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Seamanship & Navigation Forum devoted to seamanship and navigation topics, including paper and electronic charting tools.


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Old 05-16-2013
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VHF Protocol

I was sailing a couple of weeks ago and the Coast Guard and Vessel Assist were extremely busy on Channel 16. This was interesting because conditions were relatively mild. However, listening to them made me think of a couple of questions.
Why don't we use our registration numbers (for non documented vessels) instead of the boats name to communicate on VHF? Saying "Charlie Foxtrot 1034 Sierra Zulu" (could be abbreviated to 1034 once communications are established) would be so much more effective than "Gone Fishin" (for example). Especially for a Mayday. At least the CG could look up who the vessel belongs to and what type of boat it is, if the skipper was unable to transmit any other information. Sometimes, the boats name is so silly, the CG obviously feels silly saying it, so refers to the boat as "Vessel calling coast guard" through the entire conversation!

Also, when issuing Securites, the CG often gives the GPS coordinates of the navigational hazard or vessel in distress, without a landmark. If you are not near a chart this doesn't do you any good. Twice skippers responded to the CG on 16 asking what area the distressed vessel was in, only to discover that were much too far away to help. If the CG gave the Latitude and Longitude and simply added "Off Hunters Point" (for example), it would eliminate this.
Am I missing something?

Last edited by L124C; 05-16-2013 at 03:15 PM.
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Old 05-16-2013
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Re: VHF Protocol

Good thoughts, but...

Quote:
Originally Posted by L124C View Post
...
Why don't we use our registration numbers (for non documented vessels) instead of the boats name to communicate on VHF? Saying "Charlie Foxtrot 1034 Sierra Zulu" (could be abbreviated to 1034 once communications are established) would be so much more effective than "Gone Fishin" (for example). Especially for a Mayday. At least the CG could look up who the vessel belongs to and what type of boat it is, if the skipper was unable to transmit any other information.
I don't know about you, but I don't have my registration numbers memorized and by the time I fetch the registration card, my boat will have sunk.

The CG watchstanders do not have access to the state registration databases so it's much quicker to use the boat name. Also, for other boaters in the area that hear the mayday, it's usually easier to see the boat name on the side of the boat than the registration numbers. As the boat name is usually more prominent and larger.

And if they DID have access to the database, shortening it to just the numerals as you suggested, won't give them all of the information they'd need to search for the boat in the database (or even to determine which state it is registered in). Just the numerals do not indicate which state for example.

Quote:
Originally Posted by L124C View Post

Sometimes, the boats name is so silly, the CG obviously feels silly saying it, so refers to the boat as "Vessel calling coast guard" through the entire conversation!
Yes, well, people's minds aren't usually on what they will sound like on the radio, they're usually more fascinated with their clever boat name to think ahead.

Quote:
Originally Posted by L124C View Post
Also, when issuing Securites, the CG often gives the GPS coordinates of the navigational hazard or vessel in distress, without a landmark. If you are not near a chart this doesn't do you any good. Twice skippers responded to the CG on 16 asking what area the distressed vessel was in, only to discover that were much too far away to help. If the CG gave the Latitude and Longitude and simply added "Off Hunters Point" (for example), it would eliminate this.
Am I missing something?
If you punch in the coordinates in your GPS, it will tell you exactly where it is.
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Last edited by DRFerron; 05-16-2013 at 03:26 PM.
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Old 05-16-2013
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Re: VHF Protocol

The international standards for distress and urgency VHF calls are specified by the ITU for all signatory countries (pretty much all countries are signatories), and they have a provision for using the ship's call-sign .

See ITU Chapter 7


Quote:
32.13C § 9B 1) The distress call sent on the frequency 156.8 MHz (VHF channel 16)
shall be given in the following form:
– the distress signal MAYDAY, spoken three times;
– the words THIS IS;
– the name of the vessel in distress, spoken three times;
– the call sign or other identification;
– the MMSI (if the initial alert has been sent by DSC). (WRC-07)
Note that use of DSC and the MMSI isn't too common worldwide yet, but it will someday be commonplace to use DSC for distress and urgency calls. DSC equipped radios have a log, and MAYDAY signals cannot be deleted from the log, and the radio beeps loudly until the message has been acknowledged so the excuse "I didn't hear that call" no longer applies - whether intentional or unintentional
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Last edited by Zanshin; 05-16-2013 at 04:52 PM. Reason: Corrected spelling, added further DSC information.
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Old 05-16-2013
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Re: VHF Protocol

And also what Zanshin said.
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Old 05-17-2013
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Re: VHF Protocol

Quote:
Originally Posted by DRFerron View Post
Good thoughts, but...
So "good", you proceed to pick every one apart, except one, on which you accidentally agreed with me!

