by Conrad & Judy Kreuter
Q: Dear Boat Talk: I read your column last month about VHF radio vs. Cellphone communications for my boat. I took your advice and purchased aVHF. Can you tell me the proper way to use it? WM, Northport NY.
A: Dear WM: congratulations on your purchase of a new VHF radio. Three reasons for using a marine VHF radio are to get help, to contact other boaters, and to get weather information.
The marine VHF radio is a one way at a time communications device. You must press the microphone button to transmit to other parties and release the button to hear other parties calling you. Your radio is equipped with a number of different channels. Some channels are set aside for non-commercial use, and some for public correspondence.
Channel 16 is used as a calling and distress channel. The Coast Guard monitors Channel 16, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Coast Guard requests all boats while underway to monitor Channel 16 as well. If your see a loose vessel or debris on the water that can cause a hazardous condition, please alert the Coast Guard on this channel.
Twice a day the Coast Guard will broadcast notices to mariners which contain marine information such as weather conditions, buoys off station or unlit, unusual shoaling conditions, inoperable bridges, or any aids to navigation that are not working. They are currently broadcasting a 7:10AM and 7:10 PM.
A broadcast from the Coast Guard can come at any time to notify boaters of severe weather conditions or any problems on the water. These broadcasts are prefixed by several terms. One is Securite, which is from the French for “Safety” and usually proceeds a message concerning safety problems on the water. Pan, Pan (sounds like Pon) from the French word “urgency” is used for emergency communication. Mayday from the French for “my life” is used for distress situations.
A distress call should only be made on Channel 16. The correct way to make a distress call is to begin by saying Mayday!, Mayday!, Mayday!, this is the vessel (give your boat name), your position, (as simple as the number of the buoy closest to you) number of people on board, a description of your vessel including registration number, make of boat, length, color and any identifying characteristics. We suggest you keep this information attached to your VHF radio in case you are not the person making the call.
The only acceptable conditions for a Mayday call are serious risk to life of property. If you feel a possible Mayday situation could arise, alert the Coast Guard for assistance information. Don’t wait too long!
Three local distress receivers have the capability to cover the length of Long Island and up to twenty miles offshore. These national distress high-sites are located at Fire Island, Shinncock and Montauk. These receivers are monitored at the group headquarters in East Moriches and the local Coast Guard stations. Depending on the signal strengths from each receiver they can determine the position of the boat calling. If you should hear a distress call let the Coast Guard know you position and how strong the distress call signal was. This information can help pinpoint the position of the boat in distress.