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What Is A Marine VHF Radio?
A marine radio is a radio to be used at sea and you will find them installed on all large ships and most sea going craft and also as handheld radios. The main function of the radio includes summoning help from the coastguard, communicating with marinas, locks, bridges and harbours. They can also be used for communication between craft sometimes to avoid collisions and to get weather forecasts.
How Does It All Work?
I'm not going to go into all of that as it is quite complicated but is all included if you attend the VHF course.
Why Go On A Course?
Anyone can go out and buy a VHF radio but by law to operate it you need to have a Short Range Certificate. This course if you pass it gives you that certification. A lot of people don't bother with the course and never transmit from the radio, only listen. That is OK and it's doubtful if you would be prosecuted if you did use it in an emergency. I had had my radio for 2 years before I finally did the course and I'm glad I did as I have learnt a lot from it.
What Does It Involve?
There was a bit of pre course reading to do which was good as it meant that I already understood a bit of what the tutor was talking about. You are given the RYA VHF Radio Book to read and you also have to learn the phonetic alphabet, which I already knew.
I guess that each tutor delivers the course slightly differently but all will include the following:
· the basics of radio operation including how to change channels, how to speak, what to say and when.
· the correct frequencies (channels) to be used eg. Channel 16 to speak to coastguard
· distress, emergency and medical assistance procedures including what information you need to give the coastguard.
· making ship to shore telephone calls
· Digital Selective Calling (DSC) using simulators and the importance of not hitting the button by accident!
· Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS)
· Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRB) and the precautions of using them
· Search and Rescue (SART)
What I enjoyed most were the practical parts. You actually get your hands on a radio and have to use it in scenario situations. For me this puts the theory into practice and then I remember it. Some people may find it intimidating but this is the place to get it wrong and practice when nobody's life is at stake. We were split in 2 groups so each group would be speaking to the other over the radio.
I was attending as I have handheld VHF, which I use for sea kayaking. The course majors on the type of radios which are fitted in most craft which have Digital Selective Calling (DSC) so the part covering that wasn't entirely relevant but I could now use one if I had to.
The course lasts a day and ends with a written test with a mixture of multiple choice and written answer questions. It wasn't too hard and everyone in the class I was in passed.
The day cost £85 then there was an additional £25 payable to RYA who send out the certification. You then need to register with OFCOM for in my case a portable radio license.
I hope to never have to use what I learned but am confident that I could if I had to. Well worth the money for the peace of mind.