Winston29

Do I need a VHF radio if I stay in the channel?

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I'll be sailing my Capri 14.2 in what's called "Redwood Creek" in Redwood City, Ca.  It's a fairly wide channel that leads out to the southern part of the SF Bay.  

Unless conditions are extremely calm with flat water and light winds, it's unlikely that I'll ever venture out into the open bay by myself.  I did do it once in windy, choppy conditions when an experienced friend was helping crew, but I never would have gone on my own.  I just don't have the skill for it yet.  Maybe ever...  I'm not sure that boat is designed for those conditions.  

If you sail really early in the morning, or just as it's getting dark, you may have the entire channel to yourself, but any other time of day it gets pretty crowded with racing clubs, rowing clubs, sailing yachts, and various other kinds of watercraft.  The channel leads from the bay to the Stanford Sailing Club and the Port of Redwood City, so it sees a fair amount of traffic.  There's also a very popular boat ramp that gets a lot of action.  In short, there's almost always someone around to lend a hand, even on weekdays, when the youth sailing programs are in full swing.  

So with help just a wave or whistle-blow away, do I need a VHF radio to call for help, or should I skip it?  I can see where it would be nice if I could talk with my sailing buddies while we're out on the water (not sure how often that happens), and I definitely understand the idea of "Better safe than sorry", but do I really need it if I stay in the relatively protected and bustling waters of Redwood Creek?  

 

W

 

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No. A vhf radio is not required equipment and most of those you mention won't be listening anyway.

Review the rules of the road, sail conservatively, make your intentions known and pay attention.

Nothing happens quickly.

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Not required, true but a hand held can be had for 100 bucks or less.  On the flip side your cellphone may be just as good in that area.  

I have both handheld and fixed.  My plan was to drop my kids/wife off at the beach on the way out to the Chesapeake bay and go sailing by myself for a bit then come back and pit them up on the way back to the marina.  I was going to leave the handheld with my wife so she could radio me.  BUT when I looked at the rules it looks like you can't use a VHF from land unless you have a license.  So now I just have a backup.  

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VHF is never a bad idea on the water.  Not just for you but to assist if you see someone in trouble.  You likely will not have cell numbers for those around you - if it's a non-911 situation.  There's also the weather alarm.....

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Need no, valuable yes.

A handheld with DSC that’s waterproof (enough) will be far more use if you capsize, run hard aground or suffer other misfortune, where your mobile phone doesn’t transmit a distress call with position to USCG.

911 is less likely to be useful on the water in terms of response & assistance. 

Casual boaters are unlikely to be monitoring channel 16, anyone down that way who is commercial is supposed to. 

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This discussion makes me a little nostalgic. In college, I would take my E-scow out most evenings, and could often be found transiting the Houston/Galveston ship channels in the middle of the night. Most of the time I had a flashlight that worked, so I could shine it on the sails to make myself visible.  I never had running lights or a radio. But I always managed to get out of the way of the folks who had to stay in the channel.  I cannot claim that the distances were always comfortable for either myself or the the bigger kids.

These days, I always have a VHF in a pocket in my jacket or on my harness.  They are so small and inexpensive now. It is one of those things that you will never need right up until it becomes the most important thing you have. Personally, a knife on a lanyard is the most critical piece of kit I always carry.  I was once overboard in the Pacific, in the middle of the night,  being pulled along by my harness, but with a sheet tangled around my right foot. The experience made a permanent impression on me.

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If you're feeling extremely cheap you can get a baofeng brand "uv-5r" radio from many stores (including amazon...) and hand tune it to 156.8mhz (marine VHF channel 16). Comes with a charging cradle, battery, and everything shipped for $24. That is about the price of a cheap PFD. Despite the name it actually works as advertised.

It's not water resistant, there's no dsc/gps, and you can program it to do other channels, but it'll do 2-way on 16 (coast guard), 68 (156.425) and 72(156.625) (race committee). We bring our $25 uv-5r on the boat during longer trips as a backup to our $200 standard horizon HX890. Just make sure you don't tune it to anything besides the above three channels or use it when not on the boat.

