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Know your VHF Radio

Why do we have VHF radios on our Dart Sailability boats?

It's not for chit-chat, that's for sure. We have them for two reasons:

  1. Everyday management of our fleet when going afloat, while afloat and when returning to the pontoon.

  2. Safety

If I'm scrupulously fair the entire reason is safety. Managing the fleet afloat is the role delegated to the Safety Skipper. She or he liaises with the Pontoon Master, the Officer of the Day, and from time to time the Chief Instructors, in order to ensure that the whereabouts or intentions of every vessel are known.

The Safety Skipper directs the Support Boats to their tasks, though each Support Skipper may act independently whenever necessary, always reporting their actions to the Safety Skipper.

Our independent vessels check in and out with the Safety Skipper when they start or finish their routes, and when they change their plans.

Our Safety Skipper reports being on the water and ready for duty to the Pontoon Master, and checks with them before requesting permission to come ashore at the end of the session.

Our Support Skippers are controlled on their inbound and outbound journeys with Hansas in tow by the Pontoon Master. The same goes for our independent vessels.

Any vessel at all may, if their skipper deems it necessary, alert the Coastguard by issuing a Pan Pan call, a Mayday call, or a Mayday Relay call on channel 16 if there is a reason for doing so.

Safety and controlling our waterborne operations are inextricably linked. We carry VHF radios for safety.

Cross Talk

As you can see, not only is chit-chat undesirable, there isn't time for it! Even using minimum radio communications we have busy periods.

And that is just with our own operations. We use channel 37, and so does every sailing club nearby. We hear their radio transmissions, they hear ours. Even when we transmit on low power, a thing we instruct our skippers to do, there is scope for talking over another club or being talked over by them.

We have to be mindful of our neighbours. We share the airwaves, and they need a fair go as well.

How can I be a Good Radio Citizen?

The rules are very simple:

  • Check the battery charge on the handheld unit you picked up. If it is not charged, take another one, but connect the one that was not well charged to the charging system.

  • Minimise Radio Check calls. Pass a real message instead. Radio check calls clutter up the channel. If a real message is answered it proves that your set works.

  • Transmit on low power. Exceptions are the independent vessels at the limit of their cruising range. Their skippers may switch to high power if a transmission is not replied to after three low power attempts with “nothing heard” in return.

  • Check your Squelch. A radio term dating back to the dawn of time, is squelch. Almost all VHF units have a squelch control, and you adjust it until background clutter is only just “squelched out” or minimised.

  • Check your Volume. Your set has a volume control. You need to be able to hear an inbound transmission above your personal background noise level.

  • Be brief. Plan what you are to say. Brevity is excellent provided it passes the message you want to pass in an unambiguous way.

  • Check that no-one else is transmitting. You do that by listening before you speak. Do not interrupt or talk across an existing conversation.

  • Use correct procedure. If you have your personal VHF licence you know what to do. If not, ask someone who knows.

  • Speak directly into the microphone. If you try to talk on your radio and the microphone is nowhere near your mouth your transmission may be received but you will be inaudible.

Finally, if the vessel you are on is equipped with a Digital Selective Calling (DSC) radio it will have a big red button marked DISTRESS which will alert the Coastguard of your distress, and your accurate position. In the event that you need to use it, please USE IT! It will bring help faster than just making a Mayday call because your position is accurate and known to the Search and Rescue Services.

Do I need my own licence?

For Dart Sailability we use channel 37 for our general operations and this has a slightly special set of usage rules. You don't need your own licence because you will always be working under the direct authority of someone who does. However, you will still need to use correct radio procedure. If in doubt, ask! There is always someone there who will guide you.

Please ensure that our Training Manager knows that you have a personal licence. The simplest way is to scan your certificate in and email it in to

If you need a personal licence Dart Sailability runs courses from time to time to ensure we have sufficient licence holders. There is no cost to a volunteer in good standing for the course. The Training Manager will advise you whether the fee for the licence itself is a cost we ask you to bear personally.

Do we contact other organisations by radio?

Yes we do.

  • UK Coastguard – Channel 16 – for any matter we need to use the coastguard for. This includes vessels working To Sea declaring their intended voyage and safe return to harbour. Channel 16 is the Emergency Channel and is also used for hailing other stations

  • Froward Point NCI – Channel 65 – to receive accurate actual weather at the mouth of the Dart. Very important for independent skippers heading in that direction

  • DartNav (the callsign of Dart Harbour and Navigation Authority) – Channel 11 – for any matters we need to raise with them.

  • Dart Crusader (the callsign of the Fuel Barge) – Channel 6 – to check in case of doubt whether they are open. During our sailing season there is 99.99% probability that they are open.

  • RDYC – Channel 37 – usually for Wednesday Evening racing from our Sonars

There are other organisations. Skippers needing this information will need to determine this for themselves

Any questions?

There are two main contacts for questions.

  • for all questions about your personal need for training, not just in VHF radio but in all aspects of your training.

  • for other matters on how we use our radios for the sessions we run afloat

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