View Full Version : Cruising the seas with or without radio

12-02-2002, 09:59 AM
Been reading a great book about cruising the south seas in 71' schooner. Tales of visiting lovely tropical islands, close encounters with pirates, tropical storms, sunken tresure, and some of the most colorful charchters you would care to meet, all have contrubted to an outstanding story.

However one thing jumped out to me as kind not to bright. At one point the author mentioned that he had weather radio and a navigational set for receiving time ticks but he had no transmitting capability.

I know that in the old days there wasn't a such thing as a radio, but I would have thought that this would be one of the things that would be mandatory if you wanted to cruise the open ocean.


12-02-2002, 12:53 PM
nope.....not required......however...if you want an hf radio the fcc will not issue a high seas license without having a vhf on board and properly licensed. Why do you need a radio....nobody listens anyhow no way.....

John B
12-02-2002, 03:30 PM

12-02-2002, 03:59 PM
I don't have the expertise of Paladin or John, but I think I understand the question in the simple way it was asked. It would seem to make sense, if one values one's skin, to have a two way long range radio aboard in case the worst happens. I don't know the ins and outs of actually being heard and having someone respond, but it would seem to make sense.

It would be interesting to know how many sea rescues of small boat sailors have been the result of having a SSB aboard. A SSB and an epirb?

Then there are the souls who eshew rescue. I think of Webb Chiles, the last I heard, decrying all long distance radio rescue as incompatible with the nature of the venture (and he should know, not being the luckiest sailor re sinkings, strandings and shipwreck).

Part of the reason to go is to be completely on one's own, in this school of thinking. "How can I ask someone to risk their life to rescue me, when I'm on an essentially self-indulgent voyage to begin with?", might sum up the philosophy.

The closest metaphor that comes readily to mind is the "free-climber". Confident in their ability and strength, they climb precipitate rock faces without ropes.

But I don't know, being an armchair philosopher at this stage of the game.


Ian McColgin
12-02-2002, 05:08 PM
It's a personal call but I do like Blondie Hasler's remark about why there would be no heroic rescues in the first solo trans-Atlantic race - drum beat for all the british muscular christianity:

"The sailor who cannot maintain life at sea is expected to die with dignity."

Memphis Mike
12-02-2002, 09:09 PM
I've been reading a lot lately also
about ocean adventure and there is NO
WAY I would go out for an extended
voyage without a radio. :eek:

12-03-2002, 07:59 AM
I had a captian one time that briefed the whole battery on what he called "Stupid and Foolish". He went on to say the stupid was just not knowing any better and can be excused. Foolish on the other hand was knowing better and still doing the wrong thing.

You may or may not get heard if you call for help on the radio, but I can gurantee you will not get heard when you call for help and you ain't got a radio. What do you do when the wind dies, you run out of food & fuel, and you get attacked by pirates? This is exactlly what happens in the book.


12-03-2002, 01:11 PM
The point of Mr. Hasler's die with dignity remark is that if you're out there playing a game, ie, not earning a living or defending flag and kin, then how can you justify asking someone else to risk her life to save your sorry dilettante's ass?
I mean, is that just? You get yourself in a pickle for the fun of it, for sport, and then ask someone to risk their life for you?
Sounds a bit self-involved to me.

Art Read
12-03-2002, 01:34 PM
"The sailor who cannot maintain life at sea is expected to die with dignity."

Hmmm... I remember reading somewhere about the "code" of Naval Aviators and their legendary self-reliance and taciturnity. Seems a rookie found himself in a bad spot... A bunch of Japanese Zeros at his "six", if I recall correctly. Started screaming into his radio about it. Silence. Then finally, one brief reply. "Shut up and die like an Aviator."

12-03-2002, 02:15 PM
The problem with gizmos (radio, gps, epirb) is that they imbue a FALSE sense of security/increased security in people ill equipped to deal with problems at sea. Running out of fuel, food or water or losing your rig is generally a mistake made out of foolishness and ill judgement. Good Seamanship will help you avoid most troubles and will help you solve most troubles that do occur.

Gizmos should be there to assist and make life easier - not replace good seamanship.

[ 12-03-2002, 02:17 PM: Message edited by: Braam Berrub ]

Ian McColgin
12-03-2002, 02:16 PM
Having done the quip:

I have a VHF. Nice thing for the long shore sailing I've been doing.

