All you need to know about VHF radios for your yachts in Malta

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Author: Nicole Borg

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April 03, 2022

Whether you’re a new boat owner in Malta or a foreign boat owner who wants to register their boat in Malta, you need to ensure that your VHF radio installation is in compliance with the relevant safety measures that Malta contains within its national regulations, especially if this has the facility of a distress button (DSC). Yachting.mt, Malta’s freshest charter and broker company, provides you with information that will help make your time at sea a truly great one.

But what is a VHF radio? And how does it work?

In basic terms, a VHF radio allows someone that is at sea to contact radio bases as well as nearby vessels at any point in time when communication is required. Therefore, you can make use of a VHF radio when you are approaching a port with your boat to inform of your imminent entry to the port. You can also use it in emergency situations to showcase you’re in distress and ask for support.

While many might think “hey, I don’t need a VHF device, I have my phone”, the reply to that statement would be, “but what if the mobile network coverage is not available when farther out at sea?” VHF radios surpass this barrier as their average range is that of 16 kilometers when its an on-board version and between 3-7 kilometers when its a handheld VHF. Such VHF radios are not just important to have onboard, but crucial, because they can save your life.

So if I just purchased a boat and it has no VHF equipment, what should I do?

Once a vessel is transferred to your name, you will be requested by Transport Malta’s Maritime Division, to re-confirm the details surrounding the radio-communications equipment that one can use when onboard the vessel. The request is done in order to ensure that the equipment you have installed is in compliance with the relevant safety measures, particularly if it has a distress button, also known as a DSC facility. 

However, you might find that onboard the vessel you just purchased there is no VHF radio device, and the reason for this might be that the previous owner might have had a handheld VHF rather than one that was installed physically in the vessel which they might have decided to keep. 

In light of this, you will need to purchase one and register it for use with the vessel. According to the Registry Department within the Merchant Shipping Directorate, if the VHF unit is purchased from a local shop, you need to make sure that the shop assistant completes a Notification of Sale form and emails it to the Registry Department. If you choose to purchase the VHF radio from abroad, then you need to ensure that it bears the CE mark and is tested by the Malta Communications Authority (MCA). Additionally, if you purchase a VHF radio that features a distress button (DSC), such a device would need to be assigned what is known as an MMSI number by the Registry Department for DSC programming against a one-time payment of €55.

Malta’s designated VHF Channels for maritime communications

In the meantime, Malta has recently updated its VHF Channels for maritime communications, and the full list and purpose can be found below. It is good to note that the below channels also correspond to the international maritime mobile frequencies in the VHF band as defined in the General Authorisations (Radiocommunications Apparatus) Regulations (S.L.399.40).

VHF ChannelsPurpose of Communication
Ch 09Pilotage and Mooring and Pilot Launch
Ch 10Mgarr Port Control (The use of CH 10 for Mgarr Port Control is on a primary basis)
Ch 10Towage (The use of CH 10 for Towage is on a secondary basis)
Ch 11Navigational Warnings / Weather Broadcasts
Ch 12Valletta VTS
Ch 13Terminals and Marinas
Ch 14Marsaxlokk VTS
Ch 20Navigational Assistance / Special instructions to a specific ship
Ch 22Emergency Ops / Oil Pollution etc.
Ch 68Towage
Ch 69Malta VTS
Ch 74Towage
Ch 16International distress frequency

Use it, but don’t abuse it – This is what the Directorate says when it comes to general use of VHF

While being equipped with a VHF while out at sea assists greatly when it comes to safe navigation, misusing it may cause serious interference and might end up becoming a danger to safety at sea. To start with, the use of marine VHF equipment must be in accordance with the adopted IMO ‘performance standards’ Resolution A.803(19) and also with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Radio Regulations. Moreover, communication using this equipment should be in accordance with the IMO guidelines on the ‘Proper use of VHF channels at Sea’- Resolution A.954(23).

Additionally it is recommended that masters and watchkeeping Officers, generally the Skipper or Commodore, onboard Maltese flagged vessels, follow the IMO guidelines on VHF Communication at sea (Resolution A.954 (23) for the proper use of VHF channels whilst communicating with coast radio stations and upon receiving instructions from Vessel Traffic Services (VTS).

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