10 - How to use a marine VHF radio.



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Most people have had little exposure to the proper use of a radio over the regulated airwaves. There is a protocol and special language for radio chatter which enhances the effectiveness of communications for all users.





With todays waterproof and compact VHF handheld radios it is possible and practical as well as affordable to carry a VHF radio while kayaking. These little broadcast and receiving units have short ranges with line of sight communications, but they can still be useful for organizing groups paddles while on the water, talking with other boats in the area and seeking help in emergency situations.

There is more to using a radio than just buying it and learning the functions of the knobs. You have to know a few of the rules and courtesies that make clear and accurate communication on the shared frequencies of radio possible.

First of all, unlike a telephone, you can not talk and hear at the same time. Wired telephones have two sets of wires - one pair for hearing and one pair for talking. Wireless telephones have two frequencies, each one dedicated to the separate functions. But radios operate on only one frequency, called a channel, at a time. The talking goes out on one frequency and the hearing comes in on the same frequency.

Radios must use a lot of power to transmit their signal in all directions for a great distance. When listening, they are picking up a weak signal transmitted from another radio far away. There can be thousands of times more power in the signal going out than in the signal coming in. In fact, the outgoing signal can be powerful enough to fry the electronics listening for the weak incoming signal. Most radios avoid this by using a button that turns off the listening when talking. So to use a radio you must press a button, talk, release the button and then listen for the reply.


Uniden 350

If you forget to press the button before talking the other fellow won't hear you because your radio never transmitted anything. If you forget to let go of the button when you finish talking, you won't hear the other fellow reply to you.

If you talk when the other person is talking neither of you will hear the other one.

So this one sidedness of the radio creates the need for some coordination between the talker and the listener. The listener needs to know when the other person is done talking and is now ready to listen. For efficient use of the radio the talker should say OVER when he has finished talking and is going back to listen mode. Now the listener can be the talker. Cooperation between the two participants in the conversation will make the entire conversation go much smoother without pauses of dead air or one talking over the other one and not listening , with all the resulting confusion and wasted time and repeated conversations that improper radio etiquette will bring about.

When one is done talking and done listening one says OUT. At this point it is expected that the radio will be turned to another channel or turned off.

OVER - I am done talking and I am waiting to hear your reply.

OUT - I am done talking and I am not going to listen to your reply.

So why would anybody ever say OVER AND OUT, which means I am done talking to you and I am waiting for your reply AND I am not listening for your reply, in fact I probably changed channels or turned off the radio. Using OVER AND OUT immediately identifies you as a radio dufus.

In addition to these two very common words of radio lingo there are several others.

ROGER - Yes

MAYDAY - In imminent danger of loss of life or property.

PAN PAN - pronounced pon pon - Difficult situation with possible injury or loss of property but not immediate

SECURITE SECURITE - dangerous situation, general navigation information between ships.

In addition to these words, in order to receive the correct letters when transmitting a series of letters, there has been established a series of code words representing all the letters of the alphabet. Use of these distinctly different words instead of the letters themselves helps the listener to correctly receive the letters some of which sound so much alike that they can be misunderstood over a radio. The letter S and the letter F are two in particular that are easily confused when spoken over a low or static filled signal. They have been assigned the words Sierra for S and Foxtrot for F. One is not likely to mistake Sierra for Foxtrot.

Here is the list of code words for the alphabet:


A ..........
    ALPHA
N ..........
    NOVEMBER
B ..........
    BRAVO
O ..........
    OSCAR
C ..........
    CHARLIE
P ..........
    PAPA
D ..........
    DELTA
Q ..........
    QUEBEC
E ..........
    ECHO
R ..........
    ROMEO
F ..........
    FOXTROT
S ..........
    SIERRA
G ..........
    GOLF
T ..........
    TANGO
H ..........
    HOTEL
U ..........
    UNIFORM
I ..........
    INDIA
V ..........
    VICTOR
J ..........
    JULIET
W ..........
    WHISKY
K ..........
    KILO
X ..........
    X-RAY
L ..........
    LIMA
Y ..........
    YANKEE
M ..........
    MIKE
Z ..........
    ZULU

Numbers are used as they are except for nine which is pronounced NINER to distinguish it clearly from five.

Radio traffic is monitored by all boats with radios on and by the Coast Guard on Channel 16. This is known as the distress frequency. Its purpose is a place for all parties to listen in and see if anyone is in need of assistance. It can also be used as a hailing frequency to see if any one is trying to talk to you. But Channel 9 is the channel that is meant for non emergency hailing purposes. In order to keep these channels open for new conversations to be started, particularly for emergency situations, its is required to switch to another channel once contact between the parties has been made. Continuing to chatter on channel 16 will get you some angry responses for your rude, inconsiderate use of the hailing frequency.

The parties starting the new conversation agree to go to a new channel called the working channel. Both switch their radios to the new channel and listen to see if the channel is clear. If there is a conversation on the chosen channel, both parties go back to the hailing channel to select a new working channel. Breaking in on an ongoing channel conversation is very rude and very inefficient.

