VHF Radio

VHF Radio

Using a VHF marine radio to call for help in a costal area is a possibility

VHF Radio 

VHF radio

VHF radios are ordinarily used yachts, ships and other marine crafts, together with Search & Rescue assets on land and sea. Use on land on the standard maritime channels is strictly prohibited by international treaty, with the exception of emergency situations whereby help could be called when within range of HMCG VHF relays which are on the coast. Users of VHF radios in non-emergency situations have to pass an exam and hold a licence to operate the radio, as well as being on a boat when used.

For the most part, carrying a marine VHF radio in the hills would be of little use, especially when far inland.  Apart from being illegal to use for non-emergencies, it is only at coastal locations that any distress call would be picked-up – by the coastguard or other shipping.  VHF radio communications are limited to line-of-sight and are thus limited by mountain topography, i.e. hills get in the way of the radio waves.  There are some remote mountainous coastal areas of the UK where mobile phones do not work, but a VHF radio could be used to summon help.  

As an example, Knoydart on the west coast of Scotland is one such area, as the whole peninsula is without mobile signal at low altitude.  However, as it’s next to the sea it’s likely that you would be able to make contact with the coastguard on a VHF radio.  Picking up a mobile signal is sometimes possible from the mountain tops in that example location.

Calling the Coastguard

To call the Coastguard, you’d do that on channel 16, using the same protocol – as far as possible - as though you were on a boat.  If you were not trained to use VHF, that’s not an issue in an emergency. Switch to channel 16, press the ‘transmit’ button (usually on the side of the radio) and ask for the Coastguard, and be ready to provide the appropriate information. The Coastguard may then ask that you switch to a different channel.

Search & Rescue Teams use VHF radios, but tuned to specific private frequencies, which are not accessible on normal VHF marine radios.

Alternative Channel

If a VHF call to the Coastguard was unsuccessful (i.e. your signal did not reach the coast), there is a remote possibility that calling for help on channel 73 would be heard. In certain circumstances, UK Mountain Rescue Teams (MRTs) and Search & Rescue Helicopters (SAR) can use channel 73 for communication. So, on the fairly slim chance that a) an MRT/SAR was in the vicinity, and b) they were using channel 73, that could be an option. Extremely unlikely though.

Search & Rescue Teams communicate with helicopters on either a 'team working channel', or channel 62a (VHF 156.125Mhz), which are private channels that are not available to the general public.