When you’re out on the water, it’s essential that you’re familiar with VHF marine radio frequencies and channels. The marine industry specifically uses the VHF frequency range for communication. VHF stands for Very High Frequency, and it’s used for ship-to-ship, ship-to-shore, and even ship-to-aircraft two-way communications.

There are plenty of marine channel frequencies, and a few of them are constantly monitored for commercial, private, and coast guard use. There are marine band frequencies dedicated to certain situations, with some VHF weather channels, others specifically for port operations, and others for ship hailing.

The most important VHF channel frequencies are VHF Channel 9 and Channel 16.

Channel 9 is specifically used for the hailing of non-commercial vessels, and can be used for a wide range of important communications. For recreational boaters, it’s one of the most important marine radio frequencies to monitor. It should not be used to hail commercial vessels.

Channel 16 is the International Hailing and Distress Frequency. It’s a special channel that’s used all over the world for the reporting of emergencies and calling for help. It can also be used by the Coast Guard to issue important information and weather warnings. The use of channel 9 (mentioned above) is optional, but keeping tuned to channel 16 is an essential.

It’s essential that all boaters monitor these channels.

There are many other marine band frequencies that are used to communicate non-emergency traffic.

Every vessel operating at sea should have a copy of this marine VHF frequency chart available onboard.

Here is a comprehensive table that displays the most important marine VHF frequencies and VHF channels:

U.S. VHF Marine Radio Channels and Frequencies
(Important Channels Marked In Red)

Channel   Ship      Ship      Use
Number    Transmit  Receive

 01A      156.050   156.050   Port Operations and Commercial.  
                              VTS in selected areas.
 05A      156.250   156.250   Port Operations.  VTS in Seattle
 06       156.300   156.300   Intership Safety
 07A      156.350   156.350   Commercial
 08       156.400   156.400   Commercial (Intership only)
 09       156.450   156.450   Boater Calling.  Commercial and 
 10       156.500   156.500   Commercial
 11       156.550   156.550   Commercial.  VTS in selected areas.
 12       156.600   156.600   Port Operations.  VTS in selected 
 13       156.650   156.650   Intership Navigation Safety 
                              (Bridge-to-bridge).  Ships >20m
                              length maintain a listening watch 
                              on this channel in US waters.
 14       156.700   156.700   Port Operations.  VTS in selected 
 15          --     156.750   Environmental (Receive only).  Used 
                              by Class C EPIRBs.
 16       156.800   156.800   International Distress, Safety and 
                              Calling.  Ships required to carry
                              radio, USCG, and most coast 
                              stations maintain a listening watch 
                              on this channel.
 17       156.850   156.850   State Control
 18A      156.900   156.900   Commercial
 19A      156.950   156.950   Commercial
 20       157.000   161.600   Port Operations (duplex)
 20A      157.000   157.000   Port Operations
 21A      157.050   157.050   U.S. Government only
 22A      157.100   157.100   Coast Guard Liaison and Maritime 
                              Safety Information Broadcasts.  
                              Broadcasts announced on channel 16.
 23A      157.150   157.150   U.S. Government only
 24       157.200   161.800   Public Correspondence (Marine 
 25       157.250   161.850   Public Correspondence (Marine 
 26       157.300   161.900   Public Correspondence (Marine 
 27       157.350   161.950   Public Correspondence (Marine 
 28       157.400   162.000   Public Correspondence (Marine 
 63A      156.175   156.175   Port Operations and Commercial.  
                              VTS in selected areas.
 65A      156.275   156.275   Port Operations
 66A      156.325   156.325   Port Operations
 67       156.375   156.375   Commercial.  Used for Bridge-to- 
                              bridge communications in lower 
                              Mississippi River.  Intership only.
 68       156.425   156.425   Non-Commercial-Working Channel
 69       156.475   156.475   Non-Commercial
 70       156.525   156.525   Digital Selective Calling (voice 
                              communications not allowed)
 71       156.575   156.575   Non-Commercial
 72       156.625   156.625   Non-Commercial (Intership only)
 73       156.675   156.675   Port Operations
 74       156.725   156.725   Port Operations
 77       156.875   156.875   Port Operations (Intership only)
 78A      156.925   156.925   Non-Commercial
 79A      156.975   156.975   Commercial
 80A      157.025   157.025   Commercial
 81A      157.075   157.075   U.S. Government only - 
                              Environmental protection 
 82A      157.125   157.125   U.S. Government only
 83A      157.175   157.175   U.S. Government only
 84       157.225   161.825   Public Correspondence (Marine 
 85       157.275   161.875   Public Correspondence (Marine 
 86       157.325   161.925   Public Correspondence (Marine 
 87       157.375   161.975   Public Correspondence (Marine 
 88       157.425   162.025   Public Correspondence in selected 
                              areas only.
 88A      157.425   157.425   Commercial, Intership only.

NOAA Weather Radio Frequencies

 WX1         --     162.550   
 WX2         --     162.400
 WX3         --     162.475
 WX4         --     162.425
 WX5         --     162.450
 WX6         --     162.500
 WX7         --     162.525

All of the above marine frequencies are in MHz. Modulation is 16KF3E or 16KG3E.

Note that the letter “A” indicates simplex use of an international duplex channel, and that operations are different than international operations on that channel. Some VHF transceivers are equipped with an “International – U.S.” switch for that purpose. “A” channels are generally only used in the United States, and use is normally not recognized or allowed outside the U.S.

Boaters should normally use channels listed as Non-Commercial for their working channel. Channel 16 is used for calling other stations or for distress alerting. Channel 13 should be used to contact a ship when there is danger of collision. All ships of length 20m or greater are required to guard VHF channel 13, in addition to VHF channel 16, when operating within U.S. territorial waters. Users may be fined by the FCC for improper use of these channels.

In Summary:

Always remember to monitor the most important VHF radio frequencies, and be careful not to tie-up the emergency channels with unnecessary dialogue. If you’ve got a problem that isn’t an emergency, make sure that you switch channels to ensure that you aren’t keeping another vessel from calling for help or reporting an emergency situation.

In short: the FCC requires all boaters with VHF radios to monitor either channel 9 or channel 16 when you’re not communicating on another channel. By keeping these channels open, and by monitoring them closely, you can help to save lives.