Editor’s Introductory Note: The following lengthy article is being posted in one piece, for the sake of continuity. I recommend printing a hard copy for your radio reference binder. Note that some of the methods described are illegal outside of disaster situations, and are presented for educational purposes only.
If our country ever becomes Balkanized or collapsed, boat owners could at some point just sail away to calmer waters, sandy beaches, and palm trees. In a WROL situation, they could use their VHF and HF Marine transceiver sets to good effect, much like how Amateur Radio operators can use their equipment. In international waters, the rules are different. And in foreign waters, the consequences for breaking their laws could be severe.
The advantage of VHF Marine band radio is that they already come programmed and channelized, and are generally very easy to use. Many of them are also built to be very weather resistant and have handsets that are designed for rugged use. Note that there are repeaters used on some channels, and these channels cannot be used for our purposes. Choose channels designated for ship-to-ship, inter-ship, noncommercial that are simplex frequencies in the 156 to 157 MHz range. Marine repeaters talk back to VHF Marine radios in the 160 to 161 MHz range. Do not use these frequencies unless near a port. However as we might now become pirate radio operators at sea, we should also endeavor to use off the beaten path techniques and frequencies to avoid being captured.
The Tram 1181
can also be used for the Marine Band. This one is designed for vehicle installations and has no ground plane of it’s own. It can be installed with a MNO mount inserted though sheet metal, or we can use a magnetic mounted to secure to the horizontal metal surface requiree to operate correctly.
In order to make full use of these VHF Marine band transceivers, we might identify all the simplex channels. This list omits the frequencies near ports that use repeaters. We can program these into Baofengs and other handhelds to be used as Marine radios, and leave room for other frequency choices that make these radios more useful.
Marine band Simplex Frequencies (ship to ship, no repeater)
Frequency Channel Number (With the alpha prefix ‘SEA’ for Baofeng programming)
156.050000 SEA01A Port Operations and Commercial
156.250000 SEA05A Port Operations.
156.300000 SEA 06 Intership Safety
156.350000 SEA07A Commercial
156.400000 SEA 08 Commercial (Intership only)
156.450000 SEA 09 Boater Calling. Commercial and Non-Commercial.
156.500000 SEA 10 Commercial
156.550000 SEA 11 Commercial, VTS in some areas.
156.600000 SEA 12 Port Operations. VTS in selected ports.
156.650000 SEA 13 Intership Navigation Safety (Bridge-to-bridge). Ships >20m length maintain a listening watch on this channel in US waters.
156.700000 SEA 14 Port Operations. VTS in selected areas.
156.800000 SEA 16 International Distress, Safety and Calling.
156.900000 SEA18A Commercial
156.950000 SEA19A Commercial
157.000000 SEA20A Port Operations
157.100000 SEA22A Coast Guard Liaison and Maritime. Safety Information Broadcasts.
157.200000 SEA 24 Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
157.250000 SEA 25 Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
157.300000 SEA 26 Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
157.350000 SEA 27 Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
156.175000 SEA63A Port Operations and Commercial
156.275000 SEA65A Port Operations
156.325000 SEA66A Port Operations
156.375000 SEA 67 Commercial. Used for Bridge-to- bridge communications in lower Mississippi River. Intership only.
156.425000* SEA 68 Non-Commercial-Working Channel (TR notes: best choice for a meet up, or primary channel)
156.475000 SEA 69 Non-Commercial (TR notes: good alternative for a meet up, or primary channel)
156.525000 SEA 70 Digital Selective Calling (voice communications not allowed)
156.575000 SEA 71 Non-Commercial
156.625000 SEA 72 Non-Commercial, Inter ship only.
156.675000 SEA 73 Port Operations
156.725000 SEA 74 Port Operations
156.875000 SEA 77 Port Operations
156.925000 SEA78A Non-Commercial (TR notes: good alternative for a meet up, or primary channel)
156.975000 SEA79A Commercial
157.025000 SEA80A Commercial
157.425000 SEA88A Commercial, Intership only.
My suggested list does not include simplex channels that are reserved or restricted by the government.
