Radio Checks? Stop the madness!
As a quick response rescue captain for the Rhode Island TowBoat/US contractor, I’m oncall 24 hours/day, so it is common practice for me to sleep with the VHF radio on next tomy bunk. I remember a few years ago, I heard a voice continuously calling "radio check"on channel 16 at about one o’clock in the morning. The calls continued relentlessly, aboutevery sixty seconds, for twenty minutes. Unable to endure this torture any further, Ifinally picked up the microphone and asked the guy to switch to another channel. Then Iasked him this question: "Cap, you've been calling for a radio check for twenty minutes,without a single reply. Did it occur to you that there might be a problem with your radio,and it wasn't working?"He relied, "Oh, I’m sure my radio works. I just wanted a radio check.""Captain, if you know your radio works, why are you asking for a radio check?" I never got an answer.If you spend any time listening to your VHF radio, you will hear calls for "radio check".Indeed, on a Sunday afternoon, the repeated requests for radio checks on channel 16outnumber any other phrase you will hear. And every one of those requests is in violationof the FCC rules that govern the use of VHF marine band radios. Channel 16 isdesignated the international "hailing and distress" frequency, and should be used only tocall another vessel, or to call for assistance from the Coast Guard or agencies likeSea//Tow and TowBOAT/US. It is also a violation to put out a call to “any vessel”.The next time you hear a request for a radio check, I want you to notice something: therequest almost never comes from a ship, a commercial tug, or a passenger ferry. Ninety- Nine percent of all radio checks are from recreational boaters (especially on CH16).
Youmight think that commercial vessels have better equipment, but I have been in thewheelhouse of numerous commercial boats and tugs, and their VHF radios probablycame from the same discount catalogue as yours did.Indeed, things have gotten so out of control, that the Coast Guard repeatedly announcesthat VHF CH09 is “the radio check channel”. How did this radio check madness get soout of hand?I have a few theories. First of all, I think many boaters hear so many calls for radiochecks that they have convinced themselves that it is something that they should bedoing, because it sounds like everyone else is doing it. This becomes a perpetual cycle, asmore and more boaters call for radio checks, more boaters hear the calls, and eventuallycan’t resist the urge to make sure their own radio works. I really believe that this self-
You may hear US Coast Guard vessels requesting or receiving radio checks from Coast Guard land basedstations on CH16. They have permission from the FCC to test their equipment on that channel because theyare the agency assigned to answer distress calls on that frequency.