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Telephone – 911 is the emergency number to reach the Dickinson County Communications Center in Spirit Lake that provides dispatching for police, fire, ambulance, rescue, and Lake Patrol. The direct dial emergency and the non-emergency number is 712/ 336-2525 and is also used for non-emergency calls.

Cellular - 911 is also the emergency number for cellular phones. For many callers a cellular locating capability will provide the Communications Center your approximate location. If you call 911 from a boat be prepared to provide your location on the water. Your location relevant to specific points or bays would be helpful. If you are unsure of your location your direction from on-shore water towers would be helpful. The location of water towers is shown on Boaters Maps.

The proper procedure to contact the Lake Patrol with a Marine Radio is:

  1. Be sure you are on channel 16.

  2. Listen to be sure the channel is not already in use.

  3. Press the mike button and say “name of your boat to the Lake Patrol on channel 16.” Be sure to key your microphone before speaking and make your first transmission long enough - by repeating it three times - because the Lake Patrol monitors several public safety frequencies.

  4. When the Lake Patrol answers, provide the nature of the problem and your location.


VHF Marine Radio - Boaters are increasing their use of VHF Marine Radios on the Iowa Great Lakes. The Iowa DNR Lake Patrol monitors Marine Radio Emergency Channel 16. The Lake Patrol has Channel 16 on their patrol boats. If you encounter a boating emergency you can contact the Lake Patrol boats directly.

If the Lake Patrol is not available, another person with access to a telephone might be able to relay your information to the Lake Patrol. It is possible that no Lake Patrol boat will be available or your communications range is not sufficient to reach the Lake Patrol boat.

In addition, Marine Radio channel 16 is monitored by the Dickinson County E911 Emergency Communications Center in Spirit Lake. They are identified on the radio as "Dickinson County".

Non-emergency boat communications should avoid the use of channel 16. The common Marine Radio operating procedure is to make contact on channel 16 and then move to another marine channel for your communications.


Marine Radio Equipment – VHF marine radios are either a handheld portable with a 1 or 5-watt transmitter or a fixed mount radio with a 25-watt transmitter. Performance varies considerably depending on transmitter power, antenna height, and obstacles in the radio path. Typical range to another boat from a 1-watt portable might be 1 – 2 miles, 5-watt portable: 2 – 3 miles, and with a 25-watt boat transmitter 3 – 5 miles. Boat range to a shore station could be 5 miles or with a higher antenna up to 30 miles. Most Marine Radios have a scan capability to monitor multiple channels. Manufacturers include: ICOM, Raytheon, Standard, Uniden, and West Marine.

Marine Radio Licensing – The Federal Communications Commission has allocated 50 VHF radio channels to commercial and non-commercial boaters. There is no FCC license required when operating in U.S. waters, however FCC rules still apply. Marine channels are numbered from 1 to 88. The letter “A” after a channel number indicates the United States use of a single frequency from a two-frequency international channel pair. Marine frequencies are between 156 and 157.5 MHz.

Normal Marine Radio Operation – Boaters monitor channel 16 – the Calling and Emergency channel. When a boater wants to communicate with another boat or shore station, they initiate the call on channel 16. Once contact is made, the parties agree to switch to a working channel for their communications. When communications are completed, both parties switch back to channel 16.

Channels For Your Own Use – You can use the Marine Radio for coordinating your own activities while on the water. The channels for non-commercial use are 9, 68, 69, 71, 72, 78A, 79A, and 80A. The Okoboji Yacht Club makes extensive use of channels 68 and 72 to conduct sailboat races. The channel you intend to use should be monitored in advance to avoid interference to other users. Select an idle channel that is not already in use. Radio channels assigned for U.S. Coast Guard, Navigation, and Marine Telephone should be avoided. Channel 9 is a good choice for finding other boaters. Use the Low Power mode (1 watt) when a range of less than one mile is required.

Weather Channel – NOAA weather from the National Weather Service specific to the Iowa Great Lakes can be found on Marine Radios Weather Channel One – 162.55 MHz.

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