I hope you have a marine radio on your boat. If not, you really should get one. Everyone has a cell phone nowadays, but marine radios have a few advantages that cell phones do not. One of the biggest advantages is the ability to reach emergency personnel and other boaters in your immediate vicinity.

In addition to having a marine VHF, it is just as important for you to know how to use it. Recently, the BoatUS Foundation revealed the top three mistakes that boaters make when using a marine radio. Here they are along with ways not to make these mistakes:

Failure to obtain and use an MMSI

MMSI stands for Maritime Mobile Service Identities. It is a part of the Digital Selective Calling (DSC) system. The digital selective calling system allows you to use your marine VHF to hail a specific vessel using their MMSI number furthermore reducing interference on radio channels between vessels. This, of course, only works if both vessels are equipped with DSC and have an MMSI number.

The most important feature of this system is when a vessel is in distress. A simple press of a button will send a distress signal along with vessel information and location to all other DSC-equipped vessels in the area, including emergency vessels. This is the absolute quickest way to get help when you are on the water.

You can obtain an MMSI number for your vessel by going to www.boatus.com/mmsi. BoatUS members can get one at no charge. The cost is $25 for non-members.

Failure to speak slowly and clearly

Any 911 operator will tell you that one of the biggest challenges of taking emergency calls is getting the caller to calm down and speak in a manner in which they can be understood. It is no different when you have an emergency on the water and you are using your VHF.

If you must make a Mayday call, ensuring that the respondent can understand what you are saying is of absolute importance. It literally can be the difference between life and death. If the person on the other end has to constantly ask you to repeat yourself or they cannot understand you, precious time will tick away. In such situations, it is important to be able to relay your location and what the emergency is so help can be dispatched as soon as possible. Also, be aware of conditions such as wind or noise that may make it more difficult for you to be heard.

Having conversations on Channel 16

It seems that many people do not realize that Channel 16 is a hailing channel. It is not meant for conversations. So how is a VHF conversation supposed to work? Firstly, all vessels should have their radios tuned to Channel 16 when they are underway. Let’s say that you want to talk to the captain of another vessel. You hail them on Channel 16 using their vessel name. When they respond, you then ask them to change to another channel of your choosing, such as channel 68, 69 or 72. They confirm the request and then both vessels switch to the agreed-upon channel and have their conversation. Once the conversation is complete, both vessels can switch back to Channel 16. By doing this, Channel 16 can remain uncluttered and usable for emergencies along with the ability to contact other vessels.

Try putting these tips into practice. Hopefully, you will never have an emergency where they will be needed, but if you do you will have one less thing to worry about.