Chapter 10

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Communication Equipment

Two-Way Communication

Two-way communications are invaluable in emergency situations. You must equip your vessel with a non-portable18 VHF radiotelephone if it:

  • is more than 8 metres long and of closed constructionShip Station (Radio) Regulations, 1999; or
  • carries passengers more than 5 nautical miles from shore or on a voyage that is even partly in a Canadian Coast Guard VHF coverage area; or
  • is a towboat.

If your passenger vessel operates outside a VHF coverage area, you must have a reliable means of communication with a responsible person on . To know if you are in a VHF coverage area, check the map showing VHF coverage in Radio Aids to Marine Navigation.

In the Great Lakes Basin, a vessel with more than six passengers must be equipped with two VHF radiotelephones, one of which may be portable.

Digital Selective Calling (DSC)

Digital Selective Calling (DSC) radios are based on digital technology and encoded with a unique nine-digit identification number that allows for private calling. This unique number, called your Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI), is much like a cellular telephone number. For more information on the MMSI , refer to the Maritime Information section of the Industry Canada Spectrum Direct website.

DSC lets you make MAYDAY calls by simply pressing its "DISTRESS" button. The MAYDAY message includes your position (when connected to a GPS receiver) and who you are (from the MMSI ). The message repeats until acknowledged by another DSC radio. The recipient's DSC radio sounds an alert tone and displays the distressed vessel's coordinates and MMSI on the radio display.

Who Needs VHF - DSC Radio?

Vessels of closed construction that are more than 8 metres long or vessels carrying more than six passengers must be equipped with a VHF - DSC radio when making Near Coastal or Unlimited Voyages off the coasts of Canada.




Radio Station Licence and Call Sign




Vessels making or planning voyages to other countries, including the United States, should apply for a Radio Station Licence and radio call sign. This licence must be renewed every year for a fee. Foreign vessels operating within Canadian waters are exempt from Industry Canada Spectrum Management (ICSM) licensing requirements. For more information, contact Industry Canada.

Radio equipment on board Canadian vessels must be type-approved by ICSM . Look for the type approval number on a label on the back of your radio. When buying radio equipment, make sure it has ICSM approval. Equipment bought outside of Canada may not be approved.

Radio Station Requirements

Radio Installation

A VHF - DSC radio must be able to transmit and receive communications using DSC on frequency 156.525 megahertz (MHz) (channel 70), as well as voice communications on frequency 156.3 MHz (channel 6), 156.65 MHz (channel 13), 156.8 MHz (channel 16), and any other frequencies assigned for transmitting maritime safety information in the area you are navigating.

Radio Watch

Vessels that must carry VHF equipment must begin radio watch on 156.8 MHz (channel 16) at least 15 minutes before getting under way, and continue until at anchor or moored. If you choose to carry MF (medium frequency) and VHF equipment, you should try to keep watch on both 2182 kHz ( MF ) and 156.8 MHz ( VHF ) (channel 16) when at sea, to ensure that distress, urgency or safety communications will be heard and answered by as many stations as possible.

Documents and Log Keeping

If you are required to have a VHF radio installation on board, you must also have a certified radio operator (see Radio Certification Requirements in Chapter 4), instructions for operating and maintaining the radio, and other documents as set out in the Ship Station (Radio) Regulations, 1999. A card setting out radio distress procedures (available from Transport Canada) must be displayed near the vessel's main controls.21

Vessels required to carry VHF equipment must also maintain a radio log of distress, urgency and safety communications specific to the vessel, and a record of radio servicing and testing. While this is not required if you carry VHF equipment by choice, keeping a log, especially of all emergency communications, is a good idea.

Mobile Phones

If your vessel is not required to carry marine radio equipment, it is a good idea to carry a cellular phone in areas where coverage is available, or a satellite phone. In some areas, you can get emergency response by dialling a Rescue Coordination Centre or by dialling *16, which routes your call through the nearest Canadian Coast Guard Marine Communications and Traffic Services (CCG MCTS) Centre.

Remember that cellular and satellite phones cannot replace a marine radio. See Ship Safety Bulletin 04/1995: Recommended Safety Communication Measures for Small Craft for more information.

Note: Making a cellular or satellite call does not alert other boaters close to you. In most cases, rescuers cannot follow the cellular phone signal back to your location.




Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB)




Your vessel must be equipped with an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) if:

  • it makes voyages more than 20 nautical miles from shore with a maximum distance between suitable ports of refuge on the route of no more than 100 nautical miles, and
  • it carries passengers, or
  • it is 8 metres long or more or:
  • it is a tug
    • of more than 5 gross tonnage on a voyage other than a Sheltered Waters Voyage; or
    • less than 20 metres in length on a voyage other than a voyage of not more than 50 nautical miles during which the tug remains within either 2 nautical miles of shore or 20 nautical miles of the nearest place of refuge

Keep your EPIRB within reach so you can activate the alert while you navigate the vessel. It must be installed so that it is easy to pick up and take with you into a survival craft. Tugs, and vessels more than 15 gross tonnage, must install the EPIRB so that it will float free.

Choosing an EPIRB

When buying an EPIRB , choose one that operates on 406 MHz . Alerts on this frequency will be detected more quickly and include information from the Canadian Beacon Registry, allowing alert information to be confirmed and searches to start sooner. To help rescue teams find you if you need help, consider buying a unit with a built-in GPS or one you can connect to an external GPS so that your location is included in the alert.

Note: As of February 9, 2009, signals from 121.5/243.0 MHz EPIRBs are no longer monitored by satellite. EPIRBs that operate only on 121.5/243.0 MHz are not approved for use in Canada.

Register Your EPIRB for Quicker Response

Under the Ship Station (Radio) Technical Regulations,1999, if you have a 406 MHz EPIRB , you must register your emergency contact details in the Canadian Beacon Registry database and keep them current. You can register or update your emergency contact details online at or by phone (1-877-406-SOS1 (7671)). There is no charge. Emergency contacts are the people who will be called to get more information on your vessel and its likely location if an alert is received. EPIRB registration is not the same as getting an MMSI from Industry Canada and must be done separately.

More Information

Contact your local Transport Canada Centre to find out the laws and regulations that apply to your vessel and situation (see Appendix 2).

A map showing VHF coverage is contained within the publication entitled Radio Aids to Marine Navigation, which can be viewed at



18. If a vessel is not of closed construction and never carries more than 6 passengers, a portable VHF radiotelephone that meets the requirements of the regulations is acceptable. ^
19. "Closed construction ship" means a vessel that has a fixed structural deck covering the entire hull above the deepest operating waterline and that is not in danger when the open wells or cockpits fitted in the deck are flooded. ^
20. Not required if carrying no more than 6 passengers and operating on a Sheltered Waters Voyage within 2 miles of shore. ^
21. Transport Canada's Safety and Distress Radiotelephone Procedures ( TP 9878) are available free of charge and should be carried for easy reference. ^



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