VHF and training

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Jonno13
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VHF and training

Post by Jonno13 » Wed Jul 31, 2019 10:03 am

Advice required please.
I'm planning a trip for the winter, and want to get a couple of pieces of kit.
One of which will be a VHF and the associated training course. Does anyone have any recommendations? Im looking at the RYA course, but not sure yet what radio to purchase.
Thankyou in advance

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Re: VHF and training

Post by keith_w » Wed Jul 31, 2019 10:15 am

I would buy your VHF after you have done the training course, as the training course I did gave useful information about VHF features.

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Re: VHF and training

Post by andynormancx » Wed Jul 31, 2019 11:05 am

Unless you want a DSC radio, I'd recommend the Standard Horizon HX300E.

Pros:

- not too bulky
- floats
- nice big channel numbers
- doesn't need a proprietary charger (charges via a standard USB cable)
- not too pricey at around £100
- battery lasts for ages in standby

Cons:

- only operates from its internal battery (so not ideal for long expeditions where you might want the ability to use AA batteries in an emergency)
- not DSC
- there are even more compact radios available (like the Standard Horizon HX40E), but they tend not to be floating ones
- the USB socket cover is a potential point of failure (though not had any problems on our two three year old units)

https://www.force4.co.uk/standard-horiz ... e-vhf.html

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Re: VHF and training

Post by Sean_soup » Wed Jul 31, 2019 4:24 pm

andynormancx wrote:
Wed Jul 31, 2019 11:05 am
Pros:
- not too bulky
- floats
There's a bit of a trade-off there as a thing will only float if it's less dense than the water, so the floatation comes at the price of making it a bit bigger than it really needs to be. The HX300 is compact but has nowhere to attach a tether unless you have the belt clip attached, which increases the bulk significantly and serves no useful purpose while you're keeping the thing in a BA pocket.

I'd really like to see a radio that's as compact as it can be - or has the space that is currently full of air to make it float filled up with extra battery life instead, but that has a solid and compact attachment point for a tether like a waterproof camera does. If you drop an untethered radio in the drink in moving or rough water floatation really only buys you a few seconds to retrieve it anyway, realistically after that it's gone for good regardless.
Cons:
- only operates from its internal battery (so not ideal for long expeditions where you might want the ability to use AA batteries in an emergency)
You can get a battery tray as an optional extra to take 3xAA batteries instead, but using that limits you to low power transmission only. (1W as opposed to 5W). Last thing you'd want in a genuine emergency potentially. I think that's generally the case isn't it? Does any handheld VHF give you the full 5W running on AAs?

The USB charging does give you the facility to use anything you could use to charge a mobile phone to charge it though, power bank, solar thingamabobs, whatever. A power bank the size & weight of half a dozen AA batