VHF is the most convenient way of short-range communication at sea.
Bring two - one can be fix mounted, the other hand held. The hand held
unit is a great back up and also useful if you go ashore and want to
talk to someone back on the boat.
In harbor areas - and especially in the Caribbean - the VHF is used for
anything from reservations at restaurants to chatting with fellow
sailors.We carry two hand held VHF´s from ICOM. They are simple and work
To operate the VHF, you´ll need to obtain a simple
license. Check your local government rules. Your local license will be
sufficient when abroad.
The range of the VHF is limited to line of sight,
meaning 20-40 NM. You extend the range by mounting the antenna high on
the boat. VHF stands for "very high frequency" and is used to describe
frequencies of 156-174 MHz. The radio waves used for VHF will not be
able to bend or reflect. They will travel straight out in space.
There are differences between how frequencies are
treated in Europe compared to the USA (duplex or simplex). Most new
VHF’s will be able to switch between standards – check that yours does.
The channels used for weather information, talking to
fellow sailors and authorities, will change from country to country.
Check your chart or guide book for information.
Channel 16 is the call and distress channel. It’s used
for initial contact and for emergency communication. If you are on
standby (the unit is on but you don’t talk in it) always keep it on
Most VHF’s have a feature for listening to several
channels simultaniously. The VHF will constantly search two or three
selected channels and automatically stop when it picks up communication.
To initiate contact, you simply push the talk button
(wait until no one else is using the frequency) and say the name of the
boat or station you wish to contact. Repeat the name once and then state
your own name. When you finished talking, say "over and out" and let go
of the talk button.
Say your boat is named "Dolphin" and we want to talk to
you. We will then say:
"Dolphin, Dolphin, this is Santa Maria, over".
When answering the call you go:
"Santa Maria, this is Dolphin, move to channel 72, over"
(When contact is established the conversation should
immediately move to another channel - except for a distress call. Check
local rules for recommended conversation channels.)
Next, we reply:
"Channel 72, over"
The conversation can now be carried at channel 72. Keep
it simple and informative when talking on the VHF. Indicate a completed
sentence by saying "over" and confirm that you understand using the
words "affirmative" or "copy".
Beside regular conversations, there are three calls you
always should remember: MAYDAY, PAN-PAN and SECURITE.
Mayday is used in an emergency situation (you are
sinking or the equivalent). It starts with two parts; a distress call
and a distress message.
The distress call should be:
‘MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY, this is Titanic, this is
Titanic, this is Titanic"
The distress message should be:
"This is Titanic"
"Our position is……"
"We have problems with…..and need help with…."
If you hear a Mayday message, wait at least 30 sec
before answering. Doing this, you give the Cost Guard or other
professionals the opportunity to take control of the situation. Stay put
at your VHF. Your help might be needed. It is your duty to help another
boat in distress. The word PRUDENCE calls for caution. SILENCE calls for
quiet and SILENCE FINI ends the quiet.
A PAN-PAN message is an urgent message that involves the
security of one or several ships and/or persons. It might be someone
that is ill or a ship that has lost control of steering.
A warning message, "SECURITE", could be something
specific like a malfunctioning lighthouse or a storm coming in. The
SECURITE message will be announced on channel 16 and then delivered on a
Spelling the right way
To make yourself understood on VHF, you need to know the
correct spelling (not the one used when phone-shopping).
Long distance radio
communicate over longer distances, you need to move from the VHF (very
high frequency) to HF (high frequency). The HF uses frequencies ranging
between 4-27,5 kHz. These radio waves can be reflected and are therefore
used over very long distances.
HF is also labeled short wave and is mainly used for
receiving weather information listening to news (Radio America) and
other broadcasts. Some sailors use HF for transmitting. For that, you´ll
need a license in most parts of the world (not necessarily meaning that
people always have it).
For receiving only, we use a Sangean ATS 818cs all-band
world receiver. It is small and not too expensive ($ 200). Get a unit
whit a cassette recorder so you can replay weather messages you didn’t
grip. Make sure that the radio has capacity to pick up SSB (single
sideband) transmissions, since that’s where the long range is usually
Operating this radio is very simple. Just enter the
desired frequency and listen in. In "The Atlantic Crossing Guide" there
is plenty of information about when and where different weather
forecasts are projected for the Atlantic and surrounding areas.
We have to admit though that we didn’t get one single
weather forecast during our entire passage. We were hit by two storms,
but don’t believe that we could have really avoided them anyway.
To transmit worldwide, you´ll need either a marine HF-radio
or an amateur "ham" radio.www.thepoles.com
for more information.
is the future for communication in remote areas. Satellite phones work
just like your mobile phone and you can receive or make calls very
easily. Most units also hook up to the computer, convenient for weather
forecasts or latest news over e-mail and Internet.
The only drawback is the cost of calling. Rate per
minute is from $2 to $5 per minute, depending on what system and
operator you use. The units are expensive as well, but getting
Currently, there are three main systems around: Inmarsat,
Globalstar and Iridium. Globalstar and Iridium are low orbit satellites
systems with really cool handheld sat-phones. Iridium went bankrupt in
the spring of 2000, and you can probably not use it anymore. Globalstar
is the newest system and will have data capacity. Currently, the
Globalstar doesn’t cover the Atlantic, but that can change. Check the
website for latest info atwww.globalstar.com.
Inmarsat have been around for a while. The drawback is
the size of the unit. Inmarsat is high orbit geostationary and requires
a larger phone and antenna. There are several Inmarsat possibilities; M
and B. Inmarsat-M weighs about 4 kg/9 lb. and have a transmission
capacity of 9 kb/s. The cost is around US 3 000. This year, new and
smaller versions of Inmarsat-B have been introduced. The weight is just
a little more than the Inmarsat M, and they transmit up to 64 kb/s.
Connect two Inmarsat B to each other and you have ISDN-capacity!
Inmarsat-M terminals are easy to connect to a laptop and
are low on power. They are excellent for e-mail and dig-pics of low
quality. We find it slow but adequate. The Danish company Thrane&Thrane
is the most common brand and have been great on service. Visit their
site atwww.tt.dk. Another coming brand
is Nera from Norway,www.nera.no">.
There are many phone companies that offer Inmarsat-connections.
It could pay to check around. Price lists are most often published on
the net, but sometimes hard to find.
Orbcomm is another satellite system used for sending and
receiving short text-messages. Check out
Some sailors use weather fax. It is transmitted on HF
and can be printed on a special fax or displayed on your laptop. We have
never used them and don’t know anything about them.
EPIRBs (Emergency Position Indication Radio Beacons, are
small, handheld plastic units. You release a safety hatch, press a
button and the EPIRB will start sending a satellite distress signal.
Every unit has to be registered with the authorities and is then
provided an identification number. Avoid the old units that send on
121.5 MHz. Small aircrafts have used them, many freqvently pushing the
distress button by mistake. Consequently, a distress call on that
frequency might not get attended.
Our EPIRB transmits at 406 MHz, and is actually called
GEPIRB. We strongly recommend it.
Today, you can easily get a mobile phone that works both
Europe and the US.
It won’t work in the Caribbean, however. You can buy or rent one there
It is quite expensive though.