The purpose of this work was to design and construct a multichannel receive-only radiofrequency coil for 3T magnetic resonance imaging of the human carotid artery and bifurcation with optimized signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) in the carotid vessels along the full extent of the neck. A neck phantom designed to match the anatomy of a subject with a neck representing the body habitus often seen in subjects with carotid arterial disease was constructed. Sixteen circular coil elements were arranged on a semirigid fiberglass former that closely fit the shape of the phantom, resulting in a 16-channel bilateral phased array coil. Comparisons were made between this coil and a typical 4-channel carotid coil in a study of 10 carotid vessels in five healthy volunteers. The 16-channel carotid coil showed a 73% average improvement in SNR at the carotid bifurcation. This coil also maintained an SNR greater than the peak SNR of the 4-channel coil over a vessel length of 10 cm. The resulting increase in SNR improved vessel depiction of the carotid arteries over an extended field of view, and demonstrated better image quality for higher parallel imaging reduction factors compared to the 4-channel coil. Magn Reson Med, 2013. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.