Vessel Chesapeake Bay Magazine here. Change to channel 68 for an important refresher course in using your VHF marine radio. Out.
Good, glad you could make it. We’re going to keep this short, because no conversation, even on a working channel should last more than five minutes. And we’ll stick to the subject (as difficult as it is for us to do that) because extraneous information—like a debate whether we’re going to meet at the Cryogenic Crustacean or the Sandy Panda for dinner—is not allowed either. That’s what cellphones are for. So with that in mind, we’re going to make some sound-bite-type categories to help us run through some important information. Keep your ears on (Blaaaat, CB lingo is a total no-no!), we’re pretty sure we’re all going to learn something.
Who needs to carry a VHF radio?
The short answer is everyone. You’d have to be pretty cuckoo to go out without one, and we’re not going to waste the airspace stating the obvious reasons why. Just think tornado warning or a floating refrigerator off flashing red “4”. Enough said. But what you might not know is that you are not required to carry one if your recreational vessel is under 20 meters (65.62 feet). Surprise.
Do you have to use your radio?
No. You don’t have to turn your radio on. But see cuckoo above. However, if you do turn it on, you must monitor either channel 16 or channel 9. And even though channel 9 is the name of a monthly CBM feature and is now the preferred station for hailing other boats, you’d be cuckoo not to choose channel 16, which is where all the action is, information and emergency-wise. Many radios can now be set to monitor two or three stations at once, so this would be a good choice.
What if I want to do a radio check?
Fine, but absolutely positively don’t do it on channel 16. It’s against the rules and it annoys everyone, particularly the Coast Guard, and you’d be cuckoo to annoy people with big boats, guns and heavy fines. Sorry, we got carried away. Okay, here are two good methods: The best and easiest is to dial in your local channel for Sea Tow’s automated radio check. For the station nearest you, check Sea Tow’s map at www.seatow/boating-safety. The next best thing is to switch to a working channel, such as channel 68, and listen for a vessel name. Then hail that vessel and ask for a radio check.
What if I want to hail another vessel?
This one you can do on channel 16. (Channel 9 is preferred, but let’s be realistic. Unless you’ve arranged to do that beforehand, your friend is much more likely to be on channel 16.) The key here is to be brief. Very brief. The fewer words the better. We’ve already used too many just saying this. Which brings up a subquestion: Do you have to say the boat name you’re hailing three times? No! And don’t believe anything you read to the contrary. (You can check your Chapman’s. The exception to this is an emergency call, like Mayday.) As long as the reception is clear, even one time is sufficient. Twice is a good compromise. It should go something like this: “Sarsaparilla, Sarsaparilla, this is Lazy Dog, over.” “Lazy Dog, (this is) Sarsaparilla, over.” “Sarsaparilla, switch (to) six-eight.” “Sarsaparilla switching six-eight, out.” That’s it.
What if the other vessel doesn’t answer?
We’re so glad you asked. The answer is: Don’t keep calling! We’d repeat that ten times, but we don’t want to hog the airwaves. Here is the correct procedure, and if we could make the penalty for breaking these rules five years of scraping the bottom of the Titanic, we would—we are very cranky about this. If Sarsaparilla doesn’t answer your hail, you must wait two minutes before trying again. If after three tries, Sarsaparilla still doesn’t answer, you must wait fifteen minutes before trying again. (All right, all right . . . you can reduce that to three minutes, if absolutely no one else is using channel 16.) And one more thing, switch the radio to low-watt to make the hail, so you don’t interfere with transmissions miles away.
How do you know which channel to switch to?
Every channel has its work assignment, like channel 16 and 9. Channel 13 is generally big ship to big ship and the hailing channel for bridge openings. If you want to know which way Nave Humongous is going to turn north of the Bay Bridge, trying hailing it on channel 13. Channel 22A is the Coast Guard’s working channel and where they’ll send you to hear navigation information like live-ammunition firing. Channels 67, 68, 69, 71, 72, and 78a are reserved for us recreational boaters, so take your pick.
Wait, there's more!
How do I call in emergencies? What if I hear a Mayday call and no one else answers? How do I set up my radio for Digital Selective Calling (DSC)?
Yes, we’re not done quite yet. But there is a high-speed inflatable with a blue strobe light that just pulled up, so we’ll have to get back to you on all of that next month. Meanwhile, vessel Chesapeake Bay Magazine out.
Cruisers Quiz Winner
We jumped the gun a bit last month. After announcing the winner of the previous month’s contest, we received another ten or so entries. Oops. So this time we’re going to give everyone a chance to win a coveted CBM tote bag We’ll announce April’s winner in June.