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VHF: Boating's Comedy Channel
By Barb Hansen
October 1, 2003

“Bridge tender, bridge tender, please open the bridge NOW. We are coming too fast.”

The things you hear on the marine radio. Some days, channel 16 is like the comedy channel. It would be even funnier if the stakes weren’t so high. I don’t know if the vessel in question made it under the bridge or crashed into it. I don’t want to know. It’s not nice to laugh at another’s misfortune.

Another time Vic and I overheard this exchange between a vessel and a towing company.

“We need assistance.”

“Where are you located?”

“We are over here.”

“Where is that?”

“We are over here by these mangroves.”

As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up.

There have always been abuses on marine radio network but since recreational boats no longer have to have a VHF radio license, the problem seems to have gotten worse. Our boat’s radio typically squawks like a convoy of semi drivers yakking it up in CB lingo. Gotcha ears on? Gotta copy? Roger that, good buddy.

Jees. Give a guy a transmitter, and he becomes a disk jockey. This problem is akin to the skipper who gives the microphone to his ten year old who keeps his finger on the transmitter button for long minutes at a time, effectively blocking the use of the VHF system for all in that transmission area.

Sometimes a skipper will kindly remind the offenders that the FCC and the Coast Guard have direction finders that can track VHF violators and that they are subject to some very stiff fines. Abusers are getting off cheaply. At the very least, a false “mayday” interrupts the flow of law enforcement and sends helicopters and vessels and their crews to the scene at a very high cost. Worse, what if a vessel had a real emergency while the Coast Guard was off on a wild goose chase?

On the other end of the scale, not life threatening thank goodness, are the words some pull out of their head when spelling unusual words because they don’t know the standard marine phonetic alphabet. Instead of Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, and Delta we hear A as in Apple, B as in Burger, C as in Cheesecake and D as in Doughnut. Would you think that somebody on that boat is hungry?

FYI, for the rest of the international marine phonetic alphabet, read the second-to-last paragraph.

Here’s another one from the repertoire of Vic Hansen. This guy calls the Coast Guard and tells them he’s got a problem. He tells the C.G. “You need to get rid of all these boats hanging around my boat.” He failed to mention that his wife (?) was on the forward deck. Nude.

VHF is a proven system to help protect lives and property on the water. To be successful it requires the cooperation of all who use it. The protocols are not that difficult to learn. Recreational users are to monitor and call other stations on channel 16. When you establish contact, you switch to a “working” channel to talk – 68 or 69, 71 or 72, or 78. Be brief. There's more, of course, and you can get it with a Google search on VHF radio protocol. Sailnet.com has a good article in the cruising section called VHF Radio: Usage and Etiquette."

Oh yes, the rest of the phonetic alphabet -- Echo, Foxtrot, Golf, Hotel, India, Juliet, Kilo, Lima, Mike, November, Oscar, Papa, Quebec, Romeo, Sierra, Tango, Uniform, Victor, Whiskey, X-ray, Yankee and Zulu.

Golf -Oscar. Foxtrot-Oscar-Romeo. India-Tango!


 

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