Sunday, December 2, 2007


With good radio voice communications, and especially the universal use of VHF radio, it is possible to avoid many dangerous situations as well as arrange passing and meeting situations so that those aboard can enjoy a degree of peace of mind not possible when conning a ship only a few years ago. We instead suffer through long discus­sions on the VHF with every passing ship such as, "How was the weather behind you?" and other nonessential communication that interferes with important transmissions. Better we had stayed with the "What ship? Where bound?" of the Aldis light days.
Be that as it may, the VHF can be a great aid to ship's officer if it is used properly.

Here are a few:
1. Don't transmit overly long messages, with tiresome and unnec­essary repetition of your ship's call letters after each transmission. It is necessary to give your call letters to another ship only when making an initial transmission, and after the last transmission of your discussion. Between the first and last transmissions you need only give your call sign at ten-minute intervals, although you will hopefully keep radio communications shorter than that.
2. Do call the pilot station, discuss the placement of the pilot ladder, update your ETA, and ask if there are any special requirements for boarding.
3. Utilize the VHF to contact the pilot services before arrival at the station to discuss the traffic and weather that you might encounter as you approach the station. This is often better information than you can obtain from a traffic control system.
4. When talking to other ships, remember that while U.S.-flag ships are accustomed to discussing meeting situations according to their intentions for meeting and passing, ships of most nationalities discuss how they will change course to pass. It is prudent for the mariner to state any meeting arrangements in two ways, to be sure that the other ship understands those arrangements.

This will avoid any misunderstandings, even if there is little English spoken on the other ship. If you are in U.S. inland waters, add "for one whistle meeting." This phrasing of communications on the radio is taught to apprentice pilots and should be adopted by ship's officers as well. Use the ship's whistle to supplement radio communications and further clarify the planned meeting.
The seagoing community is international, speaks many tongues, and care is needed when speaking via VHF to arrange meetings and passings.
Do not call another ship by saying, "Ship on my starboard bow." A call on VHF can be heard at sea even under the worst conditions over an area so it is obvious that you are certainly not defining the ship that you want to speak with. There are many other means of identifying that ship, such as adding an approxi­mate course that she is steering, or a geographic location, the type of ship, or the hull color.