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Press Release | May 17, 2024

VIDEO AVAILABLE: U.S. Coast Guard urges maritime safety through proper radio use

PADET Jacksonville - Office: 904-714-7606 / After Hours: 786-393-4138

Editor's Note: Click here to download interview footage in English. Click here to download interview footage in Spanish.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Coast Guard urges the proper use of maritime radios to help prevent false alerts and reduce unnecessary radio chatter on VHF-FM channel 16. 

A false distress broadcast or nonessential radio communications on VHF-FM channel 16 can interfere with legitimate search and rescue cases or impede communications with someone in distress, which impacts the timeliness of lifesaving assistance arriving on scene to help.

Channel 16 is designated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as the national distress, safety, and calling frequency. Mariners should refrain from using VHF-FM channel 16 when performing radio checks. 

Mariners performing radio checks are advised to use channel 09, which has been designated by the FCC as a boater’s calling channel, or any other similar channel that is utilized in their area. Mariners who accidentally broadcast a distress alert on channel 16, should contact their local U.S. Coast Guard sector immediately to report the false alert. 

The Coast Guard treats all distress broadcasts as legitimate distress calls unless proven otherwise. A distress broadcast may employ the internationally recognized distress signal "MAYDAY," or any number of words indicating a need for assistance, such as "help," "emergency," "trouble," "sinking," etc. However, these distress terms should be avoided when there is no maritime emergency. 

“Properly utilizing VHF-FM channel 16 is vital to keeping the maritime public safe, and we urge all mariners to refrain from using channel 16 for radio checks,” said Lt. Cmdr. Barton Nanney, Coast Guard Sector Jacksonville search and rescue mission coordinator. “Additionally, we encourage mariners to properly report accidental distress broadcasts, as they can hinder genuine distress calls, waste valuable resources, and put responding personnel in danger.” 

Knowingly transmitting false distress calls is a federal crime under 18 U.S. Code § 1038 and can lead to criminal and civil penalties if found guilty. The misuse can be punishable by up to six years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines, plus the cost of the search. 

Those willingly communicating a false distress message could be liable for all man-hours involved, including those of the command center, small boats, aircraft, cutters, etc. Coast Guard guidance on reimbursable standard rates for aircraft, boats, and cutters can be found here.

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