Unless you’re an actor in a bad action movie, you need to stop saying “over and out”! It’s just plain wrong.
It’s one of the many mistakes we cruisers make when operating a VHF radio.
In this brief blog post, we take a walk through good VHF radio etiquette. If you prefer a video with explanatory animations, movie clips and Jamie’s pretty face, take a look at Episode 353…
The video was filmed off the coast of remote Sumbawa, one of Indonesia’s stunning Lesser Sunda islands, and we hope you enjoy the stills that we’ve sprinkled through this blog post.
Do you need a license?
There’s no doubt most of us are guilty of misusing and abusing the VHF radio, ourselves included. But the radio is one of the most important pieces of kit on a boat (Liz won’t sail without one) so it’s essential we all know how to use it.
If you have a VHF on board when underway, you must have it switched on and be monitoring channel 16.
Unlike single side band (SSB) radio only one of the crew on board needs an operator’s license for a VHF radio. You can take a day’s course to get your certificate. In the UK, get in contact with Ofcom.
Hailing another channel
Channel 16 is used for hailing and distress only. It is not for casual conversation.
To hail another boat you simply press the transmission button on the mouth-piece, call the name of the ship two (or three times) followed by your vessel’s name and the station ID.
“Mystic Wind, Mystic Wind, this is Esper, Esper, on channel 16. Over”
We say “over” to mean that we have released the transmit button and are waiting for a response. The correct response is,
“Esper, this is Mystic Wind. Please switch to channel 72”.
Then, “Esper, switching to 72”
Remember: the station responding always decides which channel to switch to.
Having switched to 72, you go through the hailing procedure again to make sure there is no-one else on the channel. (And that the other party has arrived there too!)
“Mystic Wind this is Esper on 72, do you copy? Over”
You are now ready to begin your conversation.
- Bear in mind these are open channels so communication should be succinct.
- At the end of every transmission you end with the word ‘over’, and release the transmission button, signalling to the other you are ready to receive.
- At the end of the entire conversation the last transmission should end with the word ‘out’. “This is Esper returning to channel 16. Out”.
Why should you stop saying over and out?
NEVER be tempted to say, “Over and out” at the end of your conversations, it is gobbledegook.
‘Over’ means, “I’ve finished my transmission and am awaiting a reply.”
‘Out’ means, “I’ve finished my message and expect no further reply.”
- ‘Over and out’ is confusing: do you want the conversation to continue or not?
- Think of ‘over’ as a comma, and ‘out’ as a full-stop: you never put a comma and a fullstop together.
Do not try to argue that people know what you mean! Someone (perhaps for whom English is not their first language) will wonder what you are on about.
How to communicate using a VHF radio
The main aim of using any radio is to send or receive information, so it’s important to be understood. But with problems like poor transmissions, long distances and interference from the weather, it is not always that easy.
This is why marine traffic uses the NATO phonetic alphabet, aka the spelling alphabet.
Every cruiser should know this alphabet off by heart. Even in every day conversation, ‘A’ can sound like ‘E’, but over the radio it can be even more smudged. This is why we say ‘alpha’ and ‘echo’ instead. Learning the alphabet is a lot of fun, and something you can practise with other crew on long passages. If you are not 100% sure of it, print and display the alphabet next to the radio so you have the information to hand.
Remember to say affirmative and negative, instead of yes and no.
‘Roger’ and ‘wilco’ have two distinct meanings and are easily confused. ‘Roger’ simply means the message has been received and understood. ‘Wilco’ (short for ‘will comply’) means not only have you understood the message, but that action will be taken.
We say numbers separately, and we refer to channel 16 as channel one-six.
When saying numbers on the radio, it is helpful to use the word ‘figures’. For example, “my draft is figures: 2 meters”.
And when spelling a word it is helpful to say ‘I spell’. For example, “The name of my vessel is Esper. I spell: Echo, Sierra, Papa, Echo, Romeo.”
“Alfa, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, Foxtrot, Golf,
Hotel, India, Juliette, Kilo, Lima, Mike, November,
Oscar, Papa, Quebec, Romeo, Sierra, Tango,
Uniform, Victor, Whiskey, X-ray, Yankee, Zulu”
Despite the number of channels available on a VHF set, only a few are authorised for use by leisure cruisers. These change depending upon where you are in the world. Your unit will have been programmed in the country you bought it, which might explain why your radio will not give you access to all channels.
In the US, leisure cruisers may use channels 68, 69, 71, 72, and 78a, In the UK we use 06, 08, 72 and 77. The coastguard will use 67 in the UK as a working channel, while 71 is used by port operations. Channel 70 is a DSC-only channel.
For these reasons channel 72 is probably the most popular channel for non-commercial vessels for ship-to-ship communication.
Mayday, Pan-pan and Sécurité
A full VHF day course covers other subjects, but perhaps the most useful to finish with here is the difference between mayday, pan-pan and sécurité.
- A mayday is used when there is an immediate threat to life (someone has gone overboard).
- In urgent situations that are not life-threatening, you should send a pan-pan (your boat is taking on water, but your pump is handling the problem).
- You would report safety information with a sécurité (if a commercial vessel loses containers overboard they send a ‘securite’ so that other boats in the vicinity are aware of the danger.)
You do not issue a mayday if you’ve lost engine power. You would issue a pan-pan instead, to ‘require assistance’ to the non-life threatening situation, and maybe a sécurité as well if you have lost the ability to manoeurvre and are a navigational hazard to passing ships.
- Always monitor channel 16 when you are underway.
- Use it only for hailing and emergencies, not for conversation
- Switch to one of the recognised working channels for leisure cruisers.
- Use ‘over’ to mean you’ve finished your transmission and are awaiting a response.
- Use ‘out’ to mean you have finished the conversation.
We hope we’ve convinced you to stop saying “over and out”. Remember, only action heroes in low-budget movies make this mistake.
Peace and fair winds!
Here’s the video…
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