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11 hours ago, LionessRacing said:

Need no, valuable yes.

A handheld with DSC that’s waterproof (enough) will be far more use if you capsize, run hard aground or suffer other misfortune, where your mobile phone doesn’t transmit a distress call with position to USCG.

911 is less likely to be useful on the water in terms of response & assistance. 

Casual boaters are unlikely to be monitoring channel 16, anyone down that way who is commercial is supposed to. 

since GMDSS came in dont expect commercial vessels to monitor 16 some flag states vary in their rules but whole idea of the dsc was to allow ships to call directly rather than guess who is on 16 and have a vhf assisted accident.

DSC also removed the need to call on 16 for an emergency

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17 hours ago, Hadlock said:

If you're feeling extremely cheap you can get a baofeng brand "uv-5r" radio from many stores (including amazon...) and hand tune it to 156.8mhz (marine VHF channel 16).

Cost isn't the biggest issue, though I have been investing a lot of money (new sails and rigging aren't cheap) getting the boat geared up.  

I found a Cobra VHF on Amazon for about $100, and another at West Marine for $120.  WM puts their name on their radios, though, so I'm not sure who make them.  

The West Marine radio does get good reviews.  

 

https://www.amazon.com/Cobra-MRHH350FLT-Floating-Tri-Watch-Feature/dp/B00AJVMVQQ/ref=sr_1_1_sspa?crid=WL7EUXZFHINS&keywords=vhf+radio+marine&qid=1561920123&s=gateway&sprefix=vhf%2Caps%2C208&sr=8-1-spons&psc=1

 

https://www.westmarine.com/buy/west-marine--vhf75-floating-handheld-vhf-radio--15155781?recordNum=1

 

 

 

 

 

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Either of those are fine choices. As others mentioned it's not strictly required but peace of mind is worth the $100, it's a great piece of safety equipment to boot as well.

If you need to talk to a commercial boat in the channel you can always reach them on 14, if they're not responding on 16. 14 is SF Bay vessel traffic channel and they're required to monitor 14 as well as communicate with vessel traffic when they leave port.

Also the coast guard recently finished implementing their "rescue 21" initiative, they can triangulate any mayday radio call within 100 feet automatically, so even though your radio might not have gps/DSC they can still put a boat/helicopter at your position pretty quick. That alone makes having a VHF on board worth it to me.

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How important is flotation in a handheld VFH radio?  I was at West Marine today, picking up a new PFD, and visited their radio selection while I was there.  

Two in particular got my attention, but mostly due to them being on sale for $99.  Both were West Marin models.  A fairly compact VHF-85 & a larger VHF-160, the latter floats.  

Don't worry, I won't post every single model I find and ask what people think. :P  I'm really just wondering how important it is that a radio floats.  I'm not entirely sure I'd be wearing it on my body.  It seems more likely that I'd attach it to the boat..  Maybe the base of the mast.  

 

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Our laws require a working vhf for any boat over 20ft. Its a tool. 

Do you need a waterproof floating one? no. Are they better and worth the money ? Yes, i've dropped mine by accident at the dock, it floats and worked after.  Can yoiu call 911 on youir cell phone? sure. Does your cell phone work in the driving rain for long, or if it gets immersed ? thats when you may be calling for help. waperproof radio may be your friend. Is it handy to check with a commecial boat in a shipping lane if your clear? They may not respond to a radio call, but I can guarantee they arent answering the phone. 

The really nice new ones have GPS, heaven forbid you have to hit the distress button, but it sends the GPS location. Thats better than calling in saying 'white sailboat, out in the water ' .

Its cheap insurance for around $100 bucks. dont buy a used one, somebody else has already had the life out of the rechargable battery, and when the difference between floating waterproof is $50, just spend the money. the first time its needed it paid for itself.

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The kayaker we rescued in this post didn't have a handheld VHF, and if we hadn't come along he likely would have perished as a result.

With a handheld VHF it would have been an easy rescue for the Coast Guard as they weren't that far away.