Each channel is assigned a different purpose. Most are restricted for commercial and governmental use. Channels 68, 69, 71 ,72 and 78A are the noncommercial working channels in the U.S.


Channel Number
Ship Transmit
MHz
Ship Receive
MHz
Use
01A
156.050
156.050
Port Operations and Commercial. VTS in selected areas.
05A
156.250
156.250
Port Operations. VTS in selected areas.
06
156.300
156.300
Intership Safety
07A
156.350
156.350
Commercial
08
156.400
156.400
Commercial (Intership only)
09
156.450
156.450
Boater Calling. Commercial and Non-Commercial.
10
156.500
156.500
Commercial
11
156.550
156.550
Commercial. VTS in selected areas.
12
156.600
156.600
Port Operations. VTS in selected areas.
13
156.650
156.650
Intership Navigation Safety (Bridge-to-bridge). Ships >20m length maintain a listening watch on this channel in US waters.
14
156.700
156.700
Port Operations. VTS in selected areas.
15
--
156.750
Environmental (Receive only). Used by Class C EPIRBs.
16
156.800
156.800
International Distress, Safety and Calling. Ships required to carry radio, USCG, and most coast stations maintain a listening watch on this channel.
17
156.850
156.850
State Control
18A
156.900
156.900
Commercial
19A
156.950
156.950
Commercial
20
157.000
161.600
Port Operations (duplex)
20A
157.000
157.000
Port Operations
21A
157.050
157.050
U.S. Coast Guard only
22A
157.100
157.100
Coast Guard Liaison and Maritime Safety Information Broadcasts. Broadcasts announced on channel 16.
23A
157.150
157.150
U.S. Coast Guard only
24
157.200
161.800
Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
25
157.250
161.850
Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
26
157.300
161.900
Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
27
157.350
161.950
Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
28
157.400
162.000
Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
63A
156.175
156.175
Port Operations and Commercial. VTS in selected areas.
65A
156.275
156.275
Port Operations
66A
156.325
156.325
Port Operations
67
156.375
156.375
Commercial. Used for Bridge-to-bridge communications in lower Mississippi River. Intership only.
68
156.425
156.425
Non-Commercial
69
156.475
156.475
Non-Commercial
70
156.525
156.525
Digital Selective Calling (voice communications not allowed)
71
156.575
156.575
Non-Commercial
72
156.625
156.625
Non-Commercial (Intership only)
73
156.675
156.675
Port Operations
74
156.725
156.725
Port Operations
77
156.875
156.875
Port Operations (Intership only)
78A
156.925
156.925
Non-Commercial
79A
156.975
156.975
Commercial. Non-Commercial in Great Lakes only
80A
157.025
157.025
Commercial. Non-Commercial in Great Lakes only
81A
157.075
157.075
U.S. Government only - Environmental protection operations.
82A
157.125
157.125
U.S. Government only
83A
157.175
157.175
U.S. Coast Guard only
84
157.225
161.825
Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
85
157.275
161.875
Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
86
157.325
161.925
Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
87
157.375
161.975
Automatic Identification System duplex repeater
AIS 1
161.975
161.975
Automatic Identification System (AIS)
AIS 2
162.025
162.025
Automatic Identification System (AIS)
88
157.425
162.025
Public Correspondence only near Canadian border.
88A
157.425
157.425
Commercial, Intership only.

Radios of higher power are assigned a license by the government for use. Each radio is assigned a license number consisting of letters and numbers. The starting letters are different for different countries. These identifying license numbers are supposed to be used at the beginning of each call. They are known as the radio call sign.

A radio call is supposed to have the following specific format.

(call type) This is (vessel type) (vessel name) (call sign) (location)(description of vessel)(situation) (short statement and request). OVER

Perhaps this is best illustrated by a number of examples of different types of calls.

For a situation with imminent threat to life - a call to any radio operator listening.

MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY This is sailing vessel Deep Six again sailing vessel Deep Six I say again sailing vessel Deep Six Whisky Xray Tango seven five niner one Five miles northeast of Saboni Point, Delaware River. Taking on water rapidly and sinking. 35 foot sloop white hull, light blue cabintop. Five people aboard. No life raft. No survival suits. Requesting immediate assistance. OVER

Listen for 15 seconds and then repeat.

MAYDAY calls are serious business. Issuing a MAYDAY call for something not immediately threatening loss of life, serious injury or loss of property is subject to a $10,000.00 fine. Just because you are going to miss your airplane flight because you ran aground is NOT a valid reason to issue a MAYDAY call.

