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The 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 great.

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 channel 16.

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 different channel.

Spelling the right way
To make yourself understood on VHF, you need to know the correct spelling (not the one used when phone-shopping).

A Alfa
B Bravo
C Charlie
D Delta
E Echo
F Foxtrot
G Golf
H Hotel
I India
J Juliette
K Kilo
L Lima
M Mike
N November
O Oscar
P Papa
Q Quebec
R Romeo
S Sierra
T Tango
U Uniform

Long distance radio
To 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 transmitted.

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.

Satellite communication
Note! Check www.humanedgetech.comfor updated satellite com - the below has changed drastically.

This 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 continously cheaper.

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 www.orbcomm.com.

Emergency Beacons
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.