The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

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Marine radio preferred over cellphones


When boating on Resurrection Bay, it may seem like a cellphone may provide adequate coverage. However, there are plenty of dead spots where lack of communications could be fatal. When travelling beyond Caines Head, coverage becomes hit or miss as all of the cell towers are located within the city limits of Seward. As part of National Safe Boating Week, the United States Coast Guard is reinforcing its recommendations for marine band VHF radios.

Although the USCG specifies the use of marine VHF channel 16, general congestion over the years on that channel has prompted City of Seward harbor and port authoritieses to use and monitor channel 17. Harbormaster Mack Funk said that, for him, the change took a little getting used to but after experiencing a few Seward fishing derbies he sees the wisdom.

In Seward, switching to channel 17 allows boaters to get radio checks, communicate and make distress calls with the Harbormaster’s office and other on-channel parties. The Harbormaster only monitors the radio according to its office hours, which are set for 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily during the summer. The Coast Guard, other first responder agencies and fellow mariners monitor channel 16 non-stop, which increases the number of people who can respond.

VHF-FM radios are intended mainly for short range communications, generally 5 to 10 miles with standard equipment, and at least 20 miles in the vicinity of a Coast Guard station. With marine-band radios on board and set to channel 16, a boater is only a call away from help. Even after the message has been received, the Coast Guard can find you more quickly if you can transmit a signal on which a rescue boat or aircraft can receive, so stay on the radio if possible.

“Radios are better than cellphones because their signals can assist in locating people in distress,” said Ed Huntsman, boating safety program manager for the 8th Coast Guard District. “Though a cell phone is better than no commmunication device at all, cellphones tend to have gaps in coverage while on the water, plus limited battery life. Many VHF radios are now water resistant and some are even waterproof.”

Communications North in the Seward Marine Industrial Center stocks handheld and fixed mount marine VHF transceivers with several on display in their showroom. Sherry Perry, store manager, says that the equipment is fairly simple to hook up and the local shop stocks coax cable, antennas and all the connectors for a complete install.

The Coast Guard notes that a growing number of boaters unsuccessful in getting a radio check on VHF channel 16 are calling Mayday to get a response. Every hoax, including Mayday radio checks, is subject to prosecution as a Class D felony under Title 14, Section 85 of the U.S. Code, liable for a $5000 fine plus all costs the Coast Guard incurs as a result of the individual’s action. For information on marine-band radios and procedures making distress calls on channel 16, visit


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