VHF Radio Test Calls

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Northern Blue
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VHF Radio Test Calls

Post by Northern Blue »

Coming from an emergency services background, where it was standard procedure to carry out a radio test call at the start of every shift, I got to wondering if this is something that I should be doing with my personal VHF, each time I head out.

Does the CG, or other radio users frown upon test call requests, or are they welcomed as a sensible way of checking that the equipment is working correctly. They're not something I've ever heard when my radio is on ?

What do you do ?

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T4Mac
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Re: VHF Radio Test Calls

Post by T4Mac »

The coastguard are happy enough at Dover and will sometimes get you to switch channel for your paddle plan (if you haven't already telephoned them with it). If Dover CG sound busy, I will call Port Control at Ramsgate on Channel 14 for a radio check (they always sound happy enough to acknowledge the call).

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Re: VHF Radio Test Calls

Post by CharlieS »

Within the Port of London area of the Thames we overhear other vessels doing this often. As kayaks we're required/requested by the Port to radio in before each launch anyway so that tests function if not signal strength.

There have been threads on here in the past about the relative merits of radioing in a trip plan or not, and on the different responses you get from different CG operators. Some put you through 20 questions, others are very friendly and glad you called. I'm not clear what difference it has made now that the Coastguard stations have been centralised. Perhaps a more standardised approach to a call?

I now call much less often than I used to, but still would if I was leading a group near a shipping lane, or if we were practising rescues.

Charlie

Vince Irwin
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Re: VHF Radio Test Calls

Post by Vince Irwin »

No one should frown upon a vhf radio test call to hmcg. It will serve a number of purposes... your radio is working, MRCC are actually listening &/or can receive you, keeps you acquainted & familiar with radio procedures to name a few. Obviously if they are casualty working or very busy then delay the test call. The set up of HMCG is very different now & it would be quite possible that whoever you are talking to will have far less local knowledge than they did a couple of years ago.

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Re: VHF Radio Test Calls

Post by garya »

Coming from services background I got used to radio discipline the need to keep channels clear for important working traffic.

I usually use channel 6 or 72 (intership) within the group. We radio check on these using a group call which is faster. These channels tend to be clearer and avoid cluttering the channel of a busy operations room. A quick click and blow is also a good confidence check without taking up too much airtime.

For Call Signs I tend to use the form 'Kayak - PersonsName' this lets other traffic know they are talking to a kayak. People will also have there ears tuned in to hearing their own name and so will pick it out more readily if the channel is busy with traffic.

I usually dual watch this with the local VTS or Ch 16 depending where we are paddling. the radio will lock on to which ever one is broadcasting at the time.

I only tend to tell them my trip plan ( I always have a shore contact that has the whole trip plan and timings ) if we are working in a busy port or transiting a busy area like lower Thames Lambeth - Tower Bridge. I will call them on the phone to discuss the plan with them and listen to any up to the minute advice they have. I Will then back this up with a quick radio call to tell them we are on the water and our numbers.


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robhorton
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Re: VHF Radio Test Calls

Post by robhorton »

It is definitely worth making a transmission from time to time - I've seen a couple of people suddenly discover their radios don't actually transmit (despite receiving ok).

I've never had any objections from the coastguard but that may not be universal. If calling on 16 it's a good idea to listen for a couple of minutes before transmitting to make sure they're not in the middle of handling a distress call or something. You could also call a coastwatch station if you're near one.

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Re: VHF Radio Test Calls

Post by garya »

I would suggest that all routine conversations and radio checks with the Coastguard go over the Coastguard working Channel.

This is usually channel 67 but may change for your area. you can check this in a small boaters almanac I find these great with lots of useful information on small harbours and coastal areas.

Channel 16 should be kept clear as much as possible and conversations moved to working channels as soon as comms is established with another unknown craft. it is primarily there as an emergency or hailing channel.

Using channel 16 for radio checks is generally considered bad form....

Here is some useful guidance from the National Coast Watch

https://www.nci.org.uk/stations/local-vhf-channel-usage


Gary A
Last edited by garya on Tue Oct 10, 2017 2:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Chris Bolton
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Re: VHF Radio Test Calls

Post by Chris Bolton »

I would suggest that all routine conversations and radio checks with the Coastguard go over the Coastguard working Channel.
I heard something to that effect some years ago, but when I tried it the Coastguard told me to call on 16, and never 67. It may be that different now, or differ between areas (not there are many areas now). What is the source of your info?

