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Marine Monitoring Forum - This is the place to discuss monitoring marine communications

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Old 07-04-2017, 10:33 AM
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Default Radio use on barge traffic

Barge traffic is a relatively new area for me, but my portion of the James River (near Richmond, VA) is one with few if any seagoing ships but lots of barges. Many transit very late a night, making it difficult to observe them visually or even be nearby when they dock.

There are two vessels on a regular run that I have had a chance to monitor multiple times. Always the same tug or towboat, always the same destination, and always that same freq for docking ops. I have also monitored a number of other vessels with the same company (Norfolk Tug), and have found a different freq in use in each case.

In one case, the freq used for docking (which was assisted by another tug) was also used to communicate with crew members who were off-boat and possibly making a grocery run.
In another case, a tanker barge was in comms with the shore on 151.5125, although the attached tug used 156.450 for ops related to undocking and departure. (both of these were with Kirby)

I can also remember years ago when LoneStar tugs (now Vulcan Materials) pushing gravel barges had radios on 43.10 for operational comms.

In a particularly interesting situation, I could hear a Norfolk tug discussing strategy on 156.65 (13) for maneuvering a barge into a slip at a spot where he would be completely blocking the channel. Couldn't tell whether he was discussing this with someone at the destination, or with the crewman standing point on the barge. When they were in sight of the destination, confirmed onboard comms were on 157.075 (81A) which was also a little surprising. It used to be used by the USCG Marine Safety Office for Hampton Roads, but I heard nothing on it when I was down there about 6 weeks ago.

So my questions involve what, if anything, is customary for radio use aboard these slow-moving vessels with small crews.
1 - is it common to have non-marine freqs for onboard use in these situations, and would marine and non-marine channels coexist in the same crew radios?
2 - Do deckhands handle all the docking, or are shore personnel also assisting? (am wondering about this as a factor in freq selection)
3 - Is it common to have non-marine freqs involved where there is a more labor-intensive cargo, like something heated, chilled or pressurized?
4 - Is it customary for a destination to issue radios on their proprietary freqs to visiting barge crews for coordination in the loading process?
5 - Do commercial marine radios commonly allow transmission of what are normally USCG channels?--or has the status of Ch-81 changed?

When able to be near any of these operations, I'm scanning marine freqs and most common low power freqs found in popular off-the-shelf handhelds. That includes the 457/467 freqs for both US & Europe. Very little heard other than marine band.

Any enlightenment appreciated.

73/Allen (N4JRI)
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Old 07-04-2017, 12:57 PM
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When I was doing marine work in the Los Angeles harbor in the 1980sI installed quite a few UHF radios on tugs and barges for the various companies around here. They leased repeater time and most of their company radio traffic was via UHF repeater. I was usually working on a active barge and in my experience the barge crew worked with the tug and ships deck hands and most of the time they were using VHF marine freqs for docking and loading.
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Old 07-04-2017, 8:07 PM
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On the Mississippi River, they run VHF High, Marine freqs for the times they need to talk to riverboats or other tugs, or USCG, and Business freqs for talking to base (rare), or talking to crew members on a shore run. And they also make a lot of use of intershore phone via the radios. The MS River runs are long and lonely. Last I heard 81 is STILL listed for the same as it has always been. And USCG still makes reports on conditions twice daily as far as I know. Especially useful when an barge hits something and they close the river to traffic.
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Old 07-09-2017, 9:40 AM
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most VHF Marine Radios transmit on all of the channels. The users just have to make sure to pick one that is used for their activity.

If the crew was using marine radios when out food shopping it would be illegal to use them on land in this manner.
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Old 07-10-2017, 7:28 AM
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I worked at a INTERCOASTAL MARINE...WFN.....back in 80's, we used VFH and ssb. lots of radio traffic and barge traffic, orders, supply lists etc, busy times 3 ops on vhf and 1 ssb...I remember antennas were LOG PERIODIC at 50 feet microwaved in.
I left in 1988 and the place closed a year or two later, they had installed a series of repeaters along the OHIO, and Miss etc., called WATERCOM and it took the radio station traffic to about nothing, end of an era. They demolished the station in the early 90's.
Use to be a radio station in ST.LOUIS also. Company I worked for was ACBL. We had around 50 tug boats at that time from the OHIO to the Gulf big business then.
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Old 08-02-2017, 3:51 PM
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Thanks to all who spoke up. What I'm currently seeing is a freq being specific to the vessel, except for a couple locations where I hear multiple vessels use the same freq. in one particular location, shore people are also on the channel...presumably because of loading ops (gravel) which are monitored by the vessel crew at all times.

Am hearing lots of voice traffic where dry bulk is being loaded.

The tug using Ch-81A has used it at two different locations, one of which is near where some Coast Guard vessels put in.

But USCG is pretty quiet around here including Norfolk except on 16 & 22A. They seem to have retreated to their digital freqs for internal comms. (Could they have been fined for interfering with deer hunters? LOL) Conversely, I'm hearing more Navy on regular marine channels, sometimes possibly using voice inversion. Many of their 142 MHz freqs seem abandoned with the ELMRs.

Looks like the permissive era exemplified by the BF888 also extends to marine radio practices. Luckily, it's providing me some data I might otherwise get.

Fun stuff either way.


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Old 08-04-2017, 12:13 AM
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I worked for a company that had a fleet of ships around the United States, and we kept a dedicated batch of Motorola VHF Astro Sabers, and later PR1500 VHF handhelds for barge operations. Normal marine comms were on Marine VHF, yet they had VHF and UHF licenses as well.

There were enough radios in use that the larger ships had Motorola Centracom dispatch consoles, later replaced with GaiTronics Command Plus units. Was a lot of fun,but a lot of work as everything on a ship breaks. Barge radios were also often neglected as they were assigned to the barge and not individuals. We only checked them once a year for maintenance.
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Old 08-12-2017, 1:57 PM
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Today I found the best one yet. Almost missed it because it's not included in 'service' searches. 156.825, which should be Ch-76.

73/Allen (N4JRI)
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