The VHF radiotelephone is one of the simplest electronic devices that can be onboard a ship. The handling is simple since the functions that you have are not too many. Also, most of the time we will carry it on listening, that is, without using the calls except in case of need.
But what kind of calls and who can be done with the radiotelephone? Firstly, it should be clarified that the VHF radio is a marine band, that is, it can not be used to enter frequencies other than those established by the ITU (International Telecommunication Union), which on the other hand are the ones that come configured in any device that is approved for marine use. Calls can be directed to any SSM (Maritime Mobile Service) station, that is, the ship, coast and stations of the CCS (Rescue Coordination Centers). Also to any radio station in a marina or yacht club that has the radio service to contact its customers.
It is necessary to indicate that the person responsible for their good or bad use is always the master or captain of the ship. Therefore, it is advisable to be very careful when carrying out the transmissions.
The types of calls are
- Distress calls: they are the priority in radio communications and are carried out when there is an incident in a boat that poses a danger to the people on board and to the boat itself. They should not be done under any other concept.
- Emergency calls: they are made when onboard the ship you need external help but not motivated by any danger that may lead to the immediate loss of the boat or for any circumstance that endangers the physical integrity of the people. This type of call can be made in the case of a shipping failure, accident, or illness of a crew member or if it is observed that another ship may need assistance and is not in a position to send a call on the radio.
- Security calls: motivated by any cause that entails a danger or risk for any ship that navigates a certain area. For example weather warnings, floating objects, the disappearance of maritime signals, etc.
- Routine calls: are calls to communicate or ask anything to other radio stations, as long as the reason for that call does not correspond to any of the above. For example: indicate the situation of the boat, request information about a reason related to navigation, etc.
Given the types of calls that can be made, we will see what steps should be followed to make them because many times the navigators misuse the radio at the time of calling another station. One thing that should be clear is that channel 16 is the one that has to listen to 24 hours a day and also in which all calls will be made.
– Distress Call: begins with the word “Mayday” repeated three times. Followed by the name of the station that also transmits three times. Next comes the position of the ship, if possible in latitude and longitude, although it could also be indicated by saying delay and distance. It is probably the most important part of the distress call. The nature of the danger is indicated below, which is what motivates the call to be made. Additional information should also be provided regarding the number of crew members on board, an important aspect for rescue teams. It closes with a “Mayday” and awaits the response (acknowledgment) of the station, which will normally be a coastal or a CCS.
– Emergency Call: begins with “Pan-Pan” repeated three times. Then say “To all stations” 3 times, or you could also specify the name of a coast station or CCS. The rest is as in the distress call except that there is no “nature of danger” but urgency. It is done all on channel 16.
– Security Call: begins with “Securité” repeated three times. Also, as in the emergency call, you can direct “to all stations,” or you could also specify the name of a coast station or CCS. Unlike the two previous calls, in this one, the announcement that is going to be transmitted is announced and then a working channel is indicated where the message corresponding to said security call will already be issued.
– Routine Call: First you must select channel 16, which is the channel for all types of calls and also for distress traffic when a distress call is made. For this reason, when a routine call is made, channel 16 should be released as soon as possible. You have to check that there is no traffic in the channel, that is, no stations are communicating to avoid interfering with them. Once all this has been verified, we proceed to make the call. In it we will say the name of the station that we call 1 time and followed by the name of our station 2 times (in Onda Media it is usually 3 times) in addition to the word “change”. Once the call is made, we must wait at least 2 minutes for the answer from the other station. If we have called a coast station or a CCS, the wait must be 5 minutes. When the other station answers, He will do it by saying our name once and once his. You must also indicate the channel where we are going to change to carry out the conversation. It will always be a channel that does not correspond to port or commercial use. Once in that channel, it will proceed to call in the same way as in channel 16 until the contact is made and we will proceed to establish the communication.
How to adjust your VHF?
The “squelch” is a filter that limits background noise. It must be adjusted with each change of channel. Not enough squelch and a background noise hides the reception, too much squelch and you only hear the silence, not the communications!
Setting the squelch is done by removing the squelch (setting to zero) and then increasing it gradually. The correct setting is found when the unit no longer emits background noise.
Learn to speak with a VHF
- Getting started. Often by turning the volume knob.
- Select the desired channel — next models with a rotary knob or arrows. Access to channel 16 is by a direct key.
- Set the squelch to suppress the background noise.
- Before speaking, check that the channel is free, that you are not cutting a conversation in progress, otherwise wait.
- Press the pedal before speaking.
- Release to listen to the answer.
Check the operation of your VHF
To control the proper functioning of your VHF, it is recommended to call a land station, semaphore or captaincy as follows:
- “Semaphore of Ile d’Yeu, Semaphore of Ile d’Yeu, Semaphore of Ile d’Yeu, here Bateaux.com for a VHF control, hello, how do you get me?”
