Anything that will take the "search" out of "search and rescue" is good. So first we have to always know where we are and then have a communications link for the rescue part.
While there are several communication devices that will do this, the VHF-FM marine radio has many advantages.
Electrical disturbances, such as lightning, do not impede the signal of an FM radio. The standard marine radio also will broadcast using 25 watts of power. To give you some reference, a cell phone uses just three watts of power.
There is one drawback. The VHF signal is a straight-line signal (as is the cell phone). So range is a product of power and antenna height. The higher the antenna, of both the sending and receiving stations, the greater the distance one can broadcast a message and have it received.
The really good news is that when you broadcast on your marine radio any boater with a marine radio turned on, and within range, will hear you.
This is unlike a cell phone, where the signal goes only to whomever you call. The ability to contact other boaters when you have an emergency is a huge advantage in being rescued.
A marine radio, when turned on, will automatically go to Channel 16. This is the emergency and hailing channel. Normally, all communications start on channel 16. After contact is established, both parties switch to another "working channel" to conduct ongoing communications.
The reason for this is that the marine radio is a push-to-talk radio. You push a button to talk and release it to listen. When you push to talk, it blocks out others from communicating. It is important that Channel 16, as the emergency channel, remain open as much as possible for use by others.
Another advantage of the marine radio is that it has dedicated weather-broadcast channels that continuously broadcast current and forecasted weather conditions. It is particularly advantageous for our area because we can get weather conditions and forecasts for the Greenwood area, which includes our lake.
The one drawback to marine radio on our lake is that few boaters currently have one, and there is a reason for this. Clarks Hill Lake does not have a marine radio network. In other words, there are few ground stations currently monitoring marine radio broadcasts. These are normally marinas that do not provide rescue assistance.
So when one tries to establish contact using the marine radio, probably the only response you will get is from another boater. That's OK. At least you will have some assistance.
On our lake, the cell phone rules. We have mentioned some disadvantages, such as low power and being able to contact only one person. That, too, is OK as long as that person can come rescue you or get someone who can.
There is a group of concerned boaters and government agencies hard at work to establish a formal marine radio network for Clarks Hill Lake by the next boating season.
Until then you might want to do as I do. We carry both the marine radio and a cell phone.
One or the other will probably work for us. (To make sure the cell phone will get someone, we have a group of boating friends who, on pain of death, will come get us.)
Learn more about marine radios, what they are, how much they cost and how to operate one by attending the next Coast Guard/Army Corps of Engineers boating course on Sept. 27.
For details and to enroll, contact either John VanOsdol or Jay Weidman at (800) 533-3478, ext. 1172, or email@example.com.
John L. VanOsdol is commander of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, CSRA Flotilla. He can be reached at (864) 391-2170, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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