Geo Positioning Equipment (GP Equipment) – Boaters who use a marine handheld VHF radio as their sole VHF, rather than as a backup to a fixed-mount unit, generally want more than just basic features.
Fortunately, there’s a wide variety of models available that will suit boaters who want a submersible VHF radio, a handheld VHF radio that’s capable of digital selective calling, or even a handheld that serves as a simple chart plotter.
Most of the higher-end handheld VHF models float, and many contain integral GPS receivers, GP equipment. For a boater who wants a full-featured handheld VHF, prices range from about $200 to close to $600.
Handheld VHF Radios with Integrated Marine Chart Plotters
For boaters who want their VHF to do double duty as a marine GP equipment, handheld VHF radios that include internal GP equipment receivers plus GPS functions such as waypoints and chart plotting could be a good choice:
Standard Horizon’s HX851 transmits at six watts and includes digital selective calling (DSC) features such as the ability to navigate to another vessel using DSC. The HX851, which retails for about $270, can store 200 waypoints and can navigate to a waypoint chosen by the user. It also floats.
The Lowrance LHR-80 floats as well, and includes storage of 500 waypoints along with waypoint navigation. The VHF includes a “Track Your Buddy” feature that uses DSC to track other vessels, and users also can save a “Buddy List” of up to 20 vessels for tracking purposes. The LHR-80, which transmits at a maximum of five watts, sells for about $200.
Compact Marine Handheld VHFs Load Features into Small Package
Two marine electronics manufacturers offer tiny handheld VHF radios with deluxe features:
The waterproof Icom M88 weighs in at less than 10 ounces, but provides talk time of up to 15 hours from its Lithium ion battery. The VHF includes large buttons that are easy to operate even for someone wearing gloves, and features automatic weather scanning and weather alerts. It retails for about $260.
The compact Standard Horizon HX471S also meets waterproof standards. It includes DSC distress calling, and an integral GP equipment. In addition, owners can use it to tune into AM and FM radio stations, along with the AM aeronautical band. The HX471S sells for about $250.
Marine Handheld VHF for Harsh Conditions: Icom GM1600 Survival Craft Radio
The Icom GM1600 VHF radio may be the ultimate in durable handheld VHF units. The radio meets strict governmental regulations for survival craft radios, making it shock resistant, thermal resistant, and waterproof to specific standards.
Its high capacity Lithium battery provides up to eight hours of operating time even in temperatures well below zero, and its bright yellow body should be easy to spot in almost all conditions, whether they involve a dark, foggy night or a life raft. The GM1600 sells for about $600.
Marine handheld VHF radio shoppers who want more than just a basic handheld VHF model have multiple options. Most of the possible choices would be suitable as a boat’s primary VHF radio, and some even could double as the vessel’s navigation GP equipment.
Boater Comms and Procedures
Boaters can communicate with each other using very high frequency (VHF) marine radios and visual or sound signals apart from GP equipment. Maintaining contact with fellow boaters greatly enhances your safety on the water. It is always important to communicate your intentions to others that share the water with you. This includes kayaks, power and sailboats. Situations that warrant a call to another boater include approaches to blind corners, overtaking other vessels, meeting or crossing the approach of another vessel, and operations in conditions of reduced visibility. Knowing and learning how to make an emergency call is in the best personal interest of any boater.
Sound Signals – Coast Guard regulations require larger vessels to carry a sound producing device in order to comply with collision avoidance regulations. Paddleboats should carry a horn in their own self-defense. Small compressed air horns are readily available at marine supply stores and are amazingly loud. The following are some basic sound signals. Learning them will improve your understanding of vessel movements occurring around you.
One (1) short blast of the horn: I am altering my course to the right
Two (2) short blasts of the horn: I am altering my course to the left
One (1) prolonged blast every two (2) minutes: I am a power vessel underway in conditions of reduced visibility
Five (5) short blasts: There is a dangerous condition
Power boats turning into a blind corner should sound one (1) prolonged blast of the horn
Using a VHF Radio – Practice using your VHF radio prior to actually needing it. Read the owner’s manual. Really. Manufacturers are producing some very capable handheld VHF radios that are also water resistant and quite small. You will need to carry spare batteries for your handheld radio. VHF radio signals propagate “line of sight,” that is they will not bend around the curve of the earth or large objects. This means that depending on the power and antenna conditions unique to each radio, you will have an effective range of 5-30 miles.
VHF marine radios are channelized, that is each assigned frequency is given a channel number. The operator isn’t required to enter a specific frequency like 158.600 Mhz to make a call. Boaters should monitor VHF channel 16, which is the standard hailing and distress channel for vessels in most areas. Some crowded regions have moved hailing traffic to another approved channel. There are only two acceptable calls that should be made on channel 16, distress and hailing calls.
Hailing To hail another vessel, first listen to the radio to ensure the channel isn’t in use. You don’t want to interfere with a distress call. Give the name or location of the boat you are trying to contact and keep the call short. If you don’t contact the other boat immediately, wait a little while and try again. If you do contact the other boat, move your conversation to a “working channel” VHF radio channels are assigned specific uses and functions. Most VHF radios also have standard weather channels installed to monitor National Weather Service marine weather and safety broadcasts.
Distress Calls If you experience an extreme or life threatening emergency, use your VHF radio to make a MAYDAY call to the Coast Guard and vessels nearby that may be able to help you. Running out of fuel or suffering a weather delay is not an emergency. You can still call the Coast Guard or other boaters for help, but don’t use the phrase MAYDAY.
L, Publisher of the Boating on Lake Winnebago, Fox River and Wolf River of Wisconsin Blog forwarded a great tip on VHF radio use during emergencies. Marine VHF radios have two power output setting, one is five (5) watts and the other is twenty-five (25) watts. The low power setting is meant for close in communications with nearby boats. If you are issuing a MAYDAY call, be sure the power selector button is set to HIGH.
The Coast Guard recommends the following emergency radio call procedures.
Ensure the radio is on
Select channel 16
Press the microphone transmit button
Clearly say: MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY
After calling MAYDAY, give your vessel name, location, nature of emergency and number of people on board
Release the transmit button
Wait for 10 seconds – if no response is heard, repeat your MAYDAY call
Make sure everyone onboard is wearing a life jacket
The Coast Guard requires vessels over sixteen (16) feet in length the carry approved visual distress signals. Many states have more stringent legal requirements. There is a wide variety of distress signals on the market approved for use at day and night. There are also many actions or signals that can be made by a boater that are internationally recognized as distress signals.
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