NOAA Weather Radio Frequencies:
WX1 — 162.550
WX2 — 162.400
WX3 — 162.475
WX4 — 162.425
WX5 — 162.450
WX6 — 162.500
WX7 — 162.525
Stealth by Sea
MURS (Multi User Radio Service) radios are license-free frequencies that can be used just like your CB. These have a similar range as 2 Meter handheld, or Marine handheld. A Baofeng on a good external antenna can have triple the range over a ‘rubber ducky’ type or standard handheld antenna. Any of these frequencies can be entered into the ubiquitous Baofeng UV5R by using the orange colored button labeled VFO. It is not programming the radio, but can be used by the radio as if it were programmed.
Put a label on the backside of the battery with the frequency chosen and cover it will clear packing tape to make it water-resistant. However, the first 3 channels should not be used on an antenna that is designed for VHF Marine Band radio. The range is would be severely limited and the radio would become increasingly damaged with repeated use.
MURS Radio Frequencies:
CH# Frequency Bandwidth
CH1 151.820 MHz (11.25 kHz)
CH2 151.880 MHz (11.25 kHz)
CH3 151.940 MHz (11.25 kHz)
CH4 154.570 MHz (20.00 kHz)
CH5 154.600 MHz (20.00 kHz)
MURS is a set of frequencies well known in the patriot community, and likely is already programmed in their radios. Having a set of common frequencies means better coordination. These frequencies can be used as ‘calling’ frequency, a place to meet up on the air, and then we would switch to a tactical channel. We can to a limited extent, also use frequencies in the Business band. These frequencies are often used by contractors building roadways, or on a temporary basis by businesses. This set of frequencies is set aside, and not licensed on a permanent basis. No one owns these frequencies.
In my part of the country (the Inland Northwest) no one cares if you use them even if on a semi-permanent basis. It is best, however, to monitor these frequencies before using them. For example, both our local town police and a logging outfit use one of these frequencies on a regular basis, and illegally. Because radio traffic is so minimal in this part of the country, no one cares. However, in the big city where radio traffic could be crowded, this kind of abuse may not be tolerated. However, even in the big city, we can also use these frequencies only intermittently, as a back channel, or tactical channel, and blend in with the city radio traffic noise, or used as an alternate in case one of the MURS frequencies is compromised in some way.
With all of this mind, we can now explore off the beaten path set of frequencies that can work with your existing Marine band antennas. You have already have an outstanding antenna on your boat for a low or high powered network using Baofeng, Marine Band, or other inexpensive open banded VHF radios. 4 or 5 watts on any decent antenna that could be a boat mast, that is as high, or higher than 50 feet above flat unobstructed terrain could be expected to travel up to 10 miles or more. We can also use a directional antenna to boost our 4 watts to 20 watts giving us 30 miles of range, and an ability to somewhat conceal our signal. With the use of a 5 element yagi antenna, we can reduce our radio or RF footprint to as little as 75%.
We could also connect an inexpensive and open-banded Chinese 25 to 50 watt mobile to our boat’s antenna. Program it with all the VHF Marine band channels and add MURS, Business Band in the 154 to 158 MHz range, and all of the allocation in the Transportation band that is in the 158 to 160Mhz range (for licensed users of commercial buses, and truckers). Use an SWR meter to confirm that your VHF Marine Band antenna has a low SWR on these frequencies. 2.1 to 1 and lower is perfectly acceptable. Being a builder of antennas, I know that the antenna on your boat should be usable, or resonant on frequencies between 154.00MHz to 160.000MHz. We can connect Baofeng radios to this antenna by using an SMA Female to UHF (aka, SO-239) adapter
. Pick up extras of these adapters for each of your Baofengs, or for others you may meet up with later.
It can be used to test any VHF/UHF antenna, even on other boats. Most VHF antenna can also transmit on UHF frequencies. It is very simple to use. Simply connect and transmit on a selected frequency. Any SWR number of 2.1 or less, means it is a good antenna for that particular frequency. Here is a short video
and one of many of how to use this inexpensive and easy to use meter. It will not work for testing CB antennas.
