Think you’re all set for the summer season?
Not so fast! Cell phones may not be as helpful as you think when out on the water, especially in an emergency.
In preparation for National Safe Boating Week, May 19-25,2018, Sea Tow sat down with technology and safety expert Matt Stockwell of Shakespeare Marine Electronics to better understand when to use VHF vs your cell phone while boating off shore. Here, he answers our most pressing questions about communications and safety.
Can I use my cell phone on my boat?
Cell phones generally cannot provide accurate or reliable ship to ship safety communications or communications with rescue vessels. If you place a distress call from your cell phone, you’re limited to only the person you called hearing your distress. That’s precisely why the US Coast Guard does not view cell phones as a substitute for regular maritime radio distress and safety systems.
“Most cell phones are designed for land-based usage only. Coverage offshore is limited and unpredictable”, said Matt. “I know we’ve all experienced those dreaded “No Cell Service” or “Out of Area” messages while out enjoying a day of boating.”
Plus, locating a cell caller is hard to do. GPS coordinates are not seen by the receiver of your call. If you don't know exactly where you are, the Coast Guard will have hard time finding your boat on the water. That extra time could make all the difference in the world to you and your family.
So, I shouldn’t use my cell phone while on my boat?
According to Matt,” there is no comparison between cell phones and VHF marine radios. Its an apples and oranges situation - they provide different services. Of course, your cell phone has its place on board - to make calls and take photos and video.” Receiving a shore-to-ship call is very convenient, but that’s only when you are in range to receive it. However, receiving a cell phone call on a boat while traveling outside the United States may be an expensive proposition. Always check with your cellular carrier to determine if you need a special calling plan.
OK, so how will a VHF marine radio keep me safer?
A VHF marine radio’s primary use is to communicate with other ships or marine
installations. “They were designed specifically with safety in mind”, said Matt. “If you are in distress, calls can be received not only by the Coast Guard, but also by other boats located in the area who may be in position to provide immediate assistance.”
A VHF marine radio also helps assure your peace of mind knowing the latest storm warnings and other urgent marine information. The Coast Guard regularly and repeatedly announces and updates these broadcasts on VHF channel 16 – 24/7, 365 days per year. Timely receipt of this type of information will allow you to make real-time decisions, which ultimately may save your boat and your life. Finally, your VHF marine radio may be used anywhere in the United States or around the world.
Important tips from the experts who assist you on the water when you need it most.
Sea Tow’s U.S. Coast Guard-licensed captains would like to add some additional tips to help keep you safe out on the water:
Take advantage of the Sea Tow Automated Radio Check Service. This FREE public service gives boaters a critical safety tool to ensure you are always prepared with a VHF radio that’s in good working order, without the assistance of another mariner.
Capt. Joseph Frohnhoefer III, CEO of Sea Tow urges boaters to always check-in with the ARC. “A properly working VHF radio is one of the most important safety items to have onboard a vessel, and performing a radio check is an easy and vital safety precaution to do before you leave the dock.”
Currently, the Sea Tow Automated Radio Check System is hosted at over 150 locations throughout the United States, and is expanding monthly. 75 of our ARC locations have on-demand messaging, meaning you’ll receive important weather warnings and other safety or time sensitive messaging.
Plus, it’s simple to use:
Sea Tow Automated Radio Check Service uses dedicated VHF Channels 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, or 84. Simply tune your radio to the proper channel for your community. Conduct a radio check as you normally would. Upon releasing the mic, the system will replay your transmission, letting you hear how you sound.
A final word on safety.
Safety is as safety does; meaning you are only as safe as the knowledge you have on the subject. Before you start your Summer fun, you should ask yourself, “Do I know everything I need to know in order to keep my family and friends safe out on the water?” If your truthful answer is “maybe”, then Sea Tow recommends taking a local Boater Safety Course and read through the many safety tools and tips offered by Sea Tow’s qualified captains. Visit https://www.seatow.com/BlogList/international/tag/Captains%20Classroom/1