VHF Admin Guide

VHF stands for Very High Frequency radio.

VHF allows communication via a series of channels to whoever is tuned into that frequency. VHF Radios operate on a line of site basis and can generally communicate for 20 miles. Only one person can speak on any channel at one time – so it is important to be BRIEF whatever the circumstance.

VHF Radios provide the following benefits over cell phones while on the water:

  • Cell phones generally cannot provide ship to ship safety communications or communications with rescue vessels. Only one party you call will be able to hear you on a cell phone while VHF channels have many listeners including emergency personnel and nearby boaters who may be able to assist.
  • VHF radio transmissions can be located in fog or low light conditions while cell phones cannot be easily triangulated.
  • Cell phones can be used as a backup in Mission Bay to call 9-1-1 emergency services, but VHF Marine radios are the gold standard for on water contact and communications.

A VHF radio should be carried in the coaches launch during all SDRC rowing events including training and regattas. The club’s VHF chargers are stored in the coaches office and should be used regularly to ensure the device is always ready for use. The coach should check that the VHF is functional and charged before launch, and may also wish to carry a mobile phone in a waterproof bag as back up so as to dial 911 for emergency assistance.

Communication by VHF should follow a standard pattern to ensure information is conveyed clearly and concisely using the following rules:

  • At the start of an exchange the vessel name should be stated 3 times (to ensure it is properly heard).
  • An emergency situation is indicated using the phrase: MAYDAY 3 times.
  • A critical but non-life threatening situation is indicated using the phrase PAN PAN 3 times.
  • OVER indicates you have finished speaking.
  • OUT to conclude the exchange.

VHF Radio Channels

SDRC has Standard Horizon HX210 hand-held radios. Be aware that SDRC will only use non-commercial and Emergency channels. A complete list of channels and their usage is available at boatsafe.com

  • Channel 71: Is the SDRC preferred channel.
  • Channel 16: Used for Emergencies and  routine initial calling and answering. Once contact has been established, transfer to a working Channel. Channel 16 is monitored by San Diego Life Guards, US Coastguard, and all other vessels with VHF radios.
  • Channel 9: Pleasure-boat hailing channel.
  • Channels 68, 69, 71, 72 and 78A: Recreational working channels.

Communicating Effectively

To obtain the best performance from a VHF Radio it is imperative that the Volume and Squelch Controls are correctly set:

  • Turn the HX210 on by pressing the power button. Push the squelch button on the left of the hand-held unit below the Push To Talk (PTT) button. Press the up and down arrows to adjust the squelch. Press the squelch button to return to normal operation.
  • To set the volume, press the the [Vol -] and [Vol +] buttons as needed.

To be sure that you are understood, follow these instructions:

  • Select your channel; wait to see that it is clear before you send your message. Do not talk over existing users
  • Hold the Radio around 2in from your mouth, and to the side when speaking.
  • Press the Talk button and wait for about a second before talking to ensure messages are not cut off.
  • Speak more clearly and slowly than your usual speech.
  • You must identify yourself (not, this is Fred Smith) i.e. “Pilot gig SPIRIT” , or “San Diego Rowing Club.” You must always include your boat’s name.
  • Separate numbers. E.g. “17” would be said as “One, Seven”
  • Use phonetics for spelling when necessary. A-Alpha, B-Bravo, C-Charlie etc.
  • Use 24hr time; e.g. 0800 pronounced “oh eight hundred” rather than 8am.

General instructions for use:

  1. Ensure VHF is switched on
    • Press the red power button on the bottom right of the Standard Horizon HX210 radio. The screen will light up displaying a channel number.
  2. Select required channel
    • Press the ’16/9′ button once – channel 16 is for Coastguard and emergencies – EVERYONE is tuned into 16.
  3. Speak briefly, starting with vessels name 3 times.
    • Press the PTT (Press To Talk) button on the left side of the device, speaking into the microphone (mic) on the front.
  4. Report your location
  5. Explain the nature of your distress
    • PAN PAN, PAN PAN, PAN PAN to alert listeners to a critical situation
    • MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY for an immediate emergency response
  6. State the assistance you require (medical, pumps, rescue..)
  7. Report the number of persons involved or on board
  8. Estimate the present sea-worthiness and condition of the vessel
  9. Describe the vessel(s)
    • e.g. 65 foot, red rowing shell
  10. Say OVER when you finish and release the PTT button to allow others to respond
    • e.g. This is SDRC, SDRC, SDRC calling Mission Bay Lifeguard , OVER
    • This should all be conveyed briefly, < 1 minute.
  11. Listen for a response.
    • You will probably be given an operating channel to take the exchange off channel 16
  12. When ending the conversation say OUT to mark the end of the conversation, indicating that no response is expected.