Pirates Beware: A Word of Caution
The VHF Marine Band is being monitored and recorded all along the coastline and major waterways by the U.S. Coast Guard, and other DHS agencies such as ICE, and Border Patrol. But pirates should know how they might be vulnerable if using only the Marine Band. We can use frequencies within the range of the Marine Band antenna that are not a part of the Marine band. If more than 10 miles from a U.S. port, we can use an additional set of frequencies set aside, yet inaccessible to transportation companies.
I suggest two simple frequency lists that combine MURS, Business band, and Transportation frequencies. One should be used while in port, and the other can be used when outside U.S. ports and major cities. I’ll keep it short, but we can also draw on a longer list in the future, if needed.
List #1 for Ports:
154.570 MURS Ch #4
154.600 MURS CH #5
158.400 Business band
List #2, examples for outside the U.S, or remote areas (159 to 160.000 MHz). Use narrow band settings to avoid interfering with other frequencies
The 159 to 160 MHz chunk of the spectrum is allocated for Commercial buses and trucks (Transportation). A license is required. At sea, or perhaps even ashore during a WROL (Without Rule of Law) situation we are unlikely to run into any buses or trucks.
As a general rule, outside of ports, we could use any frequency your boat’s antenna can transmit on. These would be between 154 to 160 Mhz. Test the VSWR of your antenna to verify that these frequencies could be used using the inexpensive and easy to use meter suggested — the SW102 found on Amazon. It will probably also transmit on UHF. Use a Baofeng as a signal generator for all UHF and VHF frequencies, and record the results. I would not be surprised if the VHF Marine band antenna, already installed, would have a usable SWR of less than 2.1 to 1 somewhere in the range of 462 to 482MHz. The range could include the FRS and GMRS channel and some UHF business band frequencies that are between 462 to 470 MHz.
It is likely you effectively have a dual-band antenna, and do not yet know it. There are 88 Marine Band channels, and the Baofeng can store up to 127 channels. I would be inclined to install all of the Marine Band frequencies, and use the other 39 frequencies for MURS and Business band, a few ham repeaters, and NOAA. If you replace your 25 watt VHF Marine radio with a full-power and open-banded Chinese radio, such as an Anytone 5888AT, then one could store up to 700 UHF, or VHF frequencies.
Scanners for Pirates
A fully programmed Baofeng could also be used as a slow scanner for the ham bands near your favorite port, or other ports you might like to listen to. One can then increase their situational awareness. Using an actual scanner would be far more productive. However, it is good to know your options. Here is one example of the many scanners out there:
It might be a good choice for a boat as it can be mounted to the dash, and comes with an external mag-mount antenna. It also comes with the Close Call feature. This is a very good feature to have in any scanner, as it can capture any frequency in the band selected, that happens to be used close by, and is not programmed into the scanner to be scanned. I would set the Close Call feature to monitor VHF frequencies. It is most likely to alert us that the Coast Guard is close by and attempting to board you. And the price of $110 makes it relatively inexpensive. However, it is only an analog scanner, and does not hear the digital traffic that is used by most Emergency Services today.
This digital do-all scanner is impressive, but so is the price, $380, when I last checked:
For getting the most out of our equipment, consider the Tram 1181 Antenna
. (Frequency range: 140 to 170 Mhz, and 430 to 470 MHz). Antennas are very important. They can be game-changers if we understand them. We are attempting to get the most out of our money, and equipment to maximize our capabilities, and to create redundancy where possible. The relatively small price of this antenna provides us huge gains in versatility, and increases the range of the lowly Baofeng several times. It can also be used as an antenna in case you get shipwrecked and can salvage your 25 watt VHF Marine radio, or other VHF mobile transceiver, and at least one photovoltaic panel to power it.