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Re: VHF Radio Test Calls

Post by garya »

I was told this during my VHF training and also during various visits to London VTS and coastguard... also listening to radio traffic when out on the water...

VHF users are regularly pulled up for incorrect use of Ch16....

My understanding is the ch16 does not have a dedicated person working it in some stations. I understood this was because of the growth in DSC calling for most boat emergencies. It is on a loudspeaker and they respond to if required. Working two sets can be a bit of a pain when it is busy so 67 or there usual working channel is better.

as I said I usually radio check within the group and occasionally with VTS or coastguard if the situation dictates

Someone from coastguard may be along shortly to offer more detail and clarity on this.

My training has taught me to be professional, accurate and concise in all radio communications..... there are is some true comedy gold to be heard on the airwaves during summer weekends on the south coast... ;-)

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Re: VHF Radio Test Calls

Post by robhorton »

Solent coastguard keep a listening watch on 67 (at least in the "old" Solent area - I don't think the old Portland area is included) for routine traffic but elsewhere you need to call on 16 first. (Or make a DSC call, but I get the impression very few people do).

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PhilAyr
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Re: VHF Radio Test Calls

Post by PhilAyr »

My understanding is most leisure boaters don't bother with the DSC alert function when calling the coastguard or other boaters, they just make a voice call.

On the only warm sunny day I had this summer I noticed that ch 16 was chocker block with people making radio check calls to the coastguard ! For that reason alone I only do radio checks to my fellow paddlers on 72 or any other agreed available channel.

Phil

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Re: VHF Radio Test Calls

Post by Chris Bolton »

My understanding is the ch16 does not have a dedicated person working it in some stations. I understood this was because of the growth in DSC calling for most boat emergencies. It is on a loudspeaker and they respond to if required. Working two sets can be a bit of a pain when it is busy so 67 or there usual working channel is better.
Thanks Gary, (and for the link you edited in after I posted!) - things have probably changed with the advent of DSC - plus I tend to paddle in N Wales and W Scotland, which have less traffic. I notice your link says "Channel usage in the Solent and Southampton Water differs from that in other areas". I usually phone CG before a trip so I'll ask their advice while I'm on the phone.

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MikeB
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Re: VHF Radio Test Calls

Post by MikeB »

It may vary round the country - certainly up in Scotland I always call on 16 and am then directed a working channel. I've never been told to do otherwise, and paddling around the yachty hotspots will generally produce a number of them calling for a radio check on 16. For me, I'm generally logging a passage-plan, and in doing so I'm checking the set works, as well as the all important practise at using it.

StanGuz
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Re: VHF Radio Test Calls

Post by StanGuz »

The Longroom (who watch over Plymouth Sound) do vhf checks if you call them up on Ch14, they always sound down happy enough. I normally stay off 16 though, if it works on 14, it'll work on 16......that's my theory anyway!
What could possibly go wrong......?

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Re: VHF Radio Test Calls

Post by CharlieS »

Has anyone else noticed CG being able to hear you on 16, but not on whatever channel they transfer you to in order to speak for longer? I've had that several times on the West coast of Scotland and it is a factor in why I don't call them so often now with routine trip plans. I've often been left trying to work out whether to disobey their instruction to transfer or whether to keep climbing the dangerous cliff behind my campsite in search of better signal.
I've always had the sense that they think this is down to my user error rather than anything to do with signal strength.

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Re: VHF Radio Test Calls

Post by Sean_soup »

This may be a stupid question but your radio isn't on low power is it?
When mine (Standard Horizon HX300) is set to low power it still defaults to high power on Ch16, meaning that it'll transmit at 5W on Ch16 and then drop to 1W when I switch to a different channel.

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Re: VHF Radio Test Calls

Post by Chris Bolton »

Has anyone else noticed CG being able to hear you on 16, but not on whatever channel they transfer you to in order to speak for longer? I've had that several times on the West coast of Scotland
No, I've not had that problem. It might be caused by using a different mast. I know they use different channels for each mast on the MSI broadcasts, but I don't know whether they choose a particular mast along with the channel when nominating it. With the merged operating areas, I assume they must be able to tell which mast is receiving your call, and transmit to just that area, otherwise there would be too much traffic everywhere.

