Posted by: svwindward | 2015-07-03

Radio ravings: It’s not one-nine, and this ain’t a CB

A bit of pre-holiday pedantry.

Let’s just assume for the moment that you’ve made the big step and gotten your grubby tailers on a VHF radio.  Now what?  If you’ve heard much radio traffic on Watauga, you might be confused about proper radio protocol.  Many of those chattering sure are. “Breaker breaker one-nine,  Anybody got yer ears on? Whoooeee, that was one big ol’ burger. We’re gwynna need mo beer an’ ahhce”.  Don’t be that guy (or gal).

Sample, simple radio exchange (who, where, what):

  • WHO: <<boat I’m calling>>, <<boat I’m calling>>, this is <<my boat>>
  • <<your boat>>, this is <<boat you called>>. Go ahead.
  • WHERE: <<boat you called>>, let’s go six-eight. 6-8. (or 69, 72 or some other working channel)
  • (from the boat you called): 6-8. Roger (or something less pretentious, like “OK”)
  • (both switch to 6-8, establish that the other boat is also there and the channel’s not in use)
  • WHAT: <<whatever you have to say>>. Over.
  • <<the response>>. Over.
  • <<one boat>> clear (and perhaps “standing by on six eight” if they are not returning to  16)
  • <<the other boat>> clear

Words have meaning.  Some are special:

  • “Mayday. Mayday” – Immediate danger to vessel or life.  Your boat is actively sinking or on fire, someone aboard (or overboard) is actively in danger of dying.  Nothing else. If you hear this, drop everything, figure out what is up and render assistance if possible.
  • “Pan-pan.  Pan-pan” (Pronounced pohn-pohn) – Things are ugly but not desperate: an actual or imminent emergency with no immediate threat to the boat or a life.  You have the arterial bleeding stopped and are proceeding to the dock, or the nearest road access, unimpeded.  You have the fire under control.  You probably could use some help, but it’s less urgent. You might also use this in a man-overboard recovery situation to alert nearby boats.
  • “Sécurité, sécurité” (“say-coo-ree-tay”, although you’ll often hear plain old “Security”) – a general safety broadcast to all concerned boaters.  Found a tree or 55 gallon drum floating low in the middle of the lake?  This is your call.  In most places, the sécurité call is just an attention grabber and instructs listeners to shift to a working channel for the actual message.
  • “Any vessel” or “Vessel in the vicinity of <wherever you are>” – this one’s unofficial, just good practice.  You need something.  It’s not an emergency, you don’t know who’s around.
  • “Clear copy” – often used to acknowledge that you received and understood an important message.  If it’s really important, like the location of the boat that is sinking, repeating the critical portion is probably a really good idea.

A few other notes:

  • Hail on Channel 16, then shift to a “working channel” (WLSC commonly use 68, because some older radios cannot 69.  71, 72 and 78 are also commonly used).
    • Caveat: Yes, Lakeshore works brief traffic on 16.  In that case, let ’em know you need ice, or beer, or whatever.  Then get off. Yes, you will probably get chastised if you do that on the coast, Great Lakes or other places that take VHF seriously.
  • People often say “six eight” or “one six” rather than “sixty eight” or “sixteen”.  Is that clearer?  Maybe. I do it.  Maybe it’s just pretentious.
  • No one knows who you are, or who you want to talk to.  Identify who you are calling and who you are.
  • Bored?  Trim your nails. Splice some docklines. Discipline your simian.  Do not randomly key your mic, broadcast music or let your kids play with the radio.  Sometimes people have genuine emergencies. Do not block their VHF call for help with your Lee Greenwood, or Green Day, or Greensleeves covers, anthology.

Fair Winds and a safe 4th!

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