Quote:
Originally Posted by DRFerron View Post
I don't know about you, but I don't have my registration numbers memorized and by the time I fetch the registration card, my boat will have sunk.
Do you have the protocol for a Mayday memorized? Not likely if you can't remember your registration ID. Maybe a laminated copy of the Mayday protocol with your reg numbers inserted could be stored by your radio. Probably not a bad idea for most skippers, as we will understandably probably leave something out in our haste.
Quote:
Originally Posted by DRFerron View Post
The CG watchstanders do not have access to the state registration databases so it's much quicker to use the boat name.
Do you know for a fact they don't have access? Hard to believe in this high tech age. What do they do when they find a vessel afloat with no one aboard on Sunday? Wait to call DMV on Monday, not knowing if someone WAS aboard? As with a police stop on land, I'd be surprised if they don't know who it's registered to before they board it.
Quote:
Originally Posted by DRFerron View Post
Also, for other boaters in the area that hear the mayday, it's usually easier to see the boat name on the side of the boat than the registration numbers. As the boat name is usually more prominent and larger.
Having come to the aid of several vessels, I can assure you that by the time you can see a boats name, you usually know it's the boat in question. Generally, you would need to be approach from the stern to see the name, and I would assume it's useless to a CG helicopter. Thats probably why the CG usually asks the skipper to wave something bright to Identify the vessel when they, or another boat is in the area. I've done the same. You want to make sure you are heading for the right boat, long before you can read her name. Especially when your top speed is about 6.5 knots (as in my case!)
Quote:
Originally Posted by DRFerron View Post
And if they DID have access to the database, shortening it to just the numerals as you suggested, won't give them all of the information they'd need to search for the boat in the database (or even to determine which state it is registered in). Just the numerals do not indicate which state for example.
Please review my OP, starting with the "Charlie Foxtrot" part.
Quote:
Originally Posted by DRFerron View Post
Yes, well, people's minds aren't usually on what they will sound like on the radio, they're usually more fascinated with their clever boat name to think ahead.
My point exactly!
Quote:
Originally Posted by DRFerron View Post
If you punch in the coordinates in your GPS, it will tell you exactly where it is.
Thanks, I'm well aware of that.
So....if I'm single handing in a blow (when most boats get into serious trouble and the fewest boats are on the water), you want me to turn on the GPS and enter coordinates I just heard on the radio, while sailing my vessel, only to find out the vessel in distress is 5 miles away?
Help others help you (and the CG). The CG have obviously looked at a chart before issuing the securtie. I think they should simply give a land mark (for bay or coastal situations of course) Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. Should be SOP IMHO.

Last edited by L124C; 05-18-2013 at 02:37 PM.
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Old 05-17-2013
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Re: VHF Protocol

Quote:
Originally Posted by Zanshin View Post
The international standards for distress and urgency VHF calls are specified by the ITU for all signatory countries (pretty much all countries are signatories), and they have a provision for using the ship's call-sign .Note that use of DSC and the MMSI isn't too common worldwide yet, but it will someday be commonplace to use DSC for distress and urgency calls. DSC equipped radios have a log, and MAYDAY signals cannot be deleted from the log, and the radio beeps loudly until the message has been acknowledged so the excuse "I didn't hear that call" no longer applies - whether intentional or unintentional
I know it's the "done thing", I'm simply questioning it's practicality. I thought I saw it's OK to use the Reg# when I looked into this yesterday. Used far too much time responsing above, I'll look for it later.
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Old 05-17-2013
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Re: VHF Protocol

Quote:
Originally Posted by DRFerron View Post
And also what Zanshin said.
I think this is what the "like" option is for. A new post probably isn't necessary.
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Old 05-17-2013
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Re: VHF Protocol

Neither is snarkiness.
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Old 05-17-2013
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Re: VHF Protocol

Further to your original point, depending upon where you sail, there can be a great deal of interstate and international transit- so using reg numbers as identifiers is sometimes more harmful than helpful.
In any event, if time and brevity is the issue, my boat name is three syllables long- my boat reg number is 14 syllables long.

I can't speak for the CG in your area but here on Erie, the CG always provides a landmark in addition to long lat and gps Coords when issuing a securite or requesting "nearby vessel " assistance.


Regarding procedures, our boat's reg number and our VHF license number are posted on the bulkhead above the VHF. Part of the safety brief before departure for new crew is that everyone knows what it is, where it is , when and how to use it.
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Last edited by bljones; 05-17-2013 at 08:08 PM.
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Old 05-17-2013
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Re: VHF Protocol

On board Thane the information posted by the vhf includes name, reg # ,call sign, mmsi, description of vessel and protocol for radio use. This is mandatory for passenger vessels and every trip includes a short lesson for at least one passenger as responsible backup. .Part of my spiel to make responsible boating interesting. When CG responds to your May Day they need more info than "I'm over here"
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