Choosing a VHF Radio

Choosing a hand transceiver VHF marine radio might seem like an easy enough task, until you have to go to the store, and you hear the opinions of others. Thing is, there is no perfect radio out there, but the things we’ll be listing might help guide you as to what to buy.

Do you need a VHF RADIO?

Some sea kayakers would say "never go afloat without one" but that might just be excessive. I agree that you will require one in the event that you lead groups of inexperienced or young sea kayakers, or if you paddle in a location where it is needed to liaise with a port or military authority.

They can be of help for advanced day trips and expeditions.

As a sea kayaker, the best VHF radio should all you to the following:

  • Get the permission of port control to enter, cross or leave a major harbor (either naval or commercial) • Pick up maritime weather broadcasts.
  • Tell the Coast Guard that you have set off from A, and that you intend to visit B and will call again on arriving safely.
  • Tell the Coast Guard you are okay in the event that you hear somebody wrongly report that you are missing or in trouble.
  • Get a message telling you that you will be approaching a military exclusion zone or shipping lane.
  • Send a distress message
  • Enable a lifeboat to pinpoint your position by radio direction finding (RDF or simply, DF).

A VHF radio is really a bit of a nuisance. You have to purchase it, charge it, carry it, perform a radio check to see if still works, pay attention to it, remember just how to speak with it, keep it dry, not drop it, sit on it, lose it or let it re-magnetize your compass, and occasionally carry out battery maintenance.

On the other hand, a great handheld VHF radio is not totally all that expensive. You will want a small waterproof model with at least 4 watts output power and preferably 6 watts. For the USA and Canada, it is very beneficial to have special features for picking up weather radio.

A simple VHF radio is fairly cheap, but if you reside in a nation where DSC is legal it's probably worth paying twice the purchase price to get one that has GPS and DSC. Manufacturers with good reputations include Standard Horizon (YAESU) and ICOM. Both offer handheld radios with 5 watts output power which float in the event that you drop them.

Despite having a "waterproof" radio it is good to always have a way to help keep it dry, like a small transparent dry bag. It is most beneficial to keep a VHF radio someplace it is easy to reach it without sinking your kayak, ideally in your PFD pocket which means you still have it if you should be unlucky enough to lose your kayak. Alternatively in a deck bag, not someplace that may require you to take of a hatch cover or your spray skirt.

What is a VHF Radio and What Matters

The Size

When buying your radio, size matters, but bigger doesn’t equal better. Portability is key because many kayakers want a device they can easily put in their bags or in their pocket, and if it isn’t convenient to carry, it sure will be left at home.

Size also matters if you have large hands or small hands or if you wear gloves. If you have small hands, you will tire out easily from carrying a large device, and you wouldn’t have a good grip on it. Those with larger hands will have trouble handling the smaller radios, and you might tire out from holding it. Even the push to talk button will be too stiff for your thumb.

Its Power

Does your radio have 5 watts or is your radio rated lower than that? This might be the reason why it will be easy for you to hear the other kayaker, but he/she finds it hard to hear you. If it is lower than 5 watts, you should get a device that is powerful enough to relay your message.

Batteries

Many of these handheld radios have rechargeable NiCad Batteries, and they are green in color. Turn the radio off when the device is not in use so as to conserve battery. Since you will be moving far from where you will be able to charge your batteries, it is advised that you carry along some already recharged batteries with you. Get a radio that has an accessory battery holder that will be able to carry the same batteries that your device already holds.

Controls

The knobs, dials and buttons are the ways in which you manipulate your radio, and if your radio isn’t easily manipulated, then this is a recipe for disaster. Check to see if your radio has a locked feature so that you can get ahead of this in case it enables itself when you desperately need it disabled.

Audio

Quality radios with quality audios. A loud, clear speaker should be heard above the diesel freighter bearing down on you, and the weather alert should be able to alert from a deep slumber.

Operation Tips

Operation: While the operation of VHF radios will be different from model to model, each one of them have the exact same basic functions. Whenever you turn the device on, you will hear any messages that are being transmitted on that channel. After setting the volume control, adjust the squelch.

The squelch regulates which signals the device will receive: turned to maximum, only the strongest signals are certain to get through; set to minimum, all signals will get through: noise, static, weak signals, strong signals. The scan function starts the device, scanning all channels for transmissions; when it receives an incoming message, it will pause and monitor that channel.

When transmission stops, the device will continue scanning.

Identify yourself: Normally a boater will give the boat’s name and/or registration number when calling on the radio. Many kayakers do not name their boats, and fortunately California does not yet require registration numbers on small unpowered craft.

You need to still give some identifier whenever you call, such as for instance, “Yellow Kayak near Angel Island”, “BASK Pod #1″, or “Kayak John”. When transmitting, first identify the individual you are calling then identify yourself.

(Example: “BASK 1, this is BASK 2. Can you wait until our pod catches up? Over.” Reply: “BASK 2, this is BASK 1. We have to punch on through this tide rip. We will wait for you in the calmer water on the other side. Over.” Reply: “BASK 1, BASK 2. Roger. See you there. Out”).

Roger, Over and Out: Saying “Roger” is just a confirmation that you have received and understood what someone else has said. Since VHF radios cannot transmit and receive simultaneously, whenever you finish speaking, say “Over”.

