Saturday, June 20, 2009

Small Boat Emergencies

Visual Distress Signals
It is recommended that you have and know how to use visual distress signals. Carry extras. Always respond immediately to other boaters displaying a distress signal.

VHF Marine Radio
Purchase a Very High Frequency (VHF) marine radio. VHF marine radios have channels that are reserved for distress calls and are monitored continuously by the U.S. Coast Guard.
They save lives and are easy to use. They are more effective for marine communications than CB radios or mobile phones. VHF radios have more consistent reception than mobile phones.
No license is needed when used in recreational boats.
They withstand rough weather.
Boat-mounted radios are wired to the boat's battery.
The source of a VHF signal can be located so that you can be found even in fog.
Operating a VHF radio takes some basic knowledge.

When operating your boat, you must monitor Channel 16 (the distress channel). If you hear a MAYDAY call, remain silent, listen, and write down information about the boat in distress. If the USCG or other rescue authority does not respond, try to reach the USCG while traveling toward the boat. If you cannot reach the USCG, assist the other boat to the best of your ability while not placing yourself or your passengers in danger. If you have a life-threatening emergency, have everyone put on life jackets and issue a MAYDAY call on Channel 16.

Be aware that the distance for sending and receiving messages is limited by the height of the antenna and the power of the radio. Always use the one-watt setting except in an emergency or if your signal is too weak to be received clearly. Channel 16 is a calling and distress channel only and should not be used for conversation or radio checks. It can be used to make contact with another station (boat), but the communication then should move to a non-emergency channel such as 68 or 69. Penalties exist for misuse of a radio, including improper use of VHF Channel 16.

VHF Marine Radio Channels
Here are the most commonly used channels on United States waters.

Channel 6 Intership safety communications.
Channel 9 Communications between vessels (commercial and recreational), and ship to coast (calling channel in designated USCG Districts).
Channel 13 Strictly for navigational purposes by commercial, military, and recreational vessels at bridges, locks, and harbors.
Channel 16 Distress and safety calls to Coast Guard and others, and to initiate calls to other vessels; often called the "hailing" channel. (Some regions use other channels as the hailing channel. For example, the Northeast uses Channel 9.) When hailing, contact the other vessel, quickly agree to another channel, and then switch to that channel to continue conversation.
Channel 22 Communications between the Coast Guard and the maritime public, both recreational and commercial. Severe weather warnings, hazards to navigation, and other safety warnings are broadcast on this channel.
Channels 24-28 Public telephone calls (to marine operator).
Channels 68, 69, and 71 Recreational vessel radio channels and ship to coast.
Channel 70 Digital selective calling "alert channel."

Mobile Phone
If you own a mobile phone, include it as part of your standard boating gear. Keep a list of appropriate phone numbers on board. Use it to call 911 or another water rescue authority in your area. Mobile telephones may be useful for contacting local law enforcement agencies. However, they have serious limitations and should not be used as a substitute for a VHF radio.
Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB)
If you operate far from shore, you should seriously consider carrying appropriate communications gear. A satellite EPIRB is designed to quickly and reliably alert rescue forces, indicate an accurate distress position, and guide rescue units to the distress scene, even when all other communications fail.

To issue a MAYDAY call on Channel 16 of your VHF radio:
Say "This is (name of vessel three times, call letters once)."
Repeat once more "MAYDAY" and your vessel's name.
Report your location.
Report the nature of your emergency.
Report the kind of assistance needed.
Report the number of people on board and condition of any injured.
Describe the vessel and its seaworthiness.
Wait for a response. If there is none, repeat the message.