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Part 3B: Marine

Photo courtesy of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
Ship With Marine Radios
The marine band is located between 156 to 158 MHz and again from 160 to 161 MHz. This band is used exclusively for ship-to-shore and ship-to-ship activity for both commercial and non-commercial vessels, including cruise ships. If you live near the Great Lakes, a navigable river, an ocean, or another large body of water, you will almost certainly hear activity in this band. Radio scanners in all Categories (1 though 6) will receive the marine radio band.  Scanners in categories 1 and 2 are usually the least expensive since they lack extra features for other listening topics. A scanner from Category 2 or higher is recommended if you would like to monitor more than a few channels at a time. The marine radio band, 156-158 MHz and 160-161 MHz, is part of the 150-162 MHz Land-Mobile radio band and is shown in dark green in the radio spectrum diagram below.

The VHF marine radio band contains channels numbered 1 through 88. They are spaced 25 kHz apart and are each designated for specific uses. Of particular interest is the Distress and Calling Channel, Channel 16 or 156.800 MHz, used for making contact with passing vessels and for communicating in times of distress. Almost all boats, with the exception of small recreational boats, are required to keep watch on this channel. Once contact has been made, both parties must switch to another appropriate channel. Both parties are required to use the minimum power necessary for the communication, so an outdoor antenna may be of particular help for base-station scanner listeners.

Public Correspondence frequencies (Marine Channels 24-28 and 84-86) are used to place telephone calls through VHF marine radio. The best way to monitor these calls is to listen to the shore station (the Ship Receive frequency), which is more powerful and broadcasts both sides of the telephone conversation. Unlike cellular phone calls, these calls are not private since they can be heard by anyone with another VHF marine radio or scanner.

The channel allocations for the marine band are shown below in the top table. The bottom table lists channel usage requirements in the United States.

Channel Number Ship Transmit MHz Ship Receive MHz Use
01A 156.050 156.050 Port Operations and Commercial, VTS.  Available only in New Orleans / Lower Mississippi area.
05A 156.250 156.250 Port Operations or VTS in the Houston, New Orleans and Seattle areas.
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 Non-Commercial.
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 areas.
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 areas.
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. Coast Guard 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. Coast Guard only
24 157.200 161.800 Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
25 157.250 161.850 Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
26 157.300 161.900 Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
27 157.350 161.950 Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
28 157.400 162.000 Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
63A 156.175 156.175 Port Operations and Commercial, VTS.  Available only in New Orleans / Lower Mississippi  area.
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
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.  Non-Commercial in Great Lakes only
80A 157.025 157.025 Commercial.  Non-Commercial in Great Lakes only
81A 157.075 157.075 U.S. Government only - Environmental protection operations.
82A 157.125 157.125 U.S. Government only
83A 157.175 157.175 U.S. Coast Guard only
84 157.225 161.825 Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
85 157.275 161.875 Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
86 157.325 161.925 Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
AIS 1 161.975 161.975 Automatic Identification System (AIS)
AIS 2 162.025 162.025 Automatic Identification System (AIS)
88A 157.425 157.425 Commercial, Intership only.

Table Courtesy of United States Coast Guard.

The following table lists marine channels by usage.

Type of Message Appropriate Channel(s)
DISTRESS SAFETY AND CALLING - This channel is used to get the attention of another station (calling) or in emergencies (distress and safety). 16
INTERSHIP SAFETY - This channel is used for ship-to-ship safety messages and for search and rescue messages and ships and aircraft of the Coast Guard. 6
COAST GUARD LIAISON - This channel is used to talk to the Coast Guard (after making contact on Channel 16). 22
NONCOMMERCIAL - Working channels for voluntary boats. Messages are about the needs of the ship. Typical uses include fishing reports, rendezvous,scheduling repairs and berthing information. Channels 67 and 72 are used only for ship-to-ship messages. 96, 68, 69, 71, 72, 78,
794, 804, 677.
COMMERCIAL - Working channels for working ships only. Messages are about business or the needs of the ship.  Channels 8, 67, 72 and 88 are used only for ship-to-ship messages. 15, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 18,
19, 635, 677,
79, 80, 881
PUBLIC CORRESPONDENCE (MARINE OPERATOR) - This channels are used to call the marine operator at a public coast station. By contacting a public coast station, a boat can make and receive calls from telephones on shore. 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 84, 85,
86, 87, 882
PORT OPERATIONS - These channels are used in directing the movement of ships in or near ports, locks or waterways. Messages are about the operational handling movement and safety of ships. In certain major ports, Channels 11,12 and are not available for general port operations messages. Channel 20 is used only for ship-to-coast messages. Channel 77 is limited to intership communications to and from pilots 15, 53, 12, 14, 20,
635, 65, 66, 73, 74, 77
NAVIGATIONAL - (Also known as the bridge-to-bridge channel.) This channel is available to all ships. Messages are about ship navigation, for example, passing or meeting other ships.  This is also the main working channel at most locks and drawbridges. 13, 67
MARITIME CONTROL - This channel is used to talk to ships and coast stations operated by state or local governments. Messages pertain to regulation and control, boating activities, or assistance to ships. 17
DIGITAL SELECTIVE CALLING - This channel is used for distress and safety calling and for general purpose calling using only digital selective calling techniques. 70

This table is adapted from material published by the United States Federal Communications Commission.

In summary, all radio scanners in categories 1 through 6 listed on this website may be used to monitor the marine band. However, if you will be monitoring more than a few channels, or if you want to get a scanner with a search mode so you can search for exciting new transmissions, you should purchase a scanner from Category 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6.

Part 3A: Land-Mobile
Skip Ahead to Part 4:  Table of Listening Topics and Scanner Categories
Part 3C: Civilian Aircraft


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