Personally I'd get one with built in GPS/DSC because it transmits your location with the push of a button.

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An alternative viewpoint: I broke down and bought my first handheld VHF to tell people NOT to rescue me.  Some tugboat driver called in a rescue when he saw me flip my hobie cat.  -_- (It's all part of the game, people!)  It's also nice to hear securite calls from commercial traffic, so you can watch out for them before you can see them.  Around here, they call out when approaching a bend in the river, or getting underway.  

BTW: It was a floatie West Marine branded (made by Uniden) unit.  The only problem with it was that as soon as the rechargeable battery wore out, it was no longer manufactured, and the radio is now just a desktop scanner. (Or you can take a suitcase load of batteries along to use the AA adapter.) I can't be sure, but I have the feeling that major name-brands are more likely to maintain battery pack support for older models.  West Marine does not. Nor does Uniden.  

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In not sure any of the manufactures offer much in the way of battery pack support, I think they are almost considered disposible sadly

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15 hours ago, Winston29 said:

How important is flotation in a handheld VFH radio?  I was at West Marine today, picking up a new PFD, and visited their radio selection while I was there.  

Two in particular got my attention, but mostly due to them being on sale for $99.  Both were West Marin models.  A fairly compact VHF-85 & a larger VHF-160, the latter floats.  

Don't worry, I won't post every single model I find and ask what people think. :P  I'm really just wondering how important it is that a radio floats.  I'm not entirely sure I'd be wearing it on my body.  It seems more likely that I'd attach it to the boat..  Maybe the base of the mast.  

 

It is more important that your boat floats than it is that your radio floats...

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1 hour ago, toddster said:

BTW: It was a floatie West Marine branded (made by Uniden) unit.  The only problem with it was that as soon as the rechargeable battery wore out, it was no longer manufactured, and the radio is now just a desktop scanner. (Or you can take a suitcase load of batteries along to use the AA adapter.) I can't be sure, but I have the feeling that major name-brands are more likely to maintain battery pack support for older models.  West Marine does not. Nor does Uniden.  

Are you saying that West Marine radios are actually rebranded Uniden models, or that the one you bought was?  

Too bad about the poor availability of replacement batteries.  Perhaps buying a couple of spares at time of purchase would be a good idea?  Or maybe not, if some other part of the radio fails, rendering it useless.  

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Some years ago(more than 10, less than 20) 2 guys doing the double handed Farallons  race had cleared the GG when the keel came off, it was dark. They dove under and retrieved a handheld and a flashlight from the sheet pockets  and thus are alive today.  I don't remember the exact details but hypothermia had set in and they were down to minutes.   Safety equipment is not a good place to skimp on.

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5 hours ago, Winston29 said:

Are you saying that West Marine radios are actually rebranded Uniden models, or that the one you bought was?  

Too bad about the poor availability of replacement batteries.  Perhaps buying a couple of spares at time of purchase would be a good idea?  Or maybe not, if some other part of the radio fails, rendering it useless.  

As of a couple of years ago, all of them were Uniden.  IDK about the present moment.  

 

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I'm in the "even if it's not required" camp. It's like most safety gear. You hope you never have to use it, but it could save your life if you have it. Also we race, so there is a use case outside of safety. With that being said, just this past week I had my first experience using channel 16 for it's designed purpose.

We were transporting the boat home from a regatta and about 3 hours into the trip, my crew noticed something white and shiny in the water. I looked over my shoulder and instantly felt my gut sink as it was obviously an overturned boat. The night before we had seen sustained winds of 20 with gusts to 35 and 6-8ft waves. When we departed earlier that morning the winds were still gusting to 25. By the time we found the vessel, the wind and waves had laid down to almost nothing. I approached the boat and circled as close as I felt I could safely do. (Having no idea if there were any victims in the water around or under the boat). Having a handheld made it very easy to call this into the Coast Guard. It turns they had performed a rescue the night before around the same location, but were unable to locate the boat for salvage. After a short conversation to confirm we were talking about the same boat, the Coast Guard sent me on my way. It should be noted that we were within a quarter mile of shore, and the overturned boat was a small 20' fishing boat. 