If you hear a MAYDAY call do not talk on this channel. Let the Coast Guard handle the call. Write down any information that the caller gives out. The Coast Guard radios are powerful and probably reach further, louder and clearer than yours does. Only if the Coast Guard requests assistance of nearby vessels or the Coast Guard does not answer after three minutes and repeated MAYDAY calls should you respond yourself. If the Coast Guard does not respond to the distress call you should assume that the Coast Guard is unable to hear the MAYDAY call. You should then perform a MAYDAY relay, repeating the information given in the original call following the proper format but using the term MAYDAY RELAY instead of MAYDAY and using your vessel name and call sign.

If you are in a position to render assistance to the stricken vessel, wait until the traffic between the vessel and the Coast Guard subsides and then offer that assistance to the Coast Guard, not the stricken vessel operator and coordinate the rescue effort with the Coast Guard.



For a situation with possible loss of life or property but not imminently.

PON PON PON PON PON PON This is motor vessel No Way KILO VICTOR ALPHA four eight niner two. Ten miles west of Smith Point. 30 foot Hunter Marine light grey hull. Two peopple onboard. Engine flooded from controlled hull leak. Drifting toward shore. Estimate two to three hours before hit surf line. OVER

For a situation of possible danger.

SECURITE SECURITE SECURITE This is kayak Mariner Express Two hundred yards North North East of Red Buoy 66 in the Chester River. All traffic this area be advised a group of nine kayaks is crossing the channel in heavy fog. OVER.



A call to the Coast Guard on Channel 16 might go like this.

Coast Guard, Coast Guard, Coast Guard. This is kayak Mariner Express, Two miles south east of Smith Island latitude 34.0783 North longitude 75.8456 West. We have separated from a member of our group in high seas and are unable to locate him. Several other members of the group have capsized multiple times due to severe sea sickness. Requesting assistance. OVER

Kayak Mariner Express, This is Coast Guard Station Chesapeake City. Go to Channel 23 Over

Kayak Mariner Express going 23. Over.

Coast Guard this is kayak Mariner Express on 23. Over. (When switching channels the initiating party speaks first.)

Kayak Mariner Express, this is Coast Guard Station Chesapeake City on 23. Please restate your situation. Over.

Kayak Mariner Express requests assistance to locate ........ Blah Blah Blah ....................

Don't call the Coast Guard for stupid stuff. They are there to protect life and property, not your convenience or comfort. Calling the Coast Guard about running aground, or running out of gas, or being becalmed will get you in trouble. There are many private and commercial organizations whose business and pleasure it is to help you out with these types of problems. Sea Tow is the major organization in the U.S. that does this and they monitor channel 16 too.



A routine call on a handheld VHF with no license using channel 9 might go like this.

Kayak Looksha, Kayak Looksha, Kayak Looksha this is Kayak Mariner Express. Over.

Kayak Mariner Express this is Kayak Looksha. Go to 69. Over.

Mariner Express going 69. Over

(Listen On Channel 69. Conversation going on there Back to Channel 9 )

Kayak Looksha, Kayak Looksha, Kayak Looksha, this is Kayak Mariner Express. Over

Kayak Mariner Express this is Kayak Looksha. Go to 71. Over.

Mariner going 71. Over.

(Listen on Channel 71. no Conversation)

Kayak Looksha do you read? Over.

Rodger Mariner Express. Over.

Blah Blah Blah Over

More Blah Blah Over

Blah Blah Over

Final blah Blah. Kayak Looksha Out ( Mariner Looksha done talking and listening on this channel.)

Kayak Mariner Express Standing by 16. (Done with this conversation, Continuing to monitor channel 16. Some VHFs have the ability to monitor/scan more than one channel.)

Marine radios can also be used to connect to land telephones through the marine operator. This is an expensive and often comical operation as the telephone user seldom understands the requirements of the radio conversation and will talk when you are talking and not realize why you can't hear what they said. This option is extremely expensive and should only be used if its really really important. Use a cell phone if at all possible.

Radios are not toys and are meant for the serious business of safe navigation and emergency rescues. Never let your children play with a radio. Teach them the proper respect and protocol. Remember that the life they save may be yours.

Finally remember that what you say on a radio can be heard by anyone within range, so speak as if you were speaking to your mama. Foul language is cause for revoking your license and is subject to fines and even imprisonment by the regulating authorities. The Coast Guard monitors and can locate the source of radio signals. Its part of their job.


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EVEN THE BEST BOATERS CAN FIND THEMSELVES IN SERIOUS TROUBLE ON THE MILDEST OF DAYS IN THE OCEAN. PARTICIPATION IN THIS SPORT IS A STRENUOUS ACTIVITY. CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN BEFORE UNDERTAKING ANY SUCH ACTIVITY. PLEASE BE AWARE THAT EACH BOATER TAKES FULL RESPONSIBILITY FOR HIS OR HER OWN SAFETY, AND IS TOTALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR ASSESSING THE DANGER LEVEL AND ACCEPTING THE CONSEQUENCES OF PARTICIPATING IN THIS SPORT.

Copyright on original material by Sea Kayak Chesapeake Bay TM 2001 through 2014. All rights reserved.


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