Ventana carries several types of radios that allow us to keep in touch locally and worldwide.
VHF- Very High Frequency
For local communications we use VHF radio. VHF signals travel by "line of sight" and have a useful range of 10-20 miles. We have one VHF mounted in the cockpit and a second VHF at the nav station below. Both are fed by a single mast mounted antenna and heavy RG-8U coax cable. When we key the microphone on one of the radios an automatic antenna tuner switches to that radio. A third hand held VHF is mounted at the nav station and can be taken ashore by one of us to keep in touch with the other on the boat or carried in the dinghy for safety should the outboard quit.
We normally leave the VHF on 24 hrs a day to a local "hailing" channel. monitored by all the boats. In the US channels 9 or 16 are used for hailing while other areas may use 68, 72, or 77. Channel 16 is reserved for emergencies and many radios also monitor this automatically. If we had a boat problem such as dragging anchor we could put out a call and in minutes we would have a dozen people at our side to help.
The VHF is a boater's telephone so when we want to call our friends anchored nearby to organize a snorkeling trip or dinner ashore we will call on the hailing channel. When they answer we will then switch off to an unused channel for our conversation. The open radio channels are really like an old time telephone party line and everyone can listen in on everyone else’s conversation- this is jokingly referred to as "reading the mail."
In the major cruising destinations such as Georgetown, Bahamas, St. Martin or Trinidad there is usually a morning radio "net". The net will usually cover the weather, new boat arrivals, messages for boaters, local goings on, information on where to find the laundry, boat parts store, etc
HF- High Frequency
For long range communications we use our HF radio on either the SSB (single side band) or the ham frequencies. This radio can reach many thousands of miles. The license to use the SSB frequencies only requires paying a small fee but the license to use the ham frequencies involves passing numerous tests on radio and electronics theory plus learning to receive Morse code. Dee received her ham radio license in 1998 and her call sign is KG4AYO. Rob received his in 2001 and is KG4PMZ.
We use the ham or SSB frequencies to keep in touch with boating friends who may be from 30 to 1,500 miles away. Most of us will monitor the HF radio for a few hours in the morning to catch up with friends and monitor their progress if they are on a multi-day passage. We also use the HF radio to get weather information. A sailors life is ruled by weather and we listen to 1-2 weather broadcasts a day.
There are also numerous "nets" on the SSB and ham frequencies. Some nets cover a particular area such as Bahamas, Eastern Caribbean, Panama Canal area, etc. Others are subject oriented such as weather or safety.
When we are on a multi-day passage we will often set up a radio schedule or "sked" with the ham net or a specific friend who will monitor our progress and take a once or twice daily position report of ourlatitude & longitude and weather conditions. This is the sailors equivalent of a flight plan.
Our HF radio also allows us to receive short-wave news broadcasts from VOA the BBC and the US Armed Services Radio and weather broadcasts from NOAA in the U.S. The U.S. and most world countries also broadcast weatherfax reports several times a day which we monitor. These would look like the weather maps and satellite pictures seen in your local paper or on TV and often include specific reports of sea conditions.
You can also read about Weatherfax by clicking here
Email and Internet reports
One of the most exciting communications tools aboard Ventana is our ham radio based email system called Winlink. Volunteer ham radio hobbyists around the world have set up a system with radios, modems and internet linked computers. This allows us to use our onboard computer and radio to call their internet connected computer and radio. Once connected we send and receive email, give a position report of our location and have access to hundreds of worldwide weather bulletins. During breaking news events we can also read CNN news reports. Best of all the entire system is free courtesy of ham radio operators around the globe.
Though we do not have one yet some boats now carry affordable satellite telephones, and someday sailors will no doubt have internet access from their wristwatches but for now we are just glad to have our onboard email.
Webmaster- Rob Dubin © copyright 2003-2012 Rob Dubin Page Last updated 12/16/2012