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Good Morning Cruisers

April 13, 2015

by Greg and Paula
At anchor, The Lagoon, St. Martin

Don’t take for granted your ability to be reached or make phone calls from any place, any time. Cell phones are often not a regular part of cruising life. Remember the old days when calling a friend meant using a land-line telephone?  Or how about the days when there was no capability to leave a voicemail?  Or even earlier, when the connection was a party line and your neighbors could listen in to your conversation?  That’s actually closest to the way those of us living on boats communicate.

Using a cell phone in different countries requires an international cell phone plan or purchase of a local SIM card. Both options can be expensive or impractical given the length of stay. In addition, cell phone range is only about 20-40 miles from the tower depending on conditions, so they are useless out at sea. Contacting nearby boats and land stations is usually done using VHF (Very High Frequency) radio.  VHF range is roughly line-of-sight, for most boats effectively about 20 miles. Just about every cruising boat has a VHF, and hand-held models allow the ability to make calls when on land.

There is a specific protocol for using VHF, and certain channels are set aside for particular use. For example, channel 16 is the global hailing and distress channel. Boats and ships everywhere use it in distress situations, and they also use it to initiate conversations. Once contact is made, the parties shift to another channel for their conversation. Channel 22A is for non-distress communication with the US coast guard. Channel 6 is for ship-to-ship communications regarding safety. Areas with opening
bridges generally have a channel set aside for bridge tenders, channel 12 here in St. Martin for example. Busy areas often use a different channel for local hailing and information so as not to clog up channel 16. Here in St. Martin, the cruising community uses channel 10 for hailing, inquiries, and announcements.

Since VHFs cannot simultaneously transmit and receive, radio etiquette requires that participants end each transmission with the term over, which means I have finished transmitting and am waiting for you to reply. Usually these days, people omit over unless reception is bad. By the way, since out means I have finished transmitting and am not waiting for any reply, the term over and out that some people seem to have gotten from old war movies or Saturday morning cartoons is nonsensical.

Here’s an example of how one would initiate a conversation here on channel 10:
  • Daystar:    [calling Daydreamer]:
        "Daydreamer, Daydreamer, Daydreamer; Daystar, Daystar."
  • Daydreamer:    [answering]:
         "Daystar this is Daydreamer. Switch to channel 09."
  • Daystar:    [acknowledging]:
        "Daystar switching to 09."
         [Both parties change to channel 09]
  • Daydreamer:
        "Daystar, this is Daydreamer."
         [Conversation proceeds]

It might seem cliched, but other radio lingo does help to keep things concise and helps to clarify, especially when reception is poor.  For example: affirmative for yes, or roger for I received your last transmission. Spelling out words is always done with the phonetic alphabet.

Okay... we admit it. We follow conversations. But so does everyone else from time to time. VHF conversations cannot be private, as each channel broadcasts to all who own a radio. Just like the 1950s party line telephones, we can switch to the channel on which others are talking and listen in. It’s  commonplace, and people expect it. If someone wishes to interrupt a conversation in progress, he says "break break" during a pause. The break is acknowledged by one of the original speakers, and the third party then enters the conversation.

Mike, of Shrimpy's Laundry  
is St. Martin's net
controller extraordinaire

One of the best things about St. Martin is the morning Radio Net, an information session held six days a week at 7:30 on channel 10. The boating community in St. Martin is quite active, and the net, a tradition here for thirty years, reflects that. Mike, of Shrimpy’s Laundry (which does laundry, sells used marine supplies, and provides internet, coffee, beer, wine, and food), has been the most charming of hosts for the past 12 years.
Sally, also of Shrimpy's
Laundry has the most
polite radio manner ever.

Mike opens the Net each day with a radio check and a weather report before moving through a sequence of categories:

      Safety & Security
      Arrivals & Departures
      Buy, Sell & Swap
      Anything in General

Once the Net is finished, a flurry of calling ensues.

Here’s some audio to give you a sense of this simple but effective way to connect and share with other boaters. The net can run from twenty to fifty minutes, so we have not recorded an entire session. Instead, we pieced together bits from a variety of days to give the best sense of the type of information shared.

S/V Sasquatch said...

I'm so glad you recorded this! Now I can always go back and listen to my favorites like Cyberman and of course Sylvia from Spain. Great post.