When my husband, Simon, and I purchased our first boat in the UK, back in 2012, one of us had to hold a VHF radio license. In the UK, it’s the only requirement necessary for owning and operating a boat. Simon took a VHF Radio course which enabled him to operate our boat and I was able to use the VHF under his guidance. Aside from the course being a requirement, was it really necessary to take?
Before we sold our first boat and traded up to Britican I had to determine if I was going to take a VHF radio course too. In all honesty, I was quite intimidated by using the VHF. What if I made a mistake? How many other boaters would be listening? But then I thought of the bigger picture.
What if I had to make a MAYDAY call? Would I know how to do it? Would I know how to figure out where I am? What if hubby wasn’t around and I received a DSC alert – would I know how to respond? What is a DSC alert anyway? And what if my 3 ½-year-old daughter (at the time) accidentally triggered the red button on the radio that is labeled, ‘Distress’?
Isn’t the most important thing is safety? If our boat was going to go down, we both needed to know exactly what to do. Furthermore, if someone else is was our vicinity and we could help to save lives, again, we both needed to know what to do.
Hubby booked me on the VHF Radio Course
That being said, hubby booked me on a VHF Radio course in Southampton, England. Steve Gravells from Technical Recreational Coaching led a course of 9 of us.
Steve sent the RYA VHF Radio course booklet to us a couple of weeks before the course so we didn’t have to spend course time learning the stuff from the book. If it wasn’t for the homework he also requested – a page of questions to be filled out prior to the course – I would have failed to read the book. Again – I thought, ‘how hard can this be?’ Knowing I had homework to do, I read the book.
The RYA VHF Radio booklet was actually quite useful
Aside from the first couple of pages filled with acronyms (R&TTE, DSC, SRC, CEPT) that I couldn’t remember, the RYA book was very straightforward and easy to read. It probably took 30 minutes to get through and when I finished I was full of all sorts of information. Poor hubby had to listen to me say, “Did you know the world MAYDAY comes from the French word, M’aidez and it means ‘help me’? And did you know that you need to send out a DSC (Digital Selective Calling) Alert prior to making a PAN PAN voice broadcast?”
The VHF Radio Course
The day of the course finally arrived. Arriving at the Southampton Dry Stack after eating a bacon roll I was eager to put the day behind me. I’ve never been a fan of courses. I get bored easily and I don’t like numb-bum – the feeling you get when sitting too long.
Well…I was pleasantly surprised by the flow of the course. Never during the day did I wish that time would pass quickly. There was a mix of learning, watching, using the radio, coffee breaks and general socializing. Everything taught was practical – it wasn’t theory or something that would go in one ear and out the other.
And it was so powerful to see the difference between learning how to use the radio and then using it. Most of us seemed like we had it sussed but when we went to (pretend) call another boat, the coast guard or make a MAYDAY we found it harder than we thought. Ensuring to say who you are, who you’re calling and finishing the message with the correct ‘over’ or ‘out’ isn’t as easy as it looks! And talking slow enough for others to write your MAYDAY was challenging.
Thankfully, by the end of the day, the whole class sounded much better than we did when we started! If any of us didn’t get it quite right, Steve would have us go through the call over.
To say that just my confidence increased would be an understatement
It was my confidence, my knowledge and the importance of the subject matter than increased. Learning how to use the VHF Radio is not about making sure you can call a marina to request a berth – it’s a device that’s there to potentially save your life and the lives of those in your area.
Until yesterday, I didn’t realize that the alarm that periodically goes off on my boat was an urgent message alert. I didn’t know I was supposed to go get a pen and paper to write down the follow-up voice distress message. Little did I realize that I could potentially relay a message to the coast guard on behalf of a boat that couldn’t transmit far enough for the coast guard to hear. I didn’t even know that you can call another boat through the DSC system if you have their MMSI (Maritime Mobile Service Identity) number! Furthermore, I didn’t know that I could listen to more than one channel at a time – there’s a dual-watch or triple-watch option.
The largest take-aways for the day, for me, were as follows:
- Make sure your safety equipment is working and routinely serviced.
- Create MAYDAY, PAN-PAN, MAYDAY RELAY and Accidental Alert Responses as templates. Get them laminated and have them positioned near the radio so that anyone can pull them out and follow the instructions.
- Put the name of your boat near the radio so if a visitor has to use your radio they know the name of the boat they’re on.
- Teach every guest on our boat how the radio works and where the templates are to activate the DSC system.
- Make sure all the licenses are up to date and in our name (rather than in the previous owner’s name).
So, is a VHF Radio course necessary to take?
My answer is a definite ‘Yes.’ Unfortunately, it’s one of those situations where you don’t know what you don’t know. By taking the course, you’ll increase your confidence in using a VHF Radio, understand how to maneuver you’re way around the menu system and most importantly, you’ll understand what to do when an emergency strikes. Overall, the VHF Radio course is invaluable and I think everyone within the boating community should take the course.
Save yourself lots of time and effort!
If you’re not going to take a course or perhaps they’re not offered in your neck of the woods, do the next best thing – get my VHF Radio Checklists And Templates For Sailors guide. It’s packed with easy to understand tips and all the radio checklists and templates you’ll need to make calls. Templates include calling another boat or place, using the DSC system, MAYDAY, MAYDAY relay, Pan Pan, Securite, canceling a VHF alert, receiving a MAYDAY transmission, or distress call, the phonetic alphabet, and numerals table. And the best thing about the guide is the customization offer.
After purchasing the guide you can request a Word Version with your MMSI, Call Sign and Boat name inserted. You can then print and laminate custom made templates that are ready to use in your Navigation Station. Get more information on the guide here: VHF Radio Checklists And Templates For Sailors
Other Articles or Videos You Might Be Interested In
- How To Make A VHF Radio Call Video and article.