Is a VHF Radio Course really necessary to take?
After sailing around the Solent, a massively busy waterway, and listening to the VHF radio with occasional use for a couple years, I initially poo-poo’ed the idea of getting my VHF License.
My husband took the VHF Radio course and obtained a licence when we first purchased our boat, so as long as one person had a licence I felt fine to let him hold all the knowledge. And frankly, I always thought, ‘How hard can it be?’ I could easily call up Cowes Yacht Harbour and ask for a berth, so anything else will be similar. Yes?
Deciding to sell up and sail around the world, however made me think twice about my VHF Radio knowledge. What if I had to make a MAYDAY call in a foreign country? 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 accidentally triggered the red button on the radio that is labelled, ‘Distress’?
Furthermore, after the recent viewing, sea trial and survey of the boat we purchased (see video of sea trial here), I realised I’m going to have to start learning how to use a variety of electronic devices. When we were aboard our new boat, I think I counted 15 different Raymarine devices. Yikes! The idea of understanding the radio started to make more sense. At least if I could get that down, the others might be easier to tackle?!
Sailing the Solent on the weekends is definitely different than sailing around the world – eh? And the most important thing is safety. If our boat is going to go down, we need to know exactly what to do. Furthermore, if someone else is in our vicinity and we can help to save lives, again, we need 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 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 pages filled with of 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 with 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 socialising. 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 realise that the alarm that periodically goes off on my boat was an urgent message alert. I didn’t know I was suppose to go get a pen and paper to write down the follow-up voice distress message. I didn’t realise 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 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 licences are up to date and in our name (rather than in the previous owners 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 on using a VHF Radio, understand how to manoeuvre 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.