My point being that even though you may just be doing nearshore sailing on a small boat, this does not exempt you from life threatening situations. Nor does it exempt you from encountering another vessel in distress, and you never know when you might be the closest to help someone in need. At the bare minimum, having at least a handheld on board puts you in a situation where you can serve as a relay for someone else in distress.

I'm not sure if a VHF is required on a small 16' sailboat, but I would not leave the dock without one!

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The OP might also want to spring for some lessons as it sounds like he’s self aware enough to know his skills are low. It sort of links to Frank Borman’s adage of “a superior pilot uses his superior judgment to avoid situations which require the use of his superior skill.”

I agree a vhf is useful, but also good to learn the boat handling etc that avoid it being needed. :)

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OP:  you might better invest that $$ in sailing lessons & crew for some experienced guys.

Worrisome that you’re planning your rescue calls while still heading out w/o the confidence & know-how to be safe on the water.   Weather change catches you too far out and, no VHF gonna save you from running up the rocks or getting blown way out there.   Take it slow sailor.

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I only go out with an experience friend, who instructs me on what to do, what to look out for, and how to improve my skills.  

I'm still not comfortable going solo, at least not until the winds die down a little.  I'm waiting for a nice, 3 - 5mph day.  

It's a lot more fun to sail with crew.  Gives me someone to talk to and laugh with when I screw up and capsize the boat. :lol:

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The one time that I forgot the VHF for our 5O5 is when we turtled it.  30 keelboats were racing a mile north of us, but didn’t see it. The bow floatation tank filled with water and it was really hard to get the boat back upright.  

My crew and I spent about 30 minutes in the water (thankfully in dry suits) wondering how we’d get back to shore before we were able to get the boat upright and sailed back in. 

So yes, carry a VHF even if near lots of boats. 

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After an hour or so of researching reviews and specs from their parking lot, I settled on this Icom M25 from West Marine in Sausalito.   I like that it’s waterproof, floats, and has a flashing LED that’s activated if the radio is submerged.   

Hard to believe, but WM’s price was lower than Amazon’s!  :blink:

Someone refresh my memory, please. Channel 16 is for ordering pizza and Chinese takeout, right? 

Thanks to everyone who replied with helpful tips and advise.   Now with my VHF, boat insurance and new paddle, I’ll feel a lot safer getting out on the water. 

 

W

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On 6/26/2019 at 2:59 AM, Moonduster said:

No. A vhf radio is not required equipment and most of those you mention won't be listening anyway.

Review the rules of the road, sail conservatively, make your intentions known and pay attention.

Nothing happens quickly.

A VHF might not be required. Get one for your own safety and others. Personally, I expect everyone to have a VHF onboard whatever the vessel. I can strongly recommend a floating one with GPS. Then you quickly can give others your location if you are in trouble. 

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Your personal expectations don't change the facts. Tell me, do you also expect them to have their radio turned on and tuned to the frequency of your personal choice?

This guy is sailing a 14' boat in a channel. That's the 6" longer than a laser. You're out of your fucking mind.

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4 hours ago, Moonduster said:

This guy is sailing a 14' boat in a channel. You're out of your fucking mind.

Most of the time I honour your comments. Now you are hitting a new low!

I am well aware he is in a 14" boat in a channel. For his own safety, a handheld VHF with GPS is more or less slightly larger than an iPhone. No need to keep it on. If he gets in trouble, he can call. If another vessel is not giving way. Better than keeping his mobile in the picket. 

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On 7/1/2019 at 1:36 PM, toddster said:

An alternative viewpoint: I broke down and bought my first handheld VHF to tell people NOT to rescue me.  Some tugboat driver called in a rescue when he saw me flip my hobie cat.  -_- (It's all part of the game, people!)  It's also nice to hear securite calls from commercial traffic, so you can watch out for them before you can see them.  Around here, they call out when approaching a bend in the river, or getting underway.  

