Talk ain't cheap when it comes to VHF radio

Another day, another rescue as a yacht’’s motor fails to start
Mark Rothfield
There were two mammoth-sized ‘elephants’ left in the room when we reported last week that a runabout owner had jotted down the Wooli Marine Rescue base’s contact details before heading out fishing … only to need the number a few hours later.

With seas building to a solid 2.5 metres, and the boat lying three nautical miles off the NSW north coast township, the outboard chose that moment not to start. The skipper called the base and their new 9.5-metre RIB was dispatched.

On the surface it’s a good news story, another notch on Marine Rescue’s belt. All’s well that ends well.

But if that old axiom was rephrased, then rarely does 'all swell' end well. That boat could’ve been in serious trouble if the seas had been much larger.

The first concern is why did an outboard that reportedly had just been serviced fail to start? It’s happened to me in the past as well, even with small two-stroke yacht motors. You pay hundreds of dollars without receiving proof of work actually being done, beyond a fresh smear of grease here and there. There’s a huge element of trust.

I suspect, too, that an outboard run in neutral, in a tank, performs vastly differently to one under load, sucking in fuel stirred by the rocking motion. Maybe it’s a good time to reconsider the need for an auxiliary motor ...

The other issue is the method of emergency contact.

Radios take up little space on the dash, so are often out of mind.
Mark Rothfield

Far too many boaties rely on using their mobile phones because of draconian rules surrounding VHF operation. Rules that mean significant cost. They’ll have a 27 mHz radio to satisfy offshore regulations but it’s about as useless as two cans tied to a piece of string useless because of chatter and reception.

Under law, ‘a person operating a VHF marine radio without holding an appropriate certificate of proficiency or being under the supervision of an appropriately qualified person, may be breaching the Radiocommunications Act. Penalties include significant fines and imprisonment.’

Imagine surviving the high seas, only to be jailed for radioing for help!

Should you really need a licence to do this, or is education sufficient? Or is it time for a low cost online video course?
Mark Rothfield


Running classes is not easy. One training provider in NSW charges $225, including exam fee, for the privilege of getting a VHF licence. Apparently you can access to over 300 questions of a similar nature to the final exam.

You hold the button to talk. You don’t when you listen. It’s a radio, stupid! Even the most stupendous dills on Whitsundays charter boats can work it out.

There’s an opportunity going begging here – the boat licence authorities should be educating rather than legislating to encourage VHF radio use.

Surely this is a perfect place for a simple, low cost - interactive video course....

Until then, talk won’t necessarily be cheap.
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