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Our son and his family are getting ready to leave the dock on their first cruise. Though they have been living aboard for a few years, getting their toddler used to life aboard before they start cruising, they haven't had much of an opportunity to get used to using the VHF. Since our son David has seen firsthand how helpful it is to sometimes have someone else run the radio while you sail, he anticipated our daughter-in-law being the radio operator most of the time. But with little experience, she's unsure of even what to say, much less the etiquette involved. So as a way of giving her a starting point on what to say, I wrote the following scripts. No, this isn't the only way to get your point across on the VHF, but it was intended as a short, easy, crash course. I know there are those who are of the school that you MUST say "Over" after every transmission. While this may be necessary in some situations, on a normal basis it's cumbersome at best.
If you need to do a radio check (on any channel other than 16):
"Radio check. Radio check. Channel ______."
When someone tells you it's working reply
"Thanks for the comeback. First Light clear."
"First Light clear, standing by one six."
Any time you end a radio conversation, let people know your intentions.
"Clear" means you are done talking and leaving the channel.
"Standing by" means you are done talking but you'll keep your radio on that channel.
"Standing by one six" means you're done talking on the channel you are on and are switching back to channel 16.
So it's not uncommon to end with "First Light clear, standing by one six."
Hailing another boat:
This one I always get advice from the captain as to HOW to hail them. For now we'll assume you know their name. If not, ask how you should hail them. Some options are: "Northbound trawler approaching Green 61, this is the northbound sailboat approaching your starboard side." or "Vessel approaching the 707 bridge from the south, this is southbound sailing vessel First Light."
Always repeat it and end with your name. So an actual transmission might be:
"Twilight, Twilight. First Light." Or "Twilight, Twilight. This is First Light off your port side."
When they come back to you it will usually be with "This is Twilight." Since you hailed them, you need to have a channel ready to switch to. Usually 68, but sometimes that doesn't work well. NEVER 12 or 9, because bridges and ships use those as hailing channels. Ask David BEFORE you hail them which channel you should switch to. If you don't have time to ask, just assume 68 is ok. So next you would say,
"Good morning, captain. Want to go to six eight?"
and he'll likely say, "Six eight."
Switch your radio to 68 and since you hailed HIM, you will come back with, "Twilight, Twilight, this is First Light on six eight." And then you can just talk like you're talking on the phone. No conversation (called "traffic") should be held on 16. Always switch channels first.
"Twilight, Twilight. First Light."
"Good morning. Want to switch to six eight?"
[switch channels to 68.]
"Twilight, First Light on six eight."
and they'll come back when they get there, talk as normal.
When you get done with the conversation you will say,
"First Light clear six eight, standing by one six."
[switch back to channel 16]
Skipper Bob will tell you the name of the bridge and what channel they monitor. (It changes somewhere in central FL, I think. Where you are I think it's channel 9.)
So when you are within sight of the bridge and a few markers away from it (David will have a better handle on WHEN to hail him) you'll start your transmission. BUT, long before you hail him, you can keep your radio monitoring both 16 and the bridge channel. That way you can hear what the bridge tender is telling other boaters. You can learn a lot from eaves dropping that way.
There are two types of bridges. Some are "on request" and some are timed. I'll give you both examples:
On the bridge channel you'll say:
"Name of Bridge, Name of Bride, is the southbound sailing vessel First Light." Wait. If he doesn't come back in a minute or two, you can hail him again. He'll say,
"This is Name of Bridge."
"Good morning. We are the southbound sailing vessel approaching the bridge and we'd like to make your (time) opening." (Ex: "We'd like to make your 10:00 opening.")
He'll likely say,
"Our next opening is 10:00 Please stay outside the fenders until the bridge is fully raised."
"Roger that. Thank you." Stay on channel 9 (or whatever the bridge channel is) until you get through the bridge. Sometimes people want to talk to you while you wait. After you're through the bridge always thank them.
"Thank you Name of Bridge, First Light is clear. Have a good day."
He'll probably come back with a "You, too" or something. THEN switch back to 16. OR he may say:
"You're not close enough to make that opening. Our next opening is at 10:30."
"Roger that. We'll be standing by. Thank you." Then you shouldn't have to talk to him again until you get through the bridge. He may hail you at some point to let you know he's raising it, he may not.
If it's a bridge that is "on request" it's a little different.
"Name of Bridge, Name of Bridge. This is southbound sailing vessel First Light."
"Name of Bridge."
"Yes, good morning. We are the southbound sailing vessel. We'd like an opening at your convenience."
You may get a request to spell the name of the boat. In which case there's no etiquette, just spell it. Or you may hear,
"We're going to wait for the boat behind you to catch up" or something like that. Any information like that you can reply with,
"Roger that. We're standing by."
Or he'll say
"Bring her up, Cap, I'll open it when you get closer."
"Roger that. We're on our way. Thank you."
I've had bridge tenders yell at us before because we were going so slow against the current. My favorite response which seems to lighten the mood a little is,
"Roger that. We're peddling as fast as we can."
That usually makes them quit yelling at you.
Sometimes you'll need to hail a boat on the other side of the bridge or going through the bridge with you. You may need to coordinate who goes first, or you may want a faster boat to go through the bridge before you. It's not a judgement YOU have to make, that's David's job. (There are rules about the boat WITH the current has the right of way and goes through the bridge first, things like that) But if he needs you to tell someone that you will wait for them to go through, try this.
"Northbound Megayacht (or whatever. David can tell you what it is) at Name of Bridge, this is the southbound sailing vessel."
"This is Megayacht."
"Good morning. It looks like you've got the current with you. If you want to go through first, we'll stand by."
You can do all of that on the bridge channel, because everyone needs to hear that, even the bridge tender. Things are much more relaxed on the bridge channels than 16.
I think that covers it. You'll get used to it! The biggest thing is to listen to what other people say. They don't always say it RIGHT, but at least you get to hear some options. And it's reassuring to know that no one yells at you when you do it "Wrong!" Even if they do, they have no idea who you are, and you'll never see them again. :)
Hope this helps.
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Connie McBride's work has been published in Good Old Boat, Sail Magazine, Small Craft Advisor, Cruising World, All at Sea, and Blue Water Sailing. As a full-time liveaboard cruiser for over 15 years, she has written several books and in her spare time, well, who has spare time?
It's here! My latest book, Years of Ideas from a Simple Sailor is now available on Amazon.
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