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Re: VHF Radio Test Calls

Post by CharlieS »

Sean_soup - that's a good thought. I like to think that I would have checked after several occurrences; I'll get the radio out later and see if it switches as you say.
Chris - I wondered about different masts, but I couldn't quite see what the advantage would be. Could there be some kept clear for Ch. 16 only?

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Re: VHF Radio Test Calls

Post by Chris Bolton »

Charlie, I don't think it's intended to be an advantage, just something that (maybe) happens. They pick up your transmission on (say) 2 masts, and that's gives them an idea where you are, but not necessarily the best mast to transmit on; the transmitters may have different powers, or be affected by reflections from cliffs, etc. Alternatively (and I don't know if this happens) they may want to use a particular channel, and not all the masts are equipped to transmit on it.

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Re: VHF Radio Test Calls

Post by CharlieS »

Sean_soup: well, my radio does behave exactly as you describe, and I had clearly forgotten that, so that makes user error much more likely. I still like to feel I would have checked if it kept happening. Only answer is to go paddling in Scotland again.

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Re: VHF Radio Test Calls

Post by Chris McDaid »

Radio checks are always advisable. However it is never a good idea to transmit within 5metres of another handheld. Some radios are prone to blowing the RX diode in this instance, specifically Cobra Marine

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brian_m
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Re: VHF Radio Test Calls

Post by brian_m »

CharlieS wrote:
Fri Oct 13, 2017 11:23 am
Has anyone else noticed CG being able to hear you on 16, but not on whatever channel they transfer you to in order to speak for longer?
The coastguard have several transmitters on one mast with a reasonable gap between them to avoid interference. The Ch16 transmitter is highest and this is why you can sometimes communicate on 16 but not on other channels.

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Re: VHF Radio Test Calls

Post by pathbrae »

Belfast Coast Guard seemed to be actively discouraging radio check calls from the old Clyde area this summer. We were out on the Clyde for a couple of weeks and I heard several people being told to radio check with port control etc. and not to call on Ch 16. The first few times I assumed they were working an incident and I had missed a request to keep 16 clear but it was a daily occurrence. My own radio check calls were often ignored by CG but were usually replied to by another vessel. I thought the whole point of a radio check was to make sure CG could be reached and could reach you? Given that their first response to any call for assistance is an mediate "any vessel in the vicinity of..." call then surely it's in their best interest to know that any vessel operating in their waters can hear them?
As most sea kayaks don't launch from a marina or from anywhere near a port then the option to use a port control station doesn't exist. It's not been long since Clyde CG was closed down but already we seem to be suffering the effect of Belfast being over-worked with too big a patch to cover, and I'm sure the same is true in other areas.
So much sea - so little time to see it.

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PhilAyr
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Re: VHF Radio Test Calls

Post by PhilAyr »

Hi Pathbrae I have to agree, I also miss Clyde Coastguard !
My own radio check calls were often ignored by CG but were usually replied to by another vessel.
There are many vhf blind spots on the west coast of Scotland. It is possible that you were out of range and they just didn't hear you ! This is why I carry a PLB as well as a vhf radio.
I thought the whole point of a radio check was to make sure CG could be reached and could reach you?
Not quite, a radio check is made to make sure that your set is working. Quote from VHF handbook :Radio check : " Modern radios are generally reliable, and seldom fail suddenly for no reason, so simply using the radio as an everyday tool is a good check that it is working.... A radio check can be carried out with any station that is prepared to co-operate, and on any channel on which they are listening. You could call a marina or harbour office on its working channel, a friend's boat on some pre-arranged working channel or the cg on 16".

I understand why the CG would want to minimise the traffic on 16 especially during the busy season. As I said earlier, during the summer I witnessed a constant flow of radio check calls on 16 which made me wonder what would happen if someone was trying to make a distress call?



Phil

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Re: VHF Radio Test Calls

Post by pathbrae »

Cheers Phil - but it was always CG advice to call in for a radio check at the very least. That was from the days when they had a stand at the canoe exhibition etc.
So much sea - so little time to see it.

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