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Communication Devices

Different types of communications equipment work in different areas, so a boater should make sure the equipment they have will work where they are boating. A boater should carry at least two communication devices that will work when wet.

Both the National Distress and Response System (NDRS) and Global Maritime Distress & Safety System (GMDSS) provide coverage for boaters. NDRS is the primary distress alerting and SAR command, control and communications (C3) system for U.S. coastal waters (which extends from the territorial baseline out to 20 nautical miles). GMDSS is an internationally established distress and safety system.

An Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, or EPIRB, is used to alert Search and Rescue forces in the event of an emergency. It does this by transmitting a coded message on the 406 MHz distress frequency via satellite and earth stations to the nearest Rescue Coordination Center.

A Personal Locator Beacon, or PLB, works in the same way as an EPIRB by sending a coded message on the 406 MHz distress frequency via satellite and earth stations to the nearest Rescue Coordination Center,

It’s important that boaters use the correct channel when communicating on a VHF (Very High Frequency) marine band radio.

Best Practices

Read BoatBeat’s General Best Practices, in addition to the following tips, for more recommendation and information.

  • EPIRB or PLB: Note if the boater was equipped with an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) Electronic Locator Beacon (ELB) and/or Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) and whether they knew how to use it to report that they needed help. Discuss EPRIBs and PLBs and their life-saving qualities, including how NOAA and the U.S. Coast Guard work with local search and rescue teams.
  • Registration: Stress that after purchasing an EPIRB or PLB, one’s first step should be to register the device with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at
  • Cell Phones: Remind boaters that a cell phone may fail, and a boater should always have another means of communication, such as a VHF DSC radio and EPIRB or PLB.
  • Distress Alert: Include what kind of distress alert the U.S. Coast Guard responded to and how the boaters “notified” the U.S. Coast Guard (i.e., did they use a VHF DSC radio, cell phone, PLB or EPIRB).
  • Channel 16: Highlight the importance of interagency cooperation through the use of urgent marine information broadcast (UMIB) on channel 16 of a VHF-FM marine radio.

Fact Sheets

Communication Devices


Search and Rescue Process

VHF Marine Radio Channels for Recreational Boaters

Reporters Play a Critical Role in Boating Safety

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Expert Sources

U.S. Coast Guard, Office of Auxiliary & Boating Safety

National Safe Boating Council (NSBC)

National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA)

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

National Weather Service

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Case Study Sources