Thursday, June 14, 2012

When was the last time you used your radio?

Boats are hidden in spray
       You know what's not a good feeling?  Sitting on the New Hampshire side of Portsmouth Harbor, with your car on the Maine side and watching two Coast Guard boats practicing high speed jousting - or maybe interception runs

  They were right where we planned to cross.  So what to do??  "You're going to have to call them on the radio."  Mark said.

  I keep my VHF radio tethered in my pfd pocket.  Mark's radio, which is older and larger, is in his day hatch.   My radio has a good charge, it was fully charged before the trip.  On the back of my radio are "mayday" instructions, but they've kind of worn.  This isn't a "mayday" issue, so what is it?  "Pan, Pan?"  "Security?"

   What I remember best from VHF rules is never to actually use it in play or practice; we always practice with the radio off.  I also don't want to interrupt official Coast Guard training if I don't have to.  So I turn my radio on to channel 16 while we do some more sightseeing.  No message from the Coast Guard, and no pause in the skirmishes either.  Actually, it seems like they're using more of the harbor than they were at first; so I'll have to call.  We're paddling back to the Fort Point to be in position for the crossing, when one boat takes notice of us and comes by to ask if we're looking to cross.  We confirm that and book across.

   So one more thing to add to our Spring list; in addition to checking the emergency gear, charging the radio, and trying an emergency call also think about non emegency uses of the radio.

     Crossing protocol  seems to vary slightly from site to site, but MITA’s guidance is to use VHF 16, press the microphone button and call “Security, Security, Security this is 2 kayaks in Portsmouth Harbor crossing from Fort Point NH to Fishing Island, ME, course is 45 degrees, speed is 3 knots, any traffic in the area please respond.”  If I didn't hear back specifically from the Coast Guard, I'd try again.

And some more links to VHF radio guidance:

Paddling Light suggests laminating a card to use for practice.  I recommend, if you don't use a radio regularly, use a small font, list not only emergency but crossing instructions, and tape it to your radio.


  1. Wow. This is such a great article. Thanks so much for posting it. The list of what we need to be prepared for keeps growing. I do need to get a VHF and learn how to use it. I've added a new section to the right column of my blog just above My Blog List and featured this excellent article so that we don't lose it when you post new stories. Thanks again for sharing your knowledge as Maine guides. I learn a lot from you and you are fun to paddle with! Cheers from Canada.

    1. Thanks you; Ive been enjoying your series of tests of gear. Someday I expect a great review of various radios. Mark is still waiting for a combination radio/gps- there are a few now but they are very limited.

  2. Hey Molly. What's your advice for owning and knowing how to use a VHF radio for a paddler like me? I paddle 98% flat water and most water adventures are 3 - 4 hours in duration - no overnight camping. Safety equipment I always carry includes a compass, whistle, cell phone in a dry bag within my PFD, and a "filed" float plan (e.g. tell a friend or relative where I am paddling). I never looked into a VHF radio as I assume it's mostly for sea kayakers?

    1. My understanding is the VHF band is reserved for navigable water only. In my kayak classes we never used the radios on land. Instead on lakes we just rely on a cellphone.

  3. Great article! I, like Mike, do only flat water paddling. But it's such great information to pass on to others who are out on the oceans or harbors. Thanks!