Marine VHF Radio


Seventh Part of the Seal
I know this is not really the place to be asking this and I apologize for wasting people's time... but I am despirate. I was wondering if anyone in here is familiar with these ship-to-ship radios and could provide some enlightenment...

I am a major fan of anything Maritime and wanted to pick up a Marine VHF radio for the sole purpose of listening to the different things that came through; boat traffic, distress calls, different things. Not actually using it to communicate, just listen.

I have searched everywhere and found nothing, not even on the FCC or Coast Guard websites... does anyone know the legality of this?


Vice Admiral
Just get a scanner - they're cheaper and cover the same frequencies. The guiding principle behind most listening laws is "listen but don't act". If you merely listen out of curiosity, and don't post it publicly or act on what you overheard, generally it's legal. (of course, if you end up overhearing something that may be of material interest to police, etc., it's up to you to determine if you wish to report it). They are public frequencies and must be transmitted in the clear, so feel free to listen in, minding the caveats. You may wish to search the web some more on scanners, proper use of information, etc.

So that juicy stock tip or piece of gossip should remain just that - don't pass it on, don't act on it.

Here's the Coast Guard's list of VHF frequencies -

There's a link on that page to the FCC's appropriate use of each channel.

A scanner is just a radio receiver - it's best to use one of those since transmitters have a nasty habit of transmitting accidentally.


I can have an avatar now
Just go down to a sporting goods store, buy a marine radio, and don't monkey around on it. I've never heard of a problem with too many people having marine radios. Usually it's the opposite.


a good scanner, like a radio shack Pro 95 should work
I don't think marine radios require a license anymore so you should be ok with buying an actual marine radio too


another thing you could do even though it require a little work is to get an amateur radio license. Its worth it getting the license and when you actually get the radio, you can listen to the police, air traffic, firemen, marines, and ect.


Vice Admiral
Well, for listening, you don't need a license. You need one to transmit.

Anyone can go and buy a scanner and listen to police, ATC, emergency services, etc. Though, police and emergency services are increasingly using trunk services, so a trunking scanner might be nice.

HAM licenses these days are fairly easy to get, but they do restrict which bands you can access - by default, you get 2m (144-148MHz) and 70cm (430-450MHz) transmit, but I don't know the current FCC rules. (I'm licensed for all frequencies 30MHz and above). If you do R/C flying, a license is useful as there are a few bands that are amateur only, so it may free up frequencies at busy R/C parks.

But if you only want to listen, a license-free scanner is OK, and it keeps you away from accidentally transmitting. You'll have to program the frequencies in, but modern scanners often let you name the channels. And if there's something else nearby, you can listen in as well. Like maybe the local ferry company frequencies (which may not be a marine channel - they may have a special frequency from ship to ship and ship to shore to avoid overloading local marine channels with routine chatter).


Rear Admiral
I would recommend that you get a scanner rather than a transceiver simply for CYA reasons. If you have children or young siblings in close proximity, this will eliminate the possibility that they might "play" with the device and cause interference to legitimate users of the Maritime Service. It will also eliminate the possibility that you might inadvertently key the unit and likewise cause interference. Since lives and property are at stake, it's crucial that there is no interference to the Maritime Service.

There has been legislation on the books for decades regarding monitoring in the U.S. and other countries, and it would be in your interest to consult up-to-date sources. Although it is somewhat out of date, this site has some information on useful starting points in terms of U.S. and state laws: