CELLULAR TELEPHONES ON BOATS (Consumer Fact Sheet)

Vessel DocumentationRegulations Updates

U.S. Coast Guard                             CONSUMER FACT SHEET
Office of Navigation Safety and Waterway Services
Washington DC 20593-0001


CELLULAR TELEPHONES ON BOATS

The Coast Guard does not advocate cellular phones as a substitute
for the regular maritime radio distress and safety systems
recognized by the Federal Communications Commission and the
International Radio Regulations -- particularly VHF maritime
radio.  However, cellular phones can have a place on board as an
added measure of safety.

CELLULAR PHONE LIMITATIONS IN AN EMERGENCY 

o  Cellular phones generally cannot provide ship to ship safety 
   communications or communications with rescue vessels.  If you
   make a distress call on a cellular phone, only the one party
   you call will be able to hear you.

o  Most cellular phones are designed for a land-based service.  
   Their coverage offshore is limited, and may change without 
   notice.

o  Locating a cellular caller is hard to do.  If you don't 
   know precisely where you are, the Coast Guard will have 
   difficulty finding your location on the water.

Note:  In some areas, however, cellular providers have 
established a special code (*CG) which, if you are in range, will
connect you directly to a Coast Guard Operations Center.  This
service may only work with the carrier to which you have
subscribed. 

CELLULAR/VHF MARINE RADIO COMPARISON

Cellular phones do provide the convenience of simple,
easy-to-use, inexpensive, private and generally reliable
telephone service to home, office, automobile or other locations. 
Placing a shore-to-ship call to someone with a cellular telephone
is especially convenient.  However, you cannot use your cellular
phone outside the United States, and you may need a special
agreement with your carrier to use it outside that carrier's
local service area.

VHF marine radios were designed with safety in mind.  If you are
in distress, calls can be received not only by the Coast Guard
but by ships which may be in position to give immediate
assistance.  A VHF marine radio also helps ensure that storm
warnings and other urgent marine information broadcasts are
received.  The Coast Guard announces these broadcasts on VHF
channel 16.  Timely receipt of such information may save your
life.  Additionally, your VHF marine radio can be used anywhere
in the United States or around the world.

On VHF radios, however, conversations are not private and
individual boats cannot be assigned a personal phone number.  If
you are expecting a call, channel 16 or the marine operator's
working channel must be continually monitored.

SHOULD YOU RELY ON A CELLULAR PHONE EXCLUSIVELY?

Actually there is no comparison between cellular phones and VHF
marine radio.  They normally provide different services.  The
cellular phone is best used for what it is, an on board telephone
-- a link with shore based telephones.  A VHF marine radio is
intended for communication with other ships or marine
installations -- and a powerful ally in time of emergency.

If you have a portable or hand held cellular telephone, by all
means take it aboard.  If you are boating very far off shore, a
cellular phone is no substitute for a VHF radio.  But, if you are
within cellular range, it may provide an additional means of
communication.

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Fact Sheet # 24
January 1994