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Emergency Signal Devices

VHF Radios

VHF radio transmissions are monitored by ships worldwide. Additional support is provided in the USA by a network of powerful coastal and major inland waterway receivers.



  • How To Use
    • Test how you are going to wear and use your radio. Make sure it is secure and easily accessible on the water. If you wear it on the front of your PFD make sure it does not interfere with your remounts
    • Clearing water from the mic - some radios have a vibrate function/button that will vibrate the radio to help clear water that can interfere with the understandability of your voice via a wet mic.
    • Practice - can you effectively use it?
    • These radios can be used to call fellow paddlers independent of any local rescue entities that may be or may not be reachable via VHF. But they will be of little use to your paddling partners if you do not turn yours on at the beginning of your paddle outing.
  • Training
  • Line of sight - effective limitation of VHF radio communication range on water (maybe only a couple of miles from surfski to surfski). But coastal radio rescue networks or ships may pick up signals from a greater distance.
  • Channel 16 is the internationally reserved channel for distress calls
  • Additional US information



  • Charge - the better VHF radios have good battery lives. But you should always check your level of charge before outings.
  • Extra Batteries - you may want to use a radio for which you can swap in extra batteries, particularly if you will be camping or not be able to recharge your radio.
  • Salt water/Corrosion - as with all of your metallic gear, if you paddle in salt water:
    • rinse them off with fresh water afterwards if they got wet during your paddle
    • some use “Salt Away” to remove recent salt stains and protect against further accumulation. But don't expect it to remove long standing salt deposits/rust
    • some use vasoline to protect against corrosion - don't use on charging/conducting elements (use dielectric grease instead if you go this route)
  • “Waterproofness” - the weak point on some VHF radios can be the covering over charge ports (make sure they are completely closed and if you need to - cover the closure with tape). Trouble has been reported with some models that have a cover (possibly due to forgetting to make sure the cover is on correctly). Some models like the Horizon HX40 have solid exposed pins for charging which may provide a more reliable water tight seal.
    • Jeff Hegedus <jhegedus@…>11/06/11 #11683 “I rinsed my IPX7 rated waterproof handheld after every paddle, and the two copper electrodes between the gasketed snap-in rechargeable battery pack and the main unit still fully corroded (they are spring loaded for a good connection, and the spring failed). Its something that you wouldn't normally notice until failure occurs; I had it serviced, and now keep the radio in a dry bag when in my pfd pocket. The dry bags can be purchased at West Marine. Handhelds are not really designed for daily immersion, but rather for boaters that occasionally get them wet…”
      • Followup 2012
        Caution: Toasted VHF Radio
        Jeff Hegedus

        10/14/12 #13446 GEAR CHECK TIME. Crap, my waterproof IPX7 rated VHF radio, always carried in a dry bag in my PFD pocket, was destroyed. The dry bag had a pin hole leak; I end each paddle with a swim, and the bag stored the unit in water. The bag was three years old and had a ton of wear, not its fault. The radio is not designed for continuous immersion, not its fault. Glad I checked.


Locator Beacons


emergency_signal_devices.txt · Last modified: 2021/09/06 16:36 by preavley