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TRAVEL BOATING Learn to Sail - Five Easy Steps to Use a VHF Marine Radio Like a Pro!

Learn to Sail - Five Easy Steps to Use a VHF Marine Radio Like a Pro!

By: John N. Jamieson | Oct 29 2010 | 567 words | 946 hits

In inland waters, the Navigation Rules allow a small boat cruising skipper to make passing arrangements on the VHF marine radio. How can you make sure that the other boat understands your intentions without any doubt? Find out the steps the pros take with this easy guide.

If you are anything like me, nothing quite grates on the nerves than someone on the radio that doesn't know what to say. Or uses the wrong frequency for communications. Not only does that create confusion, but it could endanger others in peril.

Make sure you follow the rule of good seamanship when you use the VHF marine radio. Follow these five steps to success:

1. Initiate the call

Make the call on channel 16 FM. Most VHF radios monitor this frequency even with the radio tuned to another channel. But you must use it with caution because vessels in distress use it to send out MAYDAY calls. Change to another frequency as soon as the other vessel acknowledges your call (see #4).

2. Start with vessel type

Identify the vessel type you are calling, followed by your vessel type. Names aren't too important. Unless you are overtaking another vessel (where you could see the name on her stern), you won't know their name.

3. Locate yourself relative to the other vessel

Tell the vessel where you are in relationship to them. You might also estimate your distance from the other vessel. Are you one mile off their port bow or their starboard bow? Are you 1/2 mile off their port quarter or starboard quarter? Are you 100 feet dead astern?

4. Shift to a working channel

You will be asked to shift to a working channel. If the other vessel starts to talk on 16, you must ask them to shift to a working channel. Use channel 6, 9, 13, or some other non-commercial frequency. In any case do not--under any circumstance--stay on channel 16 to arrange passing agreements.

5. State your desired intentions

Request what you would like to do and state your intentions so that they can be understood by anyone aboard the other boat. "Request to overtake you on your port side" or "Request a port to port passage". Wait for the other vessel to answer you. Take action only after the other vessel grants you permission.

You are underway in the Intracoastal Waterway and wish to overtake a tug and tow on their port side.

*(Shift to channel 16)

"Northbound tug approaching marker 16 on the Intracoastal waterway, this is sailing vessel Freedom 100 yards dead astern of you; channel 16--over".

"Sailing vessel Freedom, this is the tug Kingfish; shift and answer on channel 13--out".

*(Shift to channel 13)

"Sailing vessel Freedom, this is Tug Kingfish on channel 13--over". "Tug Kingfish, this is sailing vessel Freedom. Request to overtake you on your port side--over".

"Sailing vessel Freedom, roger; go ahead--out" or "Sailing vessel Freedom, negative. I'll be turning hard to port into the west channel in about five minutes. Please wait--out."


Notice how all communications use a minimum of words. This keeps your conversation brief, clear, and to the point. It also shortens the time you are keying the transmit button. Remember, as long as you have that keyed, other boats are unable to communicate on that channel.

Use these five easy-to-learn steps to establish yourself as a confident, experienced sailing skipper. Crystal clear communications will keep you and your sailing crew safe and sound for years to come, wherever in the world you choose to sail

About author:
Captain John teaches sailing skippers the skills they need to learn to sail like a pro! Get his popular free report "Ten Top Boat Safety Checks for Cruising Boat Skippers" at Learn to Sail at John offers a free weekly sailing tips newsletter. Join his site to learn hundreds of little-known sailing tips and techniques with articles, videos, and live sailing forums at Learn to Sail at
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