Marine Radio in Canada

Please use our government links for information about regulations and laws. This is only a summary provided only as a convenience.

Use a VHF Marine Radio for Emergencies on the Water:
The Coast Guard encourages boaters to use a VHF-FM radio as their primary means of distress calling. VHF is superior to cell phones in reaching help for boating emergencies. When a Mayday is sent out via a VHF radio it is a broadcast to Coast Guard radio stations as well as any VHF-equipped boat within listening range. Nearby boaters can often offer immediate assistance long before a Coast Guard vessel or towing service can arrive.

Radio Operator's Certificate:
Any person who uses a VHF radio must have a Restricted Radio Operator's Certificate - Marine ROC(M).   More...

VHF ship's radio licence:
Licences for a ship's VHF radio station may be exempted for recreational boat radios used in Canadian waters. You should maintain the licence if you plan to travel to other countries or boat near U.S. waters.   More...

Foreign visitors:
To legally transmit using VHF radios on a foreign boat in Canada require a valid Ship Station Licence (2003: $150 for 10 yrs) and operator's licence from your home country. Transmitting around the Canada/U.S. border is usually ignored, but make sure you follow proper radio procedures.   More...

Global Maritime Distress and Safety System began in 1999. Ships will send distress calls electronically using Digital Selective Calling (DSC) on the Great Lakes, as well as coastal waters. The U.S. Coast Guard continues to monitor VHF Channel 16 in coastal waters. Channel 16 (and 2182 kHz MF) will also be monitored by the Canadian Coast Guard until further notice.

Other Marine Radio Services in Canada includes telephone, high seas telephone, Navtex, pollution reports, satellite phones, radiomedical, links, and a cute cartoon about "boat anchors".

New boats are now being sold with VHF radios as standard equipment, sending people onto the water without a proper operator's licence which would at least ensure they know basic radio procedure.

Heard on VHF channel 16 (Lake Ontario summer 2001):
"Vessel going down, this is [station] Coast Guard radio. What is your position and the nature of your distress?"
... I'll leave it to you to see the humour in this.

VHF Channel Usage

The VHF working channels table lists channels for pleasure boats in different parts of Canada. I created this table with input from two VHF instructors and Coast Guard employees since there is just too much information in the federal publication (RBR-2 (former RIC-13 Table of Transmitting Frequencies). Note that if you travel, channel usage is different in each part of Canada. Some channels are listed for non-commercial use, but use them with care (monitor for at least 10 minutes to make it is not currently in use). Read the letter from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada [Government Directory] explaining usage of unassigned channels. We also provide a Pacific region VHF channel list contributed by a course instructor on the west coast.

A after a channel indicates U.S. mode; B is International mode. Look for a switch on your VHF radio "International - U.S." and set it to "International" setting in Canada. For general information about how VHF communications works, see Marine VHF radio.

Channel 16 is for distress and calling only. The Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) provides continuous service (monitoring, response, weather alerts) on VHF channel 16 (156.8 MHz), and on 2182 kHz MF. Call a Canadian Coast Guard station on their working frequency (22A or 83A depending on region), for making a radiotelephone call or to report a Float Plan. In an emergency, mariners may obtain medical advice by calling an MCTS Centre (Marine Communications and Traffic Services) to request medical advice via the MCTS Telephone System.

In a typical day, the CCG handles:
1,127 marine radio contacts, assists in 19 search and rescue operations, services 55 aids to navigation, surveys 5 km of navigation channel, saves 8 lives, manages 2,346 commercial ship movements, as well as other duties.

The 8 primary Search and Rescue Stations in the Great Lakes are: Tobermory, Goderich, Meaford, Amherstburg, Port Dover, Port Weller, Cobourg, Kingston.

Making a VHF radio call:
Learn how to call another boat, harbour, bridge, or marina. Once a vessel has responded to your call, change to one of the VHF working channels authorized for pleasure boats to continue. If these are busy, you may use channels designated for non-commercial and intership communications, but you must note all restrictions. If channels are shared with commercial and official government organizations, use them only if they are "quiet" of that use for at least 5 minutes.

Canadian working channels:
General channels for recreational boaters are 06 and 68 when calling a ship or shore station. See our list of VHF working channels for Canadian regions. Note that the west coast uses different working channels from the east coast and Great Lakes, and Canadian channel usage is different from the U.S.A. Once you cross into American waters you must have the ROC(M), a valid ship's radio licence, and follow their regulations for marine radio usage.

The St. Lawrence Seaway uses 11, 12, 13, 14. Contact locks and large ships on 13. Channel 68 is a main working channel for boats, but may also be used to call marinas and harbours (73 in the Pacific region). Don't call them on 16!

