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Disclaimer:   I am not a spokesperson for the US Coast Guard or ABYC. For an official interpretation of regulations or standards you must contact the US Coast Guard or other organization referenced..   More..... 

Boating Safety

Seamanship

Communications

Note: most of the information below, especially that on radios, EPIRBS and PLBs applies worldwide. These a not just USA rules.  They are rules developed by international bodies, and ratified by the member nations (Usually the UN or IMO).

Marine Radios:

Marine Radio 
Being able to communicate with rescue agencies is vital in an emergency. Many people today rely on their cell phones for this, but that is a huge mistake.  Many areas, especially coastal areas, have no cell phone coverage.  The most reliable and the recommended means of communication is Marine VHF radiotelephone.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marine_VHF_radio  Prices for these have dropped rapidly over the last ten years and features such as Digital Selective Calling (DSC) and GPS have been added so that you can not only call for help, the radio broadcasts your position to the rescue agency.  In addition these radios can be used to listen to marine weather forecasts,  make phone calls, and communicate with other boats and ships. They are a real all around communications device. If they have the GPS feature they can show your location and tell you your course and speed.  http://www.boatsafe.com/nauticalknowhow/radio.htm
http://www.boatus.com/boattech/articles/vhf-radios.asp

VHF Marine Radios automatically monitor channel 16, the distress and calling frequency, and channel 13, the shipping traffic frequency.  Shipping is required by law to monitor these channels at all times, so if you do call for help it will be heard not only by the Coast Guard but everyone who has a Marine Radio, within range of yours.
US VHF Channels http://www.navcen.uscg.gov/?pageName=mtvhf

You no longer need a license to use a marine VHF radio and it does not have to be registered with the FCC (in the USA).  However,  if you plan to use your VHF Marine Radio outside the US you must obtain a ships station license, and you may be required to have a radiotelephone operators permit.  http://wireless.fcc.gov/services/index.htm?job=licensing&id=ship_stations

MMSI:

If the radio has digital selective Calling (DSC) you do need to obtain a special number called an MMSI, which allows you to enter your boat's identification into the radio, so that in an emergency your boat is immediately identified. The number is easy to get and does not involve a bureaucratic hassle. If you are a member of BOATUS  or US Power Squadron and some other boating groups, you can get the MMSI from them for free. This is not only a USA requirement. It is a worldwide requirement for using DSC.  Those persons not in the USA can get one from their own government.   List of International Regulatory Bodies http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_telecommunications_regulatory_bodies

See Marine Radio VS Cell Phone http://boatsafe.com/nauticalknowhow/082000a.htm
Getting an MMSI: http://www.navcen.uscg.gov/?pageName=mtMmsi
http://www.uscg.mil/hq/cg5/cg534/sarfactsinfo/MMSIpamphlet.pdf
US Power Squadron MMSI: http://www.usps.org/php/mmsi/home.php
Nautilus Lifeline: http://nautiluslifeline.com/support_mmsi

Radio Usage:

If you do use Marine VHF M you need to learn the basics in radio usage. There are standard procedures that you must follow and rules you must know.  Not following these can get you nasty mail from the US Coast Guard or the FCC and in some circumstances can net you a fine.  These radios are not toys and children should be instructed in their use but never allowed to play with them or use them unsupervised. 

Marine Radio Procedures http://boatsafe.com/nauticalknowhow/radio.htm
VHF Radio Basics: https://www.sailonline.com/seamanship/navigation-a-weather/vhf-use-the-basics
Marine VHF Radio Handbook (PDF)
http://mercator-publishing.com/images/Marine_VHF_Radio_Sample_pages.pdf
What to Expect when you do radio for help on the water:  http://boatsafe.com/nauticalknowhow/uscg.htm
When to Use Mayday, Pan, and Securite' http://www.boatingmag.com/when-to-use-mayday-pan-pan-or-securite

Other Means of Communication:

However, in areas where there is no marine VHF coverage, as on many small inland lakes and rivers, any means of communicating, that works, is better than none at all.   In very remote areas a satellite phone will work, but these are still very expensive.  There are other options.

One of the best options is an EPIRB.  An Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, very similar to the ELT carried by aircraft.  It is automatic and identifies who you are and your location via satellites.  This is monitored by rescue agencies worldwide. They were developed specifically for marine use and are mandated by law for commercial vessels.  There are many thousands of recreational boats that have them, especially in coastal areas or on boats making offshore voyages.  http://epirb.com/

For small boat users on inland lakes and rivers a good and far less expensive option is a PLB, a personal locater beacon.  Developed for individual use they are used extensively by mountain climbers, hikers and people who like to go into wilderness areas.  They do much the same as an EPIRB. They are becoming common among kayaker and canoeists.  Having one of these attached to a lifejacket would certainly speed your rescue.    http://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/personal-locator-beacons.html

Visual Distress Signals:

http://boatsafe.com/nauticalknowhow/020198tip.htm   In many areas, particularly coastal areas, boats are required to carry visual distress signals.  Many people equate this term with flares. But there are various types. There are flares, lights, flags, and smoke flares. Some are for use at night and others are specifically for day use.  Most states do not require these on boats under a certain size or on inland lakes and rivers.  You need to know your local regulations,  The National Association Of State Boating Law Administrators web site (NASBLA  http://www.nasbla.org/) can direct you to your local state BLA website where you can find out the rules for your state.  http://www.nasbla.org/rc_files/169/nasbla_directory_121514.pdf

Visual Distress signals

Or you can look up your state government on line. All the states in the USA have the regulations for boating in their state posted on line.

Visual Distress Signal Usage:

Flares:  If you get in trouble, do not immediately shoot off your flares! assess your situation first.  Most important. Will anyone see them?  Do not waste them if there is no one to see them. If there are other boats in site, or land with house or other signs of people then firing off a flare may attract attention.  But wait after the first one to see if it di attract attention. Save the rest to direct rescuers to you.

Rescue lights:

Any light can aid in your rescue, and you should have one attached to your lifejacket. The most important thing is how bright it is and how far away it can be seen. It is amazing how far away even a dim light can be seen on a dark night. This is why sailors were not allowed to smoke on deck on warships during WWII. Even that red tip of a cigarette could be seen from a mile away on a dark night with no moon or stars.  But it is better if you have a light specifically designed for this.  There are rescue lights that flash SOS. There are some that flash SOS and can be used as a strobe light or flashlight.

Also the chemical lights that hikers, campers and other use are good to have.  They last far longer than a battery powered flashlight and won't die if they get wet.

Flags:

An orange flag with a black ball and black square is an international distress signal.  You should have one in your kit. They can be placed on a deck or cabin top for aircraft to see or on large boats draped over the side. 

 Getting Help On the Water:
http://boatsafe.com/nauticalknowhow/help.htm
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=taXBKDVIoRs

Visual Distress Signals:
http://www.boatus.org/distress-signals/
http://www.landfallnavigation.com/di1.html
http://www.uscg.mil/hq/cg5/cg5214/vds.asp
http://www.boaterexam.com/navigationrules/visual-distress-signals.aspx

Radio Infor:
What Is DSC:  http://www.vhf-dsc.info/what.html
Marine Radio frequencies: http://www.csgnetwork.com/marinefreqtable.html
Marine Radio Info from Blue Seas: http://www.offshoreblue.com/communications/marine-radio.php

Boat handling.

Weather.

Sailing.


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