This enables the other person know you are releasing the microphone button on your own radio and are now ready to receive their reply. Once the conversation is completed and you do not expect any more reply, say “Out”. Although they do it in the movies, do not say “Over and Out”—it sends a mixed message.

Speak clearly: Noise from wind, waves, boat engines etc. may make your words difficult to understand. Speak slowly and clearly with the microphone near however, not right against your mouth. When giving numbers, speak each digit separately (say “one-two-zero” as opposed to “a hundred and twenty”).

Since 5 and 9 sound pretty much alike, say “Niner” for 9 but keep “Five” as one syllable. If you have to spell a word or a name, consider using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).

Ship-to-shore telephone: If you wish to make a ship-to-shore telephone call, contact the Marine Operator who will then connect you to a phone line. There might be a fee for this service. Remember, it is not private!

Watch your language: This is public radio, after all. The “seven dirty words you can’t say on the air” still apply. The FCC can fine you for profanity.

The Importance Of VHF Radio When Kayaking

The exciting sport Sea Kayaking is now remarkably popular over recent years. Canoeists and kayakers are venturing further and further out to sea. If you should be contemplating carrying this out, then included in your planning for a good adventure, a marine VHF handheld radio is a vital safety consideration that could save your life.

A marine VHF radio is a critical addition to your kit as it enables you to contact other radio users at sea. In case you encounter a challenge you can use the emergency channel (16) to call for assistance.
Radios are not just useful for emergency situations.

You can communicate with other seafarers on one of your radios a great many other channels, as well as let larger vessels nearby know what your location is, just in case. You may also listen to routine weather forecasts and navigational warnings broadcast at 4-hourly intervals for several UK coastal areas.

So just why shouldn't a Sea Kayaker use a cell phone offshore? In the first place many kayakers venture quite a distance from the coast. The rugged coastlines of Cornwall and Scotland for example, offer many challenges and cell phone coverage is designed to cover the urban landscape including towns, cities and motorways.

It is highly unlikely that you will have good cell phone coverage far from the shoreline, particularly at sea level or below cliffs. A marine handheld VHF radio provides you with great coverage and reassurance, which makes it an important piece of kit in offshore situations.

Cell phones are not waterproof, so should they come right into contact with water they cease to be reliable. They do not have marine frequencies and you are able to only speak to at least one person at a time. On the other hand, as it were, whenever a marine radio transmits a message, all radio users listening within range will hear you! Another important point is that the Coastguard and the RNLI use marine VHF and are not equipped to pinpoint cell phone transmissions.
ICOM have a number of marine VHF radio models available that all meet or exceed the fundamental level of JIS-7 waterproofing. What this means is the radio can endure submersion in one single meter of water for 30 minutes.

ICOM recommends IC-M25EURO buoyant VHF marine radio for Kayakers because it is small, lightweight and buoyant. Not only does the LCD and key backlight on the front panel flash, but in addition, the red LED light blinks through the rear panel showing the area of the radio so that it can be easily retrieved.

An individual will need a Short-Range VHF license to use a VHF marine radio and there are numerous easy courses held at sea training schools and adult education centers throughout the country.

Vhf radio channel for distress calls

If you should hear a distress message from a vessel and you receive no response, you should answer. If you are sure that the distressed vessel is not within your vicinity, then you should wait a short time for others to acknowledge the distress call.

Your VHF radio is typically made for short range communications, usually 5 – 10 miles, and at least 20 miles to a USCG station. For you to be able to communicate at longer ranges, you will need a satellite telephone or an MF/HF radio telephone. The VHF marine radio telephone tool usually operates between 2 – 26 MHz using the single sideband emissions. MF/HF marine radio telephones can be used to get high seas weather broadcasts, and by making use of a computer and a special interface that are provided by some coast stations, can get internet email.

While the operation of VHF radios will be different from model to model, each one of them have the exact same basic functions. Whenever you turn the device on, you will hear any messages that are being transmitted on that channel. After setting the volume control, adjust the squelch.

The squelch regulates which signals the device will receive: turned to maximum, only the strongest signals are certain to get through; set to minimum, all signals will get through: noise, static, weak signals, strong signals. The scan function starts the device, scanning all channels for transmissions; when it receives an incoming message, it will pause and monitor that channel. When transmission stops, the device will continue scanning.

Noise from wind, waves, boat engines etc. may make your words difficult to understand. Speak slowly and clearly with the microphone near however, not right against your mouth. When giving numbers, speak each digit separately (say “one-two-zero” as opposed to “a hundred and twenty”). Since 5 and 9 sound pretty much alike, say “Niner” for 9 but keep “Five” as one syllable. If you have to spell a word or a name, consider using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).



Related Posts:

  1. VHF Radio Usage tips (1)
  2. Best Handheld VHF Radio For Kayak (1)
  3. Top 10 Best VHF Marine Radios in 2019 – Ultimate Buying Guide (1)
  4. Distress Calls On The VHF Radio (1)
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About the Author Aaron

Hi, I'm Aaron Cardwell. I did not think of myself as an auto enthusiast until I bought my first car and discover how much fun driving is. Also, using vehicles or any means of transportation is a way of life. I know how greatly it impacts our daily lives.

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