DSC alert on Channel 70.

Channel 10 (156.500 MHz), Channel 67 (156.375 MHz), Channel 73 (156.675 MHz) and Channel 6 (156.300 MHz)

These channels have been set aside internationally for use in co-ordinated search and rescue operations. In the UK, their use is co-ordinated with HM Coastguard, as follows.

Channel 10

In addition to its use in SAR operations, this channel is used during oil spill and other pollution incidents. From 1999 it is also used for the broadcast of Marine Safety Information in the UK only.

Channel 67

This is also used primarily for SAR operations and for safety communications with HM Coastguard.

Channel 73

This channel is used primarily for SAR operations and from 1999 the broadcast of Marine Safety Information in the UK.

Channel 6

Under GMDSS this channel is used for communications between ships and aircraft for co-ordinating search and rescue operations.

Other designated channel usage


Inter-ship channels are for communications between ship stations. Ideally, inter-ship communications should be restricted to Channels 6, 8, 72 and 77. However, if these are not available, the other channels in the chart overleaf, marked as being available for inter-ship working, may be used. Channels 10, 67 and 73 should be avoided within VHF range of coastal areas in Europe and Canada.

Port Operations and Ship Movement

Certain channels have been set aside, by international agreement, for use in the Port Operations and Ship Movement services. These are assigned to a user, such as a port or oil terminal where the safe movement of ships is important. The channels assigned to particular users are published in the Admiralty List of Radio Signals. It is important not to use these channels for other purposes if they have been assigned locally or if they have not been set aside for inter-ship working.

Public correspondence

These channels have been set aside, by international agreement, for making calls to the public telephone network. Calls made on these channels are often referred to as "link calls".

Marina channels

These channels have been set aside by the United Kingdom administration, for matters relating to mooring, berthing and race control. There are three marina channels.

Channel M (157.850MHz) and M2 (161.425MHz)

Channels M and M2 are UK channels and should only be used in UK territorial waters. Their on-board use is covered by a Ship Radio Licence. However, equipment that is only capable of operating on these frequencies is usually licensed under a Coastal Station Radio Licence and it is not necessary for the operator to hold an operator's certificate.

Channel 80

Channel 80 is an international maritime channel. Its use must be under and in accordance with the terms of a valid Ship Radio Licence.

Licensing and certificates of competence

It is an international requirement that every vessel, port or marina that uses radio be licensed. Anyone who operates radio equipment with access to international maritime frequencies must hold the relevant certificate of competence or be under the direct supervision of someone who does. Further information about certificates of competence is available from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, at the address overleaf.

Sources of information

Radio Licensing Centre
PO Box 1495
BS99 3QS

Tel: 0870 243 4433
Fax: 0117 921 8444
Email: radio.licensing.centre@royalmail.com

Maritime & Coastguard Agency
Spring Place
105 Commercial Road
Hampshire SO15 1EG

Tel: 023 8032 9100
Fax: 023 8032 9204

Aeronautical and Maritime Section Radiocommunications Agency
Wyndham House
189 Marsh Wall
E14 9SX

Tel: 020 7211-0217/0215
Fax: 020 7211-0228

International Telecommunication Union Place des Nations
Geneva 20

Use of International Maritime Mobile VHF Channels

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1. Channel 06 may also be used for communications between ship stations and aircraft engaged in co-ordinated search and rescue operations. Ship stations shall avoid harmful interference to such communications on channel 06 as well as to communications between aircraft stations, ice breakers and assisted ships during ice seasons.
2. Channels 15 and 17 may also be used for on-board communications provided the effective radiated power does not exceed 1 Watt.
3. These channels (AIS 1 and AIS 2) will be used for an automatic ship identification and surveillance system capable of providing worldwide operation on the high seas, unless other frequencies are designated on a regional basis for this purpose.
4. The use of these channels (75 and 76) should be restricted to navigation related communication only and all precautions should be taken to avoid harmful interference to channel 16, e.g. by limiting power to 1 Watt or by means of geographical location.
5. As of 01 July 1999 these channels (10 or 73 depending on location) are also used for the broadcast of Marine Safety Information by the Maritime & Coastguard Agency in the UK only.
6. Channel 70 is to be used exclusively for digital selective calling for distress, safety and calling.
7. Channel 13 is designated for use on a worldwide basis as a navigation safety communication channel, primarily for intership navigation safety communications.

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RA 264 (Rev 9)
November 2002
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