Put one of these on a magnetic mount that can be put on the boat’s metal roof, the dingy’s gas can, or used on any vehicle, and even placed outside the window of structure on a flat metal surface (to from a groundplane), that could be as small as a #10 can on shore, or in the boat’s stores. With this antenna, the boat can talk to whatever vehicle, or house you own, or rent at a port, or from a grass hut. It can also be used as an alternative, or backup antenna for the primary VHF Marine radio should the primary VHF antenna fail on the boat.
It could also be a part of a land-mobile base station radio station using a Baofeng alongside the VHF Marine radio to monitor a shore party, other pirates, or friendly villager lookouts using a handheld Baofengs, or inexpensive, simple, and expendable FRS radios that they might already own. A Baofeng used inside a vehicle or a boat cabin, that is metal cage for RF, greatly reduces the already short range of a handheld. An external antenna on a metal roof can triple the range. A Baofeng connected to your 50-foot high antenna could talk to a Baofeng with the Tram 1181 mounted on the roof of a vehicle, or another boat as far away 10 miles reliably, and out to 20 miles in ideal conditions.
Although it is not the best propagating antenna, the Tram 1181 is broadbanded, and also a dual-band antenna that would cover 95% of the possible frequencies one is likely to use. It covers all radio services, and more. For example, we can use the Baofeng and this antenna to talk the VHF/UHF Ham bands, Public, and Emergency Services, Railroads, Trucker and buses, and Marine radios, as well all Business bands, and GMRS and FRS radios. In other words, if you find another radio somewhere and you know the frequency it uses, odds are you will able to talk to it. If other pirates happen to have Hams radios, and someone out there likely do, then you can talk to them as well. You may already have a few GMRS/FRS radios. These are the most ubiquitous radios in the U.S.. Ham radios are common as well. Add a SSB CB to the boat, and your coverage broadens even more. In decades past, this capability would cost well over $1,000 USD, but we get it done for under $200.
The Tram 1181 is essentially 6 or more antennas for the price of one. And it does not need to be tuned if used within it’s range of 140 to 161 MHz, and 420 to 470 MHz. Most antennas for sale must be tuned, yet most folks do not have this capability, and do not know that they must be tuned. Advertisers neglect to mention this. Badly tuned antennas, and faulty antennas, destroy radios over time. Not good. Most Marine band antennas are the exception. I have tested a big box full Tram 1181 antennas for other people, and they consistently test well for the frequencies advertised. They are also well made, rugged, and not prone to failure. It’s broad coverage easily offset the advantages of antennas advertised as high gain antennas. There are better propagating antennas, but I would rather have a multi-tool. If you would not need this kind of flexibility, then I could suggest getting another Marine band antenna that is a high gain antenna, and limit your self to the frequencies discussed, or 154 to 160 MHz.
Transceivers for Pirates
Here is a short list of VHF/UHF mobiles that can use the Tram 1181 antenna to it’s fullest, and because of versatility, would also require an additional antenna to use their full potential. As someone who keeps an eye on radios for sale, I’ve noticed a recent drop in availability of many once-popular models. Just like ammo, we are beginning to see the bottom of the barrel, especially in the lower end market. Fortunately, there is still something for everyone.
The Wouxun KG-UV980P Quad Band Base/Mobile Two Way Radio
is available for around $310. This is a quad band, cross band repeat, 50 watt transceiver, that transmits using FM only in these frequency ranges: 26 to 29 MHz, 50 to 54 MHz, 136 to 174 MHz, and 400 to 480 MHz. It can generally be described in terms of Amateur Radio as a 10 meter, 6 meter, 2 meter, and 70cm, yet this unit transmits outside of these Amateur bands, and is much more than simply a Ham radio. For example, it also transmits in FM in the CB range of frequencies, and is subsequently in a gray area where FCC regulations are not enforced, and likely not monitored. It is in the range that is the wild west of radio where just about anything goes, including the CB free bands where few CB today can go either. And there are fewer radios that go there that transmit on FM. Transmitting there, one would be well off the beaten path.