BTW: It was a floatie West Marine branded (made by Uniden) unit.  The only problem with it was that as soon as the rechargeable battery wore out, it was no longer manufactured, and the radio is now just a desktop scanner. (Or you can take a suitcase load of batteries along to use the AA adapter.) I can't be sure, but I have the feeling that major name-brands are more likely to maintain battery pack support for older models.  West Marine does not. Nor does Uniden.  

I have an older icom, same thing, battery packs are NLA and it is a paperweight. Technology purchases don't last the way they used to.

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So far, replacement batteries are still available for this radio.  Maybe I should pick up a spare before they discontinue them.  

Of course if I do that, the radio itself will fail prematurely.  

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Technology purchases don't last the way they used to.

This is utter crap. Reasonably scaled for capability, size, battery life or cost, technology purchases last longer and longer with each product cycle.  25 years ago, VHF radios had slots for 10 crystals that you specified when you purchased, weighted several pounds, took lots of space, cost $700 and lasted 10 years. Today, they're fully synthesized, fit in your pocket, last all day on a battery charge, cost $250 and the battery might only be available for 5 years.

And it's not the product manufacturer that chooses to stop making the pack, it's the cell manufacturer who stops making the cells because battery efficiency has improved to the point that no one will buy those cells any longer. Even with a low self-discharge rate, there's just no practical way to make a pack based on discontinued cells available.

 

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I wasted quite a lot of time on this.  Actually the cells are readily available.  I even bought a set.  It's the glued-together waterproof package that snaps into the specific radio that can't be had.  If one can open the package without destroying it, and have decent soldering skills, one might be able to change them out.  I destroyed the thing, trying to open it.  

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On 6/25/2019 at 10:39 PM, Defy said:

Not required, true but a hand held can be had for 100 bucks or less.  On the flip side your cellphone may be just as good in that area.  

I have both handheld and fixed.  My plan was to drop my kids/wife off at the beach on the way out to the Chesapeake bay and go sailing by myself for a bit then come back and pit them up on the way back to the marina.  I was going to leave the handheld with my wife so she could radio me.  BUT when I looked at the rules it looks like you can't use a VHF from land unless you have a license.  So now I just have a backup.  

I think its legal now

 

https://forums.sailboatowners.com/index.php?threads/fcc-released-sept-1-2016-re-vhf-marine-radio-use-ashore.184713/

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In 2008 I purchased a Cobra handheld VHF as a backup for the VHF I had mounted in my boat. The Cobra was a brick: inexpensive, heavy and non-floating (it's a metal body not plastic), but was reliable for the few times I used it. I like using a handheld on 1 watt to talk with the dockmaster instead of blasting my slip request to everyone on the fix-mounted vhf at 25w. Every year I recharged the battery pack. Seemed good. Geez, the original battery is holding up well!

Fast forward to the summer of 2016 and I am anchored in the North Channel. A small boat anchors near me and asks to talk on the VHF. Sure, I'll use my reliable Cobra handheld. And within three minutes of transmitting on low power the rechargeable battery was dead. Lesson learned. Batteries may take a recharge and hold it, and even standby and receive like a champ, but a load like transmitting a little will drain them quick. I shudder to think about calling for help on that battery. I looked for a new replacement battery for the Cobra. Nada. No one makes new batteries for discontinued radios. 

That winter I tinkered with creating a battery pack that would use rechargeable AA or AAA batteries. Cobra needs 7.2v. Rechargeable AA or AAA's hold 1.2v. The version on the left was the quick proof of concept. Plywood, small aluminum strips, battery pack. It worked, and I used it to listen to NOAA for days when I was huddled in my house during Hurricane Harvey. So it works good but it's clunky, not waterproof, and fragile. The version on the right was a later attempt to make a pack that would fit in the space of the original pack and not look like it was made from plywood. I had a vision of adding a water-tight cover for the pack. In the end I never finished it because it was clumsy and required more time than I wanted to invest. I bought a Standard Horizon that floats and got the optional AA battery adapter for it too, so when the rechargeable dies I can still use it a bit.

Snubs 

vhf_battery_packs.jpg

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