VHF Radio

Essential Safety Equipment for the Sea Kayaker

For emergency communication with shore stations and ships nearby, a good VHF (Very High Frequency) radio is essential.

VHF is used for traffic between boats and with the Coastguard.  Bear in mind that a hand held radio in a kayak is very low down and has very low power (6 watts at best) so range is very limited.  However most ships maintain a listening watch on channel 16 and will relay an emergency call to the Coastguard.

Channel 16 is the hailing channel.  Essentially all calls are initiated here.  Once contact has been made, non emergency calls should immediately move to another channel such as 68 or 69.  Keep conversations short and to the point.

Distress or Emergency Signals

Only use when there is grave and imminent danger to a vessel or person and immediate assistance is required.  The distress signal is MAYDAY and the emergency message is given precedence over all other traffic.

Switch on the radio – select channel 16 – transmit on full power.

1. Mayday – Mayday – Mayday
2. This is – [Name of vessel three times]
3. Mayday – [Name of vessel once]
4. Give your position
5. State the nature of the emergency
6. Give any other helpful information
7. Over – end of message

If the emergency does not warrant a full Mayday alert or if in doubt the URGENCY call may be used instead.

1. PanPan – PanPan – PanPan
2. All stations – All Stations – All Stations
3. This is – [Name of vessel three times]
4. Give your position
5. State the nature of the emergency
6. Type of assistance required
7. Over – end of message

Information Messages

Used for sending less urgent messages to ships in the area such as relaying information on hazards to navigation.  Generally Securite messages will originate from the Coastguard or Harbour Authority but kayakers might, for instance, use it to announce a kayak crossing.  Like Mayday and PanPan, Securite messages should not be interrupted.

1. Securite – Securite – Securite
2. All stations – All stations – All stations
3. This is – [Name of vessel three times]
4. Safety message concerning [location]
5. State safety message briefly and clearly
6. Vessel name and description
7. Out

If safety message more than two very short sentences move to another channel and keep channel 16 clear.

Shetland Coastguard
Following an initial announcement on channel 16, Shetland Coastguard broadcast the weather forecast and shipping warnings on channel 86 every three hours.  Broadcast times are 0110, 0410, 0710, 1010, 1310, 1610, 1910, 2210.

Orkney Harbour Authority
Following an initial announcement on channel 16, Orkney Harbour Radio broadcasts regular local weather forecasts and navigational warnings at 0915 and 1715 (with updates as required) on channel 11.

Phonetic Alphabet
A  Alpha           N  November
B  Bravo          O  Oscar
C  Charlie        P  Papa
D  Delta          Q  Quebec
E  Echo            R  Romeo
F  Foxtrot         S  Sierra
G  Golf            T  Tango
H  Hotel           U  Uniform
I  India            V  Victor
J  Juliet            W  Whisky
L  Lima            X  X-ray
M  Mike            Z  Zulu

Maritime Radio Operator Certificate of Competence
In the UK all VHF users must hold a licence.  Most years on Orkney there is at least one VHF Operators Course leading to a licence.  If you are interested in attending a course and obtaining a licence then speak to Kristian Cooper.

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