Guest Post: VHF Radio Protocol and Etiquette

Whether a well-seasoned sailor or a beginner, it’s always important to review essential sailing skills and protocols. This week, Behan of the popular blog, Sailing Totem, shares with our readers an easy-to-read guide to VHF radio protocol and etiquette. You can find more great cruising skills guides and tips from Behan for your next sailing holiday in our blog

Cruising Skills: VHF Radio Protocol

VHF radio protocol

In most places, boats are required to have a VHF radio on board. For cruising sailors, VHF radio is nearly ubiquitous. Even if you are near shore and have a smartphone, VHF radio is still important equipment. Marine bulletins, weather broadcasts, ship traffic information, DSC emergency calling, and the ability to broadcast information to many people at a once are a few reasons.

Every cruiser has and uses VHF for communications from ship-to-ship, ship-to-shore, and between shore parties with handheld units. In places where cruising boats gather, there’s sometimes a morning “cruisers net” on the VHF. These nets let boats in a local area share information about weather, local events, items for sale, or just a place for newcomers to ask about local resources, from book exchanges to welders. We make active use of handheld radios with our busy crew, and if we’re keeping in touch with a buddy boat or expect to be extra chatty, typically monitor an alternate frequency for that purpose in addition to the hailing channel.

VHF radio protocol

When contacting another boat, official protocol is to repeat the name of the boat you’re calling three times, followed by “this is…” and the name of your vessel twice. In practice, this is typically cut down further: “Utopia, Utopia, this is Totem” but good to remember for formal contact…such as hailing the cargo ship bearing down on your position! After making contact, move from the hailing channel to a working channel for your conversation, making sure you’re not stepping on anyone else’s conversation first. Saying “over” hands the conversational baton back to the other boat; saying “Vesselname clear” means you’re finished, and departing the frequency (presumably back to the hailing channel). Tip: if you say “over and out,” you’re identifying yourself as a newbie! Out is only used to indicate switching off the radio.

VHF radio protocol

Teach kids appropriate use of the VHF marine radio

What is most important for everyone with a VHF to know is the protocol for different types of safety calls:

SECURITE: a safety call used to alert boat operators of safety issues, such as: an overdue boat, navigation hazards, weather conditions, etc.
PAN-PAN: an urgent call regarding the safety of a vessel or person that could lead to distress.
MAYDAY: an emergency distress call to request immediate assistance if the situation involves risk or live or the vessel is threatened with “grave and imminent danger.”

Post details on a laminated card near the base VHF station if you’ll find a reference helpful. Just remember: Mayday is only for true emergencies, and not because the gin ran out!

Get ready for your next sailing holiday with Zizoo by checking out our blog where you’ll find more sailing tips and suggested routes as well as some great recommendations of sites, beaches and restaurants to explore and try out in many great sailing destinations around the world.