Non-emergency example between two launches on channel 71 (not on channel 9 or 16):

  • Kington launch: SDRC Coach Dougherty, SDRC Coach Dougherty, this is SDRC Coach Kington, OVER
  • Dougherty launch: Kington, this is Dougherty what is your message, OVER
  • Kington launch: Sean, just to inform you we are changing the practice from Sea World Channel to the north Fiesta Island to the Hilton Dock course due to heavier than normal fishing boat traffic, OVER
  • Dougherty launch: Pat, confirmed. Practice changed to Fiesta Island Hilton Dock course. OVER
  • Kington launch: Sean, Okay, see you there. OUT

For URGENT calls – e.g. when you can’t make headway, but you are not in imminent danger:

  • SDRC: PAN PAN, PAN PAN, PAN PAN, This is SDRC, SDRC, SDRC, with an 8 man rowing shell, position East Mission Bay,  500 meters north of VORTAC island. 8 souls, experiencing heavy weather, broke 2 oars, heading to Crown Point Shores. Over.
  • LIFEGUARD: Mission Bay Lifeguard to SDRC (and they will probably repeat your position and ask if you need assistance). Over.
  • SDRC: This is SDRC, heavy weather and fog with limited visibility, what is the short-term forecast? Over.
  • LIFEGUARD: They will tell you if conditions will improve or worsen over the next hour or so. You can then decide your next course of action.
  • US: This is SDRC, heading for shelter at Crown Point Shores. Over.

For EMERGENCY calls – when there is imminent danger to crew and/or vessel:

  • SDRC: MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY, This is SDRC, SDRC, SDRC. Position 500 meters north of VORTAC island East Mission Bay. 8 souls. Racing shell swamped and sinking (or crew member is injured, unconscious, or other medical issue). Require immediate assistance. 65 ft Red Racing Shell and 15ft Orange inflatable launch. Red life jackets. Over.
  • LIFEGUARD: The Lifeguard will confirm your location and provide instructions. There might be a vessel (e.g. sailing boat/fishing boat) nearby that might be instructed to assist. They will then contact you to provide orders, such as wave arms, gather ropes, etc.
    • e.g., LIFEGUARD: SDRC, SDRC, SDRC switch to channel X, Over.
    • SDRC (switching to channel X): LIFEGUARD, this is SDRC on channel X, Over.
    • LIFEGUARD: SDRC, you are located 500 meters north of VORTAC island East Mission Bay. 8 souls. Racing shell is swamped and sinking. Do you require immediate assistance? Over.
    • SDRC: LIFEGUARD, we require immediate assistance to rescue 8 souls from the water. Over.

SDRC Standard Horizon HX210 Configuration

SDRC staff intends to pre-program the HX210 radios with a set of pre-programmed channels for communications, weather information, and we intend to pre-program the radio to scan channels 9, 16, and 71 for activity. Each person taking out a launch is responsible to understand the proper operation of the radio and configure it, if necessary.

Programming Instructions

  1. Set pre-programmed channel list to channels 71 and 68 where 71 is the SDRC primary channel and 68, the secondary. These are non-commercial channels.
    1. Select channel 71
    2. Press any of the three soft keys below the display
    3. Press the left | right arrow keys until the [P-SET] soft key is displayed
    4. Press and hold the [P-SET] soft key until the “P-SET” icon and channel number are blinking.
    5. Press the [ADD] soft key to add the channel.
    6. Repeat the above steps for channel 68.
  2. Set the Weather channel to NOAA San Diego Marine WNG637 162.425, WX4.
    1. Press the [Menu/Set] button briefly
    2. Select the soft key beneath the WX cloud icon
    3. Use the Up | Down arrows to select channel 4
    4. Press the [Menu/Set] button
    5. Press the soft key for CH meaning normal channel operation
  3. Set the radio to scan three channels, 9, 16, and 71
    1. Press and hold the [Menu/Set] button
    2. Use the Up | Down arrow to locate CHANNEL SETUP and select using the soft key.
    3. Use the Up | Down arrow to locate MULTI WATCH  and select using the soft key.
    4. Use the Up | Down arrow to locate TRIPLE and select using the soft key.
    5. Press the [CLR/key] button to return to normal channel mode.
    6. Press any soft key to display the soft key menu.
    7. Use the Left | Right arrow keys to locate the [TW] soft key function
    8. Press the soft key below TW.
    9. The radio will now scan channels 9, 16, and 71 stopping when communications occurs.

Radio Check Instructions

Seatow San Diego provides a free automated radio check on channel 27.

  1. Change the channel to 27
  2. Press the PTT button and state “Can I get a radio check on two seven. Radio check please.”
  3. Release the PTT button and Seatow’s service will playback your radio check message.