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Portable VHF Radio

The one unit of electronics which I think every kayaker should carry is a handheld VHF radio. There are two types available, conventional handhelds, which are just a radio, and DSC handhelds, which have the ability to transmit your GPS co-ordinates and automate the process of sending emergency calls. DSC is relatively new in this country, and as the sets are more complicated they tend to be more expensive, but in an emergency they could well repay the extra investment.
Confusingly, two licenses are required to use a VHF, one for the actual unit itself, and one for you as the user.
Starting with you, you'll have to attend a training course (another good way to meet new kayak anglers) and complete a short, mainly multiple choice, exam.  Look for RYA courses leading to the Marine Radio Short Range Certificate, often abbreviated to just SRC. You can find training centres via the RYA website, and they are usually offered by most boat training centres as well as some adult learning centres. It pays to shop around a bit as there can be quite a variation in price.

The other part of the licensing procedure is carried out by Ofcom – and it’s free. There are two sorts of licences available. As the owner of a handheld radio, the one you’ll need is a Ship Portable Radio Licence which is specific to your portable radio (unlike the more usual Ship Fixed Radio Licence which covers all radios installed on a vessel). The SPRL can be applied for online, https://services.ofcom.org.uk/ ,and the last time I looked, it was free!
It’s worth noting that, unlike for the Fixed Radio Licence, you’ll be allocated a T-number to identify your handheld radio rather than a call sign, although if you have a DSC enabled handheld you'll also be given an MMSI number (call signs identify ships, not individual radios). The T-number identifies the actual radio itself, and enables you to use the radio on any vessel. This system is actually set up for large ships, where portable radios are likely to be used by people such as pilots switching between ships. It doesn’t make a lot of sense for kayakers, however, where the portable radio and the kayak are (hopefully) never likely to be separated.
In practice, a lot of kayakers will actually just give their kayak a name and use this as a call sign; it’s unusual to hear people referring to their T-numbers over the radio. When talking to the coastguard over the radio, it’s worth telling them that you are in a kayak. Identifying yourself as ‘kayak Jonah’ will instantly tell the coastguard important information about your vessel. The main thing to remember is that if you are genuinely in trouble, the coastguard will be more interested in getting help to you than telling you off for not knowing your T-number.
Don’t be afraid to use your radio. When you’ve finished your course it pays to practise by talking to friends, requesting radio checks when you go out and generally getting used to using the radio. If you ever do need to make an emergency call, things will go smoother if you’re comfortable with your particular set.
The main thing to look for when buying a radio is how waterproof it is. Your radio will be drenched with seawater on a regular basis, so the more waterproof and corrosion resistant the better. An IP rating is used to measure how waterproof a radio is. This consists of two digits, where the first measures a radio’s protection against the ingress of solid objects such as dust (which isn’t usually a problem for us). The value of the second, more relevant, digit is what is important to us. An IP rating of x7 is probably the smallest you should consider (unless you are prepared to carry your radio around in a sealed bag or dry sack) as this will give the radio protection for 30 minutes immersion to a depth of 1m. 
It is worth noting that a radio with a decent IP rating isn’t going to last forever. It’s really important to get rid of any seawater on the unit when you get home, and make sure that the battery contacts are dry before you put it on charge.
Most portable radios have around 5 Watts of power although some 6 Watt models are available. Power is not the most limiting factor in estimating the range of your handheld, however; instead, the height of the antennae above the horizon determines how far away your signal will be received. VHF radio waves travel in straight lines, and don’t tend to bend or bounce off the ionosphere. The real problem with radio communication from a kayak is that your antenna is unlikely to be more than a metre above the sea and the radio horizon of a handheld on a kayak will be around 2 miles. For two kayaks to talk to each other, they must therefore be less than a couple of miles apart for the radio horizons to overlap and allow communication.
Although this might seem a little disappointing, remember that the coastguard has a very high aerial (and loads more power). Since the range of coastguard radio is around 30 miles or more, you should be able to at least hear the coastguard almost anywhere you are likely to end up fishing. Note that just because you can hear the coastguard, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they can hear you. As most yachts have an aerial at the top of their masts, they can often hear you at far greater distances than your fellow kayakers.
 

Recommended book


Discover Kayak Fishing
by Andy Benham

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