Use it Right! VHF for Kayak Anglers E-mail
Written by Tim Wang   
Tuesday, 28 May 2013 17:12

Handheld VHF Radio For kayak fishermen, a handheld VHF radio is the second most important safety equipment you can have- next to a personal flotation device. And, as a PFD will not save your life if you do not wear it, a VHF radio will not save your life if you do not know how to use it properly.

Marine VHF radios offer several advantages over cellular phones when communicating on the water. Cellular service coverage can be spotty along the coast and non-existent miles from shore. No cellular signal for your phone means no 911 call when you need it. Marine VHF radios operational range is much greater than that of a cellular phone, and most handhelds are waterproof. Additionally, the U.S. Coast Guard operates a VHF network of repeater antennae with coverage extending at least 20 nautical miles from shore. This extensive coverage ensures a distress call will be heard and responded to by the Coast Guard. A marine VHF radio also allows you to listen to weather forecasts and severe storm warnings from NOAA, giving you time to get to shore ahead of a storm.                                      

Very High Frequency, or VHF, is a designation for radio frequencies between 30 MHz to 300 MHz. In the United States, FM radio, air traffic control, NOAA Weather Radio, All Hazards (NWR), and marine radio all use these frequencies. Many devices transmit over VHF frequencies. To prevent them from interfering with one another, the FCC has designated specific frequencies for each type of transmission. In addition, a station license is usually required to broadcast on a specific frequency. Even though the FCC does not require recreational boaters to have a station license, they are still bound by the regulations governing the use of their radios.

Marine VHF activities prohibited by the FCC include hoax distress calls and the misuse of frequencies. The Coast Guard treats every distress transmission as the real thing. They will risk their lives in a search for reports of a boater in distress, be they real or hoax. Due to the risks of lives involved, hoax distress calls are subject to felony prosecution and stiff fines, plus all costs incurred by the Coast Guard in their search effort.

vhf listAlthough the list of marine radio frequencies, or channels, is extensive, many of these channels are designated only for commercial, port, government, and Coast Guard use. Recreational boaters are only allowed to use the following channels: 9 for hailing another recreational boater, 16 for hailing commercial vessels or the Coast Guard, and channels 68, 69, 71, 72, and 78A for their communications. Recreational boaters operating in the Great Lakes are also allowed to use channels 79A and 80A for their communications. Never use channel 16 for communications! If you do, you will get a reminder from the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard requires all boaters equipped with a VHF radio to monitor channel 16 when the radio is not being used to communicate. This is because if you hear a distress call that is not being answered, then you are required to answer it. If you are reasonably sure the distress call is not from your vicinity, then wait a short time for others to acknowledge the call before acknowledging it yourself. This brings us to the procedure for making a distress call. The following excerpt from Radio Information for Boaters, U.S. Coast Guard Navigation Centers details the procedure for making a MAYDAY call.

  • If you have an MF/HF radiotelephone tuned to 2182 kHz, send the radiotelephone alarm signal if one is available. If you have a VHF marine radio, tune it to channel 16. Unless you know you are outside VHF range of shore and ships, call on channel 16 first.
  • Distress signal "MAYDAY", spoken three times.
  • The words "THIS IS", spoken once.
  • Name of vessel in distress (spoken three times) and call sign or boat registration number, spoken once.
  • Repeat "MAYDAY" and name of vessel, spoken once.
  • Give position of vessel by latitude or longitude or by bearing (true or magnetic, state which) and distance to a well-know landmark such as a navigational aid or small island, or in any terms which will assist a responding station in locating the vessel in distress. Include any information on vessel movement such as course, speed and destination.
  • Nature of distress (sinking, fire etc.).
  • Kind of assistance desired.
  • Number of persons onboard.
  • Any other information which might facilitate rescue, such as length or tonnage of vessel, number of persons needing medical attention, color hull, cabin, masks, etc.
  • The word "OVER"

Repeat the MAYDAY call at regular intervals until you receive an answer. A MAYDAY call for a kayaker might go something like this:

MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY.

This is Titanic, Titanic, Titanic, CF1244AB.

MAYDAY, This is Titanic

37°29'0.8766"N, 122°29'0.0204"W, 1 mile South of Pillar Point Harbor.

Kayak sinking.

Need rescue.

One adult onboard.

13 foot yellow kayak.

Over.

In a situation in which there is no immediate danger to life on board or your kayak, the "PAN-PAN" call should be used instead of "MAYDAY" (just substitue PAN-PAN for MAYDAY above).  The rest of the haliing procedure would be similar.

Now that you know about the regulations governing the use of marine VHF radios, a word about radio etiquette is in order. Communications should be short and to the point. Do not tie up the channel with chatter. Remember that you are sharing the channel with all those in VHF radio range. Wait for a lull in the transmissions before starting your communication, to prevent talking over someone else’s conversation. Push the transmission button and wait one second before speaking, to avoid cutting yourself off, and having to repeat your transmission.

When used properly, a handheld VHF radio can improve your fishing experience by letting you know the weather condition at your favorite fishing spot, where the bite is hot, and it can even save your life. So make sure your radio is in good working order before you leave shore by verifying that the battery is charged, and by performing a radio check before you launch.

For more information on the use of marine VHF radio, visit the U.S. Coast Guard Navigation Center at http://www.navcen.uscg.gov/.


Tim Wang is a kayak fisherman who makes his home in the San Francisco Bay Area. He can often be found wetting a line along the coasts of San Mateo and Sonoma counties.

 

 

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