by Conrad & Judy Kreuter
Q: Dear Boat Talk: I am looking for a VHF radio for my boat. Some dealers have told me I could use a cellular phone instead. Which one should I use and why? TP, Center Moriches NY.
A: Dear TP: The decision to select a VHF or Cellular phone depends upon here you primarily do your boating. If you stay close to shore in protected bays, never out of sight of land, a cellular phone will provide you the communications you may need in an emergency. Cellular phones will only work up to 25 miles offshore.
When using a cellular phone for emergency situations, you will want to make sure that you have a fresh supply of batteries, and of course, a list of important phone numbers to contact. Make sure your cellular phone number is attached to your phone in case you panic and/or do not remember it. This is also a good idea in case someone else needs to use your phone to summon aid.
The Coast Guard recommends using a VHF radio whenever you are on the water. The Coast Guard monitors Channel 16. They have direction finding equipment to assist in locating a boater in distress. In a life threatening situation, radio direction finding capability allows them to triangulate your exact position to locate you quickly. Their direction finding equipment has been tested to have coverage to 25 miles out with a one watt radio.
Another good reason for using a VHF radio is that other boaters also monitor Channel 16 thereby increasing your chance of being heard by people in your immediate area. Many people use this channel to contact fellow boaters and then switch channels to keep the emergency channel (16) clear.
The Coast Guard responds to calls for help form VHF radio communications or visual signals such as flares. In emergency rescue situations, the Coast Guard coordinates with state, local, and federal agencies as well as commercial salvagers, the Air National Guard, Navy cutters, marinas and harbormasters. The Coast Guard will continue searching until all reasonable probability of possible rescue has been exhausted. This means that rescue operations will be longer in warm weather than in cold because of the probability of survival.
As you can imagine, the cost of rescue operations can range up to $100,000 a night. The Coast Guard asks anyone with knowledge of a rescued boat or person to please call any Coast Guard station or the operations center at 395-4405 (for the Long Island South Shore). The Coast Guard can ten verify a rescue has been performed can call off any further search operations.
By the way, if you have called for help or suspect someone has called to find you, and you hear one of the HH-60 helicopters overhead- and you will hear them- please show yourself and wave your arms wildly, so that the rescuers can spot you.