Just for clarification: While it will transmit on the same frequencies as CB, it can not talk to CB’s, because CB uses Amplitude modulation (AM), and not frequency modulation (FM) that this transceiver uses. It can, however, receive CB traffic. One of the big advantages of VHF low band is the ability of these longer radio waves to propagate further as ground waves, than can the VHF high band. The shorter the wave length, the shorter the range. There is a many-fold difference in propagation between 27 MHz and 144 MHz. Just be sure to stay away from the 10 meter ham band. It is well-monitored, and hams are self-policing. As a quick mention only, some modern military radios can use the 6-meter band. The cross band repeat works between both the low VHF bands, and the high VHF bands only. A quad band antenna is available.
For around $283, you can get an Anytone 5888UV III Tri-Band FM Transceiver 136-174Mhz & 220-260 & 400-490Mhz Tri-Band Mobile Radio with programming cable. This is a tri-bander with cross-band repeat, and with 50 watts maximum on VHF. Cross-band repeat allows the user to transmit on a low power hand held, usually on a UHF frequency, and the radio would re-transmit the signal with up to 50 watts on the VHF side. We could use a Baofeng transmitting on for example a GMRS frequency to be broadcast at 25 watts on the Marine Band through this Anytone transceiver. The Baofeng could also be set to receive on the Marine Band channel, and listen for a reply. The 1.25 meter part of the radio can not be used with the Tram 1181. However, it does transmit on VHF, 136 to 174 MHz that includes the VHF Marine band, and 400 to 490MHz that includes 462 MHz to 482 MHz, where the typical Marine band antenna already installed on the boat may also be resonant, or usable.
Use a tri-band antenna, and tri-band Baofeng such as the Baofeng UV5III, and you have 200 MHz to 260 MHz almost to yourself. However, a license is required to use these bands and much of it is allocated for government use. Fortunately, a Technician’s License would give you access to the 1.25 Meter Amateur band. This Anytone radio is easy to use, and easy to program with CHIRP. I’ve programmed several of these radios. It stores up to 700 channels! I use them all.
For about $130, here is a low dollar option
that is a basic dual bander the meets my criterion, but only offers 25 watts of output on VHF. With a programming cable, these can be programmed with CHIRP.
There are also other mid-price transceivers available, for less than $200. Not otherwise discussed, are the B-tech series of radios. While these are a good value, these do not transmit above 450 MHz, and in the GMRS range of frequencies. Because they did not do not transmit in a useful frequency range above 450MHz, I’ve excluded them.
Free Programming Software: CHIRP
Here is free software that is typically used to program a Baofeng and many other radios: CHIRP Download
You’ll also need a programming cable
. It is easy to use the software. Choosing frequencies is a bit more complicated, but changes are quickly made if a change is necessary.
General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) is for the masses. If you’d rather set sail than deal with more complicated radios, here is an option that can complement your VHF Marine radios, and help one avoid being potentially monitored in the waterways. This list is intended to provide those who have little knowledge about radios and their components, and allows these persons a sort of kit approach, so they can quickly and easily get it done, and get underway.
If taking a test, and programming radio is not your thing, GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) offers a no test license for a fee of $35.00 that includes the entire family, and the dog. However, this type of radio would be my distant second choice as UHF frequencies do not travel as far in undulating terrain as does VHF. And these radios are lower in power, 40 watts verses 70 watts that can be found in some VHF Amateur radios such as Yeasu, and others. UHF is best suited for the concrete canyons of the cities, and will likely not have the range of VHF even on the water, yet these radios should be more than adequate in most situations.
Here are all the main components that will help do a cost-benefit analysis. Also, check RadioReference.com
to see if there are any GMRS repeaters in your area. Ideally you’ll want 2 mobile Midland MXT400’s, one for the house, and one for your vehicle.
