Boating Guide Menu

Bay SafetyRadios


The club has a couple dozen radios, and you should take one along on out-of-cove boating trips.

How to Use Radio

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  • Volume
  • Squelch
  • Changing Channel
  • Problems… Lock / International


Channel 16 for hailing and distress ONLY.  Do not use 16 [pronounced “one six”] for chit-chat or radio checks.  On 16 you can make distress calls for help, provide urgent navigational information, or hail another vessel.  After you make contact with another radio/person you should both switch to a working channel to carry on the conversation.

16 is monitored by the Coastguard, and indeed, all vessels with radios are required to monitor channel 16 so they may respond to distress messages too. If you need help, 16 is the first place to go.

Working Channels (incl. 71) – The ones available to pleasure craft on SF Bay are 68, 69, 70, and 71. Dolphin Club events, and other club rowers, will often listen in on 71. SERC is more likely to use 69. On these channels you may have conversations related to boating only.  These would be the right channels to discuss current movement, report progress on a swim, or call the dockmaster to request assistance. Be aware these channels are also used by other organizations such as yacht clubs, fishermen and the like and your conversation should be

Some other useful channels to know about:

Channel 14 is Vessel Traffic Service [VTS] for San Francisco bay inland (Channel 12 is for VTS offshore).  Most all commercial vessels are required to check in with VTS prior to movement and as they pass certain waypoints, and swim pilots will check into VTS for cross channel swims.  With knowledge of vessel movement you may learn of traffic that may be crossing your path.

Communicating with VTS is rarely necessary for individual boaters at the club, but it can be useful in special circumstances where you might conflict with commercial traffic. For example, if you were crossing the bay and the fog were to descend, you could contact vessel traffic to make them aware of your location, and to learn about any commercial traffic that you should avoid.

Channel 13 is used to communicate “bridge to bridge”.  This refers to ship’s bridge. Use this ONLY if you need to communicate with a commercial vessel.  Use of this channel should not be taken lightly. An example of the use of 13 is if you are in a channel and there is commercial traffic bearing down on you, you could contact the pilot on 13 to advise them of the situation. Communication should be professional and concise.

Radio Terminology in the Marine Environment

Over: You have ended your transmission but expect a reply

Out: You have completed you communication

Copy: You have understood the transmission

Roger: Acknowledges that the message was understood and agreed with (and you will follow through.)

Negative: Alternative to saying NO

Say Again: Please repeat

Wait: You must pause, but want the other station to continue to listen

Wait Out: resuming your transmission

Break: marks a change in the message:for instance,in temporarily responding to another station.

Mayday: (spoken three times):reserved for situations involving risk of life and/or grave and immediate danger.

Pan-Pan(“pahn-pahn”) : spoken three times)announces an emergency when the safety of a boat and/or person is not life threatening but has the potential to become


Securite (“say-cur-i-tay”,spoken three times)signals information regarding navigation safety.

Shouting into the radio can overmodulate your voice. Speak clearly without shouting. 

Wind noise can garble communications

Marine protocol is to hail using the name of vessel you’re on-board. This has limited usefulness with a fleet of a dozen identical rowboats and unnamed kayaks. Instead, it’s better to use a mix of person on the boat

  • This is “James in Good Luck” 
  • This is “Tim on Spirit”
  • This is “Terry on a grey kayak”

Using a Phone

You can also call for help or assistance using your phone. These are some good numbers to program into your phone.:

  • Coast Guard Emergency: 415-556-2103 (20 min response time)
  • Coast Guard Non-emergency: 415-399-3451
  • Vessel Traffic: 415-556-2760
  • SF Police Dept, Marine Division: 415-850-7440

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