- “Bateaux.com here the semaphore of Ile d’Yeu, I get you 5 out of 5, good day …”
- “Semaphore of Ile d’Yeu, here Bateaux.com, thank you, have a nice day.”
VHF marine radio in the blue water scene
Hardly any other recreational boat sails without VHF marine radio. Whether logged in to a marina, requesting a bridge opening, listening to a sea weather forecast, or talking to another nearby ship, blue water sailors almost always use their VHF marine radio. In the Caribbean, even the table in the restaurant can be reserved in this way. And at the latest on a world circumnavigation, the VHF marine radio becomes an indispensable piece of equipment when entering a foreign country. Otherwise, it will be difficult to contact the authorities to register.
But even otherwise the radio traffic on VHF, which is referred to as VHF abroad, enjoys great popularity with bluewater sailors. No wonder. The procedure is very practical and not much is required to participate in the communication. In addition to the device and antenna, a crew member onboard needs a Short Range Certificate (SRC), which can be purchased in a weekend course. Also, a call sign and an MMSI must be applied for at the Federal Network Agency. MMSI stands for Maritime Mobile Service Identity and is a globally unique number assigned to each maritime station. If everything is in place, the spark can start.
Caution: For the sake of form, it should be noted that there may be areas that are considered to be inland areas. This includes, for example, the Dutch Ijsselmeer. An ATIS and VHF radiotelephony certificate for inland navigation (UBI) is needed here. For most Langfahrer this does not matter.
In some blue water sailors, the radio is on all day, so as not to miss any news at the anchorage. After all, anyone can overhear when two other sailors talk to each other. Be it that a sailor has trouble with the injection pump and asks if anyone can help, or that two sailors invite to sundowner in their cockpit. The blue water world is small, and most people know each other. And like in real life, especially on the busy barefoot route, the latest gossip and gossip about FM is often spread. Therefore, the FM radio is colloquially referred to as coconut radio. This usually refers to anchorage and port.
On the high seas, the VHF marine radio cannot replace a shortwave radio when it comes to long-distance communication, but the range is usually too low. Above the rough thumb, it is a maximum of 30 nautical miles (rather less). Radio networks with various yachts are held on the high seas exclusively via shortwave radio, as they often extend over several hundred nautical miles distance. For communication with a ship nearby, however, the VHF system is essential.
Digital Selective Calling
Of course, those who do not like this can also start a covert call setup via Digital Selective Calling (DSC) so that the other ships do not hear what is being discussed. DSC calls play in the blue water scene so far but a rather subordinate role. First, you have to know each other’s MMSI. On the other hand, many sailors do not know how DSC calls technically, though it’s relatively easy.
On blue water vessels (and ideally on all other ships as well), only DSC-capable VHF marine systems should be used as they automatically listen to VHF channel 70. About this can be a digital emergency call with position information received or discontinued (distress call). By pressing the distress button on the device, the position is transmitted with the push of a button and ships can help if necessary. For this radio and GPS have to be paired.
Tip: Attach call sign and MMSI to the device so that they are immediately ready for emergencies.
VHF marine radio in a distress
The extent to which such an emergency call is successful depends greatly on the location of one’s own, since the range of the VHF radio – as mentioned above – is usually a maximum of 30 nautical miles (rather less). If a distress call is dropped offshore, there is a high likelihood that another maritime station will pick up the distress call. In the middle of the ocean, it is unlikely that another vehicle is within range. Nevertheless, this emergency call option should always be tried. Ideally also via voice-over channel 16.
If rescue measures are initiated (regardless of the means of communication), the VHF marine equipment is an indispensable item at the latest when communicating locally. Whether to speak with a Seenotkreuzer or to coordinate the salvage of persons by helicopter.
Had spark as a supplement
Also, it makes sense to have a handheld radio on board in addition to the permanently installed VHF marine radio. Thus, at the anchorage at a multi-person crew do not always have to drive together on land. Landers can instead be dropped off by rubber dinghy and talk to the ship by radio if needed to organize the return journey. The background is an unwritten blue water law: If the crew splits up so that one part is ashore and one part is on board, the dinghy always remains with the ship. This is the only way the rest of the crew can land quickly in the event of an emergency – such as an injury.
On top of that, if the hand spark is still waterproof, there is no stress on rafting trips with overcoming water. Of course, you can also vote on a mobile phone but usually costs money. And so it happens that you often see other blue water sailors on the hand spark on the waistband (no joke) when going ashore.
A VHF marine radio should not be missing on any bluewater yacht; it is merely used too often. A waterproof handheld radio is an ideal complement.