VHF Guide

VHF stands for Very High Frequency radio.

VHF allows communication via a series of channels to whoever is tuned into that frequency.  Only one person can speak on any channel at one time – so it is important to be BRIEF whatever the circumstance.

A VHF radio should be carried in the boat during all EACRC rowing events including training, regattas and expeditions. The club’s VHF charger is stored in the shed and should be used regularly to ensure the device is always ready for use when the boat goes out on the water.  The captain of each crew should check that the VHF is functional and charged before launch, and may also wish to carry a mobile phone in a waterproof bag as back up (Aberdeen Coastguard direct dial: 01224 592334 or dial 999 / 112 and ask for the Coastguard).

Communication by VHF should follow a standard pattern to ensure information is conveyed clearly and concisely using the following rules:

  • At the start of an exchange the vessel name should be stated 3 times (to ensure it is properly heard).
  • An emergency situation is indicated using the phrase: MAYDAY 3 timesA critical but non-life threatening situation is indicated using the phrase PAN PAN 3 times
  • OVER indicates you have finished speaking.
  • OUT to conclude the exchange.

General instructions for use:

  • Ensure VHF is switched on
    • Twist the knob on top of the VHF radio clockwise – the screen will light up displaying the channel number you are on.
  • Select required channel
    • Press the ’16/9′ button once – channel 16 is for Coastguard and emergencies – EVERYONE is tuned into 16.
  • Speak briefly, starting with vessels name 3 times.
    • Press the PTT (Press To Talk) button on the left side of the device, speaking into the microphone (mic) on the front.
  • Report your location
  • Explain the nature of your distress
    • PAN PAN, PAN PAN, PAN PAN to alert listeners to a critical situation
    • MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY for an immediate emergency response
  • State the assistance you required
  • Report the number of persons on board
  • Estimate the present sea-worthiness and condition of the vessel
  • Describe the vessel
    • e.g. 22 foot St Ayle’s Skiff. Grey hull with yellow top strake.
  • Say OVER when you finish and release the PTT button to allow others to respond
    • e.g. This is SKELF, SKELF, SKELF calling Aberdeen Coastguard, OVER
    • This should all be conveyed briefly, < 1 minute.
  • Listen for a response.
    • You will probably be given an operating channel to take the exchange off channel 16
  • When ending the conversation say OUT to mark the end of the conversation, indicating that no response is expected.

Non-emergency example – e.g. it is good practice to alert the Coastguard to expeditions at sea that cover a distance other than normal training rows close to shore:

  • US:  This is SKELF – SKELF – SKELF, calling Aberdeen Coastguard. OVER.
  • COASTGUARD: Please move to channel X.
  • US: This is SKELF, Forth Coastguard, channel X. OVER. to indicate you understand. Then change to the nominated channel and call the Coastguard. This is SKELF – SKELF – SKELF, calling Aberdeen Coastguard. OVER.
  • US: This is Skelf, reporting 5 person rowing skiff heading around the Bass Rock from North Berwick beach, ETA 1400hrs. OVER.
  • The Coastguard will probably say SKELF good luck or will pass on important information, such as weather, ship movements in the area, etc.
  • US: Skelf. OUT.

For URGENT calls – e.g. when you can’t make headway, but you are not in imminent danger:

  • Us: PAN PAN, PAN PAN, PAN PAN, This is SKELF-SKELF-SKELF. 5 man rowing skiff, position xx degrees xx minutes north xx degrees xx minutes west (read this off the VHF display), 5 souls, drifting in heavy swells, broke 2 oars, heading to Musselburgh/Port Seton. 5 souls. Over.
  • COASTGUARD: Aberdeen Coastguard to SKELF (and they will probably repeat your position and ask if you need assistance). Over.
  • US: This is SKELF, heavy squall and large swell, what is the short range forecast? Over.
  • COASTGUARD: They will tell you if conditions will improve or worsen over the next 3 hours. You then can decide to head to the closest shore with the wind and waves following.
  • US: This is SKELF, heading for shelter at Port Seton. Over.

For EMERGENCY calls – when there is imminent danger to crew and/or vessel:

  • SKELF: MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY, This is SKELF, SKELF, SKELF. Position xx degrees xx minutes north xx degrees xx minutes west, 1 mile off Portobello Beach. 5 souls. Swamped and sinking (or crew member is unconscious…). Require immediate assistance. 22 ft St Ayle’s Skiff, grey hull, yellow top strake. Red lifejackets. Over.
  • COASTGUARD: The Coastguard will confirm your location and provide instructions. There might be a vessel (e.g. sailing boat/fishing boat) nearby that might be instructed to assist. They will then contact you to provide orders, such as wave arms, gather ropes, etc.

Other information:

  • Sets can be set to scan two channels at once, for example, channel 16 and 22.
  • Channel 16 is the general channel which everyone is tuned into: Coastguard, fishing boats etc.
  • VHF radio has a range of about 20 miles. Skiffs are unlikely to be very far off shore, so other aspects of relaying calls are unlikely to arise during club events.