An Introduction to Communication Types at Sea

One of the most important aspects of serious boating is understanding the different methods of communication technologies commonly used when on the water. For larger ships and any that take passengers, certain equipment is required by law. However, even for recreational boats under 65 feet, chances are that most of them will benefit from a combination of a quality marine antenna and at least a VHF radio.

2-Way Communication at Sea Starts with Your VHF Radio

The US Department of Homeland Security says that when on the water, “A VHF marine radio is the single most important radio system you should buy,” and is the least expensive. This is the radio that all mariners have and use to stay in contact with each other and the authorities.

VHF radios require line of sight with the marine antenna of the other radio for effective dialogue. Only very basic boats, such as outboards or smaller speedboats, should be without one.

EPIRBS Are the Next Most Important

An emergency positioning indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) is designed to be triggered automatically when submerged below 3 meters of water. It can also be triggered manually as well. It sends an emergency alert to satellites with its present latitude and longitude, and activation will trigger an expensive search and rescue operation, so it’s only used in dire emergencies.

SSB Radio

Marine SSB has a much greater range; MF SSB radio can potentially range up to 300 miles, and HF SSB can skip off the Earth’s atmosphere and travel immense distances. They are highly susceptible to atmospheric interference, and often must be manually tuned while in use.

Satellite Phones Are Another Option

Unlike cellphones, a satellite phone connects directly with low-Earth orbit satellites for connectivity. They provide usually excellent service, can be used for emails and are excellent for all kinds of emergencies. However, they generally require a subscription and can be somewhat expensive.

Whatever you choose, if you’re not in range of a cell tower, make sure you have some method of communication. Also, consider what type of marine antenna you’ll need to maximize the range and benefits of your communications device.