Also have a cell phone.

Makes it easy to keep in touch with cruising companions, monitor Ch 13 in busy harbors, etc.

Actually, I think that a VHF is far more important in congested waters than SSB is off shore.

Like being able in the fog to get on 13 with, "Security. Security. Security. This is the sailing vessel Granuaile entering President Roads from the Narrows by Lovell Island and inbound to Boston. Interested traffic please answer on Channel 13. This is Granuaile standing by on 13."

And you hear back, "This is the bulk carrier Guano Maru outbound at Spectacle Island . . ."

Even in good visibility, it can be a relief to a steamship Captain if you confirm by voice that you'll be passing one blast, port to port.


12-03-2002, 03:26 PM
Not trying to say that having a radio allows you to do stupid things and yes good seamanship will prevent or solve a lot of problems. What I am saying that if and when the need arises I would think that you would want to be able to try and raise help on the radio.

Now a lot of you folks out there have more time at sea than me, but it seems to me that once you think you have mastered the sea that is when you are in the most trouble.


Phil Young
12-04-2002, 09:38 PM
The time when you are in most trouble is when you assume that if all turns to cripes, you will be able to get help on the radio. If you've got pirates coming aboard in some remote location, no-one's going to be there to answer the radio, not within the 2 seconds you've got anyway. If you've run out wind and fuel, wait for the wind, it will come. If you've run out of food, well, no comment, but dial a pizza aint the answer, maybe think about a winnebago. If you're in a big storm, well you've got to get through that all on your own, the radio won't stop the wind or the waves. I reckon HF radios tend to lead to schedules, which is what you want to get away from in the first place, and you end up with a whole lot of people panicking when you get some salt water in a vital connection and the radio don't work. No sense in that. A VHF for close quarters communication is good thoough.

Zane Lewis
12-05-2002, 04:59 PM
I though that most western countys made a radio a requirement of going off shore. That an SSB is a required part of your safety equipment. Having said that I know New Zealand has some of the tightest small boat safety requirments in the world.

I have only been offshore once and we used the VHF twice. Once to alert a ship to our presence. We were towing a drogue in steep breaking seas and where concerned we had not been seen and could not charge course significantly. (Multi hull). After the weather passed a Fench Navey helecopter asked for our head count and details. Typical French teritory control.

We used the SSB to make daily progress and weather reports and to hear what other yachts were expeiencing so we knew what to expect.

Bruce Hooke
12-05-2002, 05:24 PM
Zane: This may rather surprise you but over here in the US, if I want to go offshore in my private boat, I don't need to tell anyone, get the boat checked by anyone, or anything of that sort. I can just get on the boat, cast of the lines, and head out to sea. As with any boat here, the Coast Guard could come on board and make sure I have enough lifejackets, a fire extinguisher, some distress flares, and a few other such very basic things required of any boat, but that's about it...

On the issue of radios, there is also the point that if you are not part of an organized event like a race it is quite possible, in a sailboat offshore, to be so far from help that being able to broadcast your difficulties may not be much help except than if the worst happens your radio report might help those left behind onshore understand a little bit more about what went wrong.

Dave Hadfield
12-05-2002, 11:34 PM
"Drake" came with a VHF radio for Great Lake sailing -- our first. I can't say I really like it. I use it for weather info, but I used to use a hand-held little unit from Radio Shack that cost me $20 -- same result. Sometimes we call ahead to see if there's room at a Marina, but they never say "no, don't come" no matter how crowded they are.

I dislike the chatter on it and leave it shut off. As for rescue, well our Canadian Coast Guard presence on the water is minimal in the extreme. Better to assume there isn't any and proceed on that basis.

I kind of side with Hasler. I go off into the Bush every year, totally independent, by canoe or snowshoe, with no phone or radio.

I guess if I was expiring I'd prefer to be rescued, but I wouldn't be happy about it.

What would change the picture for me is taking along my children. That's different. All safety gear applies here. But solo, well, I can make my own decisions and live with them or take the consequences.

12-06-2002, 11:09 AM
Zane, I'm surprised that any offspring of the Mother Country would prevent you from going off-shore any way you please. There's an English chap who gets rescued regularly who uses an Atlas or road maps or some such to navagate. :rolleyes:
What happened to NZ?

