Do Marine Radios Work on Land?

Marine radios are essential for ships to communicate with one another and with the Coast Guard in times of need; this is due to their ability to transmit signals across large bodies of water and between water and land. However, some people are able to obtain these important radios to use them on land.  

Do Marine Radios Work on Land?

Do marine radios work on land? Marine radios can function on land; however, because marine radios are used by vessels in situations of distress, navigational issues, personal communication, and business needs, it is not legal for a person to use a marine radio on land without an approved coast station license.

The remainder of this article will discuss marine radios, their general use and licenses required to own and operate them, and radio alternatives for land use.  

What is a Marine Radio?

A marine radio, also known as a VHF radio, is a two-way communication system used on ships.  They are used to communicate from ship-to-ship as well as from ship-to-land. In some cases, they are also used in ship-to-airplane communication.  

Marine radios operate on a line of sight basis. This means that they can send and receive messages to and from one another so long as their antenna is above the horizon. On average, this distance is about three miles. 

Marine Radio Channels

Like with any two-way communication device, marine radios have different channels that serve unique purposes:

  • The most important channel used on a marine radio is channel 16. It is the emergency channel and is most commonly used for distress calls. It is important that everyone who has a VHF radio monitors channel 16 so that they are aware if they are near a ship in distress. 
  • Channel 22 is another important channel used by the Coast Guard to announce safety broadcasts. 
  • Commercial channels on VHF radios are used by cruise lines, commercial ships, and freighter ships. These channels are Channels 1, 7A, 8, 10, 11, 18A, 19A, 63, 77, 79A, 80A and 88A. Pleasure boaters are meant to stay off of these channels.  
  • Channels 1, 5, 12, 14, 20, 63, 65A, 66A, 73, 74 and 77 on a marine radio are used for port operations. Often pleasure boaters, or recreational boaters, also use this channel to communicate to and from locations where no port operations exist. 
  • There are several other channels used on marine radios. For example, channel 6 is used for internship safety communications. Channel 13 is used to request a bridge opening. 

Marine Radios & Licenses

Marine radios can be obtained, but it is illegal to use them for personal use or on land.

Only the Coast Guard or water vessel owners that meet specific criteria are granted a special license that allows them to own and use these radios. 

Types of Licenses for Marine Radio Use

There are three types of licenses or permits that allow the use of marine radios: coast station licenses, ship station licenses, and marine radio operator’s permits. 

Coast Station License

A coast station license authorizes the use of marine radios on shore. They are available for anyone who requires communication between land and sea. 

Ship Station License

A ship station license allows vessel owners to have radio equipment aboard a ship.

This is generally permitted to boat owners based on two types of classes: compulsory equipped and voluntary equipped.

Those who fall under the “compulsory equipped” category are required by law to have a ship station license to operate a marine radio onboard.

Marine Radio Operator’s Permit

A marine radio operator’s permit is required when operating a radiotelephone station aboard vessels “weighing more than 300 gross tons and vessels that carry more than six passengers for hire in the open sea or in any tidewater area in the United States” (Mariners Learning System).   

Who is Required to Have a License to Use Marine Radios?

If you are the owner of a boat and do want to use a marine radio for maritime use, the first step is to find out if you are required by law to have one on your vessel.

From there, you can determine whether you are eligible to apply for a license to use the radio. 

This website offers seven questions you should ask to determine whether you must have a VHF radio on your vessel, and therefore are eligible to apply for a license. 

How Do You Obtain a License?

In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is in charge of issuing radio-permitting licenses.

Whether you want to acquire a ship station license, coast station license, or marine radio operator’s permit, you must first go through the FCC. 

If you need to obtain a coast station license, you will need to fill out several forms with the FCC, including:

  • Form 605
  • Schedule 605B
  • Form 159

If this will be your first time filling out a form with the FCC, you will also need a Federal Registration Number (FRN). 

Generally, a ship station license is easier to obtain than a radio operator’s permit—which can prove to be quite difficult. 

Alternatives to Using a Marine Radio on Land

If you are not eligible to acquire a coast station license, ship station license, or marine radio operator’s permit, there are several other forms of communication you can use on land besides VHF radios.

If you need to get in touch with someone else on land or on the water, the following options are your next best bet:


Cellphones seem like the obvious answer; however, cell phone service is dependent on whether there is a cell tower nearby.

If you are out on the lake, near a dock or port, or anywhere else near land, cellphones can be reliable for communication with people on land. 

Family Radio Service

The family radio service (FRS) radios, similar to walkie talkies, are meant for short-distance two-way communication between parties.

They are great for staying in contact during outdoor activities such as hunting, fishing, or camping.  

These radios make excellent options for communications between land and a boat out on the water.

They can operate across different distances; the average distance for clear communication over channels eight through 14 is half of a mile. For longer ranges, channels one through seven and 15-22 are best used. 

The downside to FRS radios is similar to that of cell phones as they only work within certain ranges. 

Do Marine Radios Work on Land?

Satellite Communications

Satellite Communications is a worldwide communication system that can be accessed using a handheld satellite telephone.

Active satellites are used to provide voice and data communication coverage to satellite phones and pagers across land. 

Citizen Band (CB) Radios

Citizen Band (CB) radios are commonly used by truckers, but they are also available to the public for two-way communications.

When used for personal use both on land or between land and sea, they are a great alternative. This is because a CB radio can communicate with another at ranges from one to 25 miles.

It also can have up to 40 channels ranging in frequencies, depending on the landscape and type of antenna used. 

Do note, however, that CB radios on boats cannot be used to contact the Coast Guard; the Coast Guard does not monitor the emergency channel on CB radios—only VHF. 

Final Thoughts

Although marine radios can work on land, they are illegal to use without a specialized license.

If you are not eligible to obtain a license for this purpose, there are plenty of other alternatives for two-way communication across land or from land to sea, such as cell phones or Citizen Band (CB) radios. 

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Do Marine Radios Work on Land?