GMRS Mobile, and Handheld Transceivers
Here are some decent quality GMRS radios:
Antenna and cables for GMRS base station radio installation
VHF and UHF Frequency Lists
In the event it is necessary to operate without a programmed Baofeng or high powered mobile, here are other frequencies for pirate radio operators that can be entered manually into the VFO of the radio and used:
Family Radio Service (FRS)
General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS)
NOTE: FRS RADIOS USUALLY INCLUDE GMRS AS CHANNELS 15 TO 22 THAT HAVE A LONGER RANGE THAN FRS FREQUENCIES AS RADIO ARE ALLOWED UP TO 5 WATTS YET TYPICALLY ONLY TRANSMIT AT A MAXIMUM OF 1.5 WATTS. The Baofeng transmits at around 4 watts. To access GMRS repeater, use the default tone that is 141.3 and shift up 5.0 MHz.
462.55 GMRS (also may be used simplex) CH15
462.575 GMRS (also may be used simplex) CH16
462.6 GMRS (also may be used simplex) CH17
462.625 GMRS (also may be used simplex) CH18
462.65 GMRS (also may be used simplex) CH19
462.675 GMRS (also may be used simplex) CH20
462.7 GMRS (also may be used simplex) CH21
462.725 GMRS (also may be used simplex) CH22
GMRS Repeaters broadcast on these frequencies
467.55 GMRS (also may be used simplex)
467.575 GMRS (also may be used simplex)
467.6 GMRS (also may be used simplex)
467.625 GMRS (also may be used simplex)
467.65 GMRS (also may be used simplex)
467.675 GMRS (also may be used simplex)
467.7 GMRS (also may be used simplex)
467.725 GMRS (also may be used simplex)
MURS (Multi User Radio Service)
These are licenses free:
154.57 MURS/Blue Dot
154.6 MURS/Green Dot
VHF Business Band (itinerants)
151.625 Red Dot
151.955 Purple Dot
UHF Business Band (Itinerants)
UHF frequencies usually have a shorter range than VHF, but not always. UHF can propagate better
than VHF from inside and around buildings. However, there are advantages to having a limited range forested and hilly areas in that fewer will potentially hear you. UHF is a better tactical frequency band. That is why Army headsets use 399.00 to 399.99MHz.
464.5 Brown Dot
464.55 Yellow Dot
467.85 Silver Star
467.875 Gold Star
467.9 Red Star
467.925 Blue Star
Found in Motorola Business class UHF Radios:
HF Marine Transceivers
HF Marine Transceivers are an under-appreciated, and potential pirate tool on sea and land. In this day and age, these transceivers are rarely used by the younger generation who are more comfortable with reliable satellite internet connections, and all sorts of high tech devices. Yet savvy old pirates of yore who still remember how, can learn how to use HF Marine sets in unconventional ways.
Near vertical incidence skywave (N.V.I.S.) antennas should get a mention as there are many HF Marine radios out there. Any HF set that can transmit on frequencies at 7MHz (40 meter) and lower, can use this type of antenna to talk with all points of a region that is approximately 200 to 300 miles in diameter without the use of repeaters. This kind of radio transmission was commonly used during the Vietnam war. In the old days it was referred to as Short Skip radio.
Few radio enthusiasts know about NVIS. Marine HF sets are channelized can be used in place of a Ham radio HF set. Here are the channels that can be used in this way. It is extremely difficult to DF this kind of transmission — except as groundwave, up close. An NVIS antenna can be inexpensive and easily deployed. An NVIS antenna is inexpensive, easy to construct. as well. Ideally, a dipole at 25 feet would give one the best performance, yet the same antenna can be used at deck level. To learn more, use this link
and download all the files labeled NVIS. These are print-friendly versions.
Here is short list from the USCG web site of some of the frequencies that an HF Marine band transceiver can use with this type of antenna:
4 MHz Duplex Channels
ITU Channel No. Coast Transmit kHz Ship Transmit kHz
Note regarding channel 421: 4125 kHz is used for calling, and is for GMDSS distress and safety communications, in the simplex mode. Distress and safety communications have priority over all other communications. The USCG urges that channel 421 not be used in the duplex mode.
I hope that you find the preceding information useful.