Joe (SoCal)
12-06-2002, 12:17 PM
Originally posted by Ian McColgin:
It's a personal call but I do like Blondie Hasler's remark about why there would be no heroic rescues in the first solo trans-Atlantic race - drum beat for all the british muscular christianity:

"The sailor who cannot maintain life at sea is expected to die with dignity."ARRRRRRG I'm Popeye the sailor man toot toot

Ish's remark "How can I ask someone to risk their life to rescue me, when I'm on an essentially self-indulgent voyage to begin with?" I don't know kinda sings true to me as well. If I was to circumnavigate and I didn't have a wife and child or any souls aboard I would hesitated to call for help in bad weather and risk more life's I would probably ride out the storm and if after the blow passed I would call for help. I got myself into the mess I would beat myself up if anyone died trying to get me out.

[ 12-06-2002, 12:22 PM: Message edited by: Joe ( Cold Spring on Hudson ) ]

Thaddeus J. Van Gilder
12-06-2002, 01:58 PM
I have not yet crossed the atlantic, but I have sailed straight out bfor several days, and I only had a VHF on board.

I sail because I am in control of my destiny. If I get in trouble than it's good bye world.

I carry spares of everything, I carry a sextant and a Handheld GPS, I always have the proper storm sails, and carry materials to repair my vessel at sea. And like the Pardey's, my dinghy doubles as my lifeboat.

If I didn't have faith in my abilities, I wouldn't go out there.


James R
12-06-2002, 02:44 PM
This thread reminds me of the two idiots that got lost on Lake Ontario this past spring. Lake Ontario, for those of you unfamiliar with it, is the smallest of the Great Lakes but still covers some 10,000 square kilometres and even in the summer is numbingly cold just a few inches below the surface. They decided to go out on the Lake for an early season romp on their PWCs. As inevitably happens at that time of year, the fog rolled in right over them. They ran out of fuel, almost got run over by a freighter, and almost died of exposure when one of them slid into the water because of exhaustion. They were found more than two days later suffering from severe hypothermia. It's doubtful that they would've lasted another day. One can't help but think that a handheld VHF or a cheap compass would've saved their families from the anxiety they felt as well as the tens of thousands of dollars expended to find them. Heck, even a compass from a Crackerjack box would've sufficed.

I agree with those that say that we should be self-sufficient when we go out on the ocean (or the lake) and shouldn't expect the cavalry to come to the rescue every time we get into a bit of trouble. However, as illustrated very effectively by Ian McColgin's example above, carrying a radio onboard is part of good seamanship.

[ 12-06-2002, 02:47 PM: Message edited by: James R ]

Gary Bergman
12-06-2002, 02:59 PM
I turn mine on offshore, and regular harbor stuff,otherwise,it's off[vhf]. another tool for safety.

Zane Lewis
12-07-2002, 03:52 AM
Offshore in NZ generaly means heading up to the islands (New Calidoia, Fiji etc) or across to Assie. generally 1 to 3 weeks trips. about 10-14 days for most cruising yachts. It is amazing the number of boaties (Not just Yachties) that broadcast a Mayday and get picked up.
True a good number probably should not have been there in the boat they had and with the gear and experiance they had.

The NZ coastguard use the term Collective Safety. This means that we look out for each other as the coastguards are generally volunteer and only active in limited ares.

I generally feel that no mater how good you are or you boat is the unexpected can and does happen so you should give yourself and your crew the best chance of survial.
Have you seen the number of containers lost over the side of ships, or the number of logs that come out of the bush after a rain storm (I have only hit a small one touch wood).

Would your boat survive an impact with a container below the waterline.


[ 12-08-2002, 07:13 PM: Message edited by: Zane Lewis ]

12-09-2002, 01:15 PM
Unfortunately, there are alot of "sailors", who are certainly not seamen, who want to ensure, through the purchase of every device known to man-that they can get someone to risk their own life or lives to bail said purchaser out of what they consider a bad situation. There are too many stories of ill prepared (physically and mentally) people going to sea, getting in trouble, and getting other people to risk everything to save their sorry a**es. That being said, most of the seamenlike offshore sailors I know like their SSB or ham sets for the weather information and communication that they provide-not as a simple insurance policy to rescue them when the waves get too big or the boat leaks a bit. Used that way, for communication and weather etc, many would consider an HF radio of some sort indispensible, I know I like mine...