• Captain Dave

Know thy radio

Updated: Dec 16, 2019

I think it is safe to say that the majority of people reading this post are car owners at the very least. Legally, drivers are supposed to use directionals (a.k.a. turn signals) for changing lanes, pulling over, and turning just to name a few. Yes, you read that correctly—it is indeed a requirement to use your blinker. It does not often happen (as police officers are too busy fighting crime), but this means that you can get a ticket if it is not used properly. In the event of confusion, the turn signal lever is located to the left of the steering wheel. In most cases, a flick of the finger ‘up’ signals a move toward the right and a quick flick ‘down’ indicates your intention to go left. It is really that simple.


You might ask: But, Captain Dave, what does this “snoozefest” have to do with boating? Nothing! Well, not directly anyway. However, one can liken the use of a turn signal in a car to the use of the Marine VHF (Very High Frequency) radio on sailing and motor vessels. Although VHF radios do not come standard in boats (given their level of importance you think they would), the cost is minimal and to be blunt, if you can afford a yacht then you can easily afford this potential life-saving device. But I digress, back to the directional/VHF radio comparison. Starting out with the assumption that your boat has one of these nifty radios, they are often used much like the blinker of a car: rarely and incorrectly.



Like the directional, the VHF radio is often the “silent” partner on a boater’s journey. For those avid readers out there who do not miss a beat, you might remember the time I delivered a bachelor and his boat from San Francisco (check out the full story here)? He is a swell fellow, but his radio was just a decoration (my trusty little backup came in handy). He is just one of many in the same boat (pun intended) as many sailors I have come across are in a similar situation: they do not own one, do not know how to use it, or fail to turn it on.


I once rescued a family in South Carolina from a small boat fire and avoided colliding with a warship because my radio was on and tuned to Channel 16. In the event that the captain is busy, it is always a good idea to have more than one person onboard who knows how to work the VHF radio. In case I have people on board SoulMate who are not familiar with the steps for making an emergency call, I keep the directions posted right next to my radio.


So to everyone out on the open water: know thy radio! Tune in to Channel 16 while you float along. I understand that burning desire to ask for a radio check, or to pacify a screaming child by letting him toss the radio around in place of a toy out of desperation (I have heard toddler speak on this frequency a number of times), but this channel is reserved for distress calls, safety calls, and initial contact between vessels before switching to a non-commercial channel to chew the fat. While we are on this subject, I have overheard parts of conversations that would make Howard Stern blush like a young, Catholic schoolboy who just got “pantsed” by a classmate on the playground. Needless to say, it is probably best to save this kind of banter for your cell phone.


If nothing else, I can promise you that the Marine VHF radio is a small, worthwhile investment that is very easy to use. And who knows, it just might save your precious life one day.


If you saw a boat fire off in the distance, what would you do? Comment below.