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If you should hear a distress message from a vessel and you receive no response, you should answer. If you are sure that the distressed vessel is not within your vicinity, then you should wait a short time for others to acknowledge the distress call.
Your VHF radio is typically made for short range communications, usually 5 – 10 miles, and at least 20 miles to a USCG station. For you to be able to communicate at longer ranges, you will need a satellite telephone or an MF/HF radio telephone. The VHF marine radio telephone tool usually operates between 2 – 26 MHz using the single sideband emissions. MF/HF marine radio telephones can be used to get high seas weather broadcasts, and by making use of a computer and a special interface that are provided by some coast stations, can get internet email.
While the operation of VHF radios will be different from model to model, each one of them have the exact same basic functions. Whenever you turn the device on, you will hear any messages that are being transmitted on that channel. After setting the volume control, adjust the squelch.
The squelch regulates which signals the device will receive: turned to maximum, only the strongest signals are certain to get through; set to minimum, all signals will get through: noise, static, weak signals, strong signals. The scan function starts the device, scanning all channels for transmissions; when it receives an incoming message, it will pause and monitor that channel. When transmission stops, the device will continue scanning.
Noise from wind, waves, boat engines etc. may make your words difficult to understand. Speak slowly and clearly with the microphone near however, not right against your mouth. When giving numbers, speak each digit separately (say “one-two-zero” as opposed to “a hundred and twenty”). Since 5 and 9 sound pretty much alike, say “Niner” for 9 but keep “Five” as one syllable. If you have to spell a word or a name, consider using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).