It is illegal to use channel 70 for intership communication. Channel 70 is reserved exclusively for DSC: Digital Selective Calling digital safety and distress calls, part of the new GMDSS international marine emergency system. Channel 65A is restricted to Search and Rescue operations only. Boaters must not use these as a talking channel.

The U.S. allows Channel 9 as a second calling channel for recreational boats. This channel is not a calling channel in Canada. []

Canadian Coast Guard monitors 83A (157.1 MHz). (CCG monitors Channel 22A in some areas that borders the U.S. in Pacific Region.) CCG uses 1-3, 23-28, 60, 64, 84-88 for public correspondence. They will tell you which channel to switch to for making a VHF radiotelephone call via the Marine Operator. For long-distance calling, you must have an existing account or a valid ship's licence for billing purposes.

Print and fill out a form for a Mayday distress call for your crew and guests. Hopefully, you will never need it!

The word "Mayday" was originated in 1923 by Frederick Stanley Mockford, a senior radio officer at Croydon Airport in London. Mockford was asked to come up with a word that would indicate distress and would easily be understood by pilots and staff in an emergency. Since much of the traffic at the time was with Le Bourget Airport in Paris, he proposed the word "Mayday" from the French "m'aider", short for "venez m’aider", meaning "come and help me".

Radio Operator Certificate - ROC(M)

You must have a Radio Operator?s Certificate - Marine ROC(M) to transmit on all marine radios - VHF, MF/HF, and SSB - Canada. You do not need an ROC(M) to use FRS or CB radios. GMDSS (Global Maritime Distress and Safety System) are included in the ROC exams. Always teach your children never to use the radio unless they have an ROC(M).

Before you get your ROC, you need to learn the basic radio procedures, the phonetic alphabet, regulations, and penalties for improper use. You can either take a VHF course or study the "CPS Maritime Radio Course manual". Then you take a test with an approved Recognized Examiner, who will send in your application to get your ROC(M), which is good for life.

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada: Spectrum Management regulates the radio frequencies and requirements for marine radio transmitting in Canada. Canadian Power & Sail Squadrons (CPS) has been authorized by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada to administer ROC registered examiners (REs) since 2002. Since 2006, CPS and CYA have an agreement allowing CYA to offer training and testing for the ROC(M). You may buy the manuals from CPS for home study and get a list of authorized examiners who are able to test you (a few verbal questions about radio calling plus a multiple choice written exam). In these cases, the testing organization would send the certificate applications to CPS for you.

ROC(M) certificate replacement is provided from Canadian Power and Sail Squadrons 1-888-277-2628 for more recent years. Other ROC certificates (Marine Commercial, GOC, Aeronautica, and older Marine) are provided from 1-877-604-7493. {July 2011} [Government directory: Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada | Canadian Boating Index: CPS]

Maritime Mobile Radio Station Licence

After April 1999, VHF Radios on pleasure boats are no longer 'required' to have a ship station licence within Canadian waters due to changes to the Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada Radiocommunications Regulations (Section 15.2 Exemption of Radio Apparatus on Board a Ship). (You do not need a ship licence or operator certificate to use FRS or CB radios on a boat.)

Exemptions only apply in Canadian and International waters.
If there is any chance you may enter U.S. waters, you should have a ship station licence. International regulations state that without a reciprocal agreement between countries, you must have a licence from your home country when venturing outside of your home waters. If you plan to leave Canada, apply for a radio licence well in advance of leaving. (Search for Application for a Maritime Mobile Radio Station Licence (IC-3020) from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada in our government directory.) {July 2011}

If you do not renew your station license, you must not use your old callsign.
Instead, use your name, boat name, or hull licence number. Your name is best, since a Float Plan given to the Coast Guard is filed under your name. You must discontinue the use of your callsign if you do not maintain a Maritime Mobile Radio Station Licence.

VHF radio refers to a marine radio transmitting on frequencies 156.025 to 163.275 MHz with 25 watts RF output. MF/HF (medium/high frequency) and SSB (single side band) radios are mostly used for offshore cruising and require a ship's licence to operate.

AIS - Collision Avoidance for Pleasure Boats

AIS, or Automatic Identification Systems, were mandated for commercial vessels in 2002, but soon a Class B AIS system was introduced for recreational vessels. AIS transceivers are fully-autonomous, require no human interaction, operate in the same part of the VHF radio frequency spectrum as the VHF marine radio, and can be integrated with a marine radio, radar, and chartplotter. Unlike radar, they are not bothered by sea clutter or rain, and can detect around headlands and over islands.
(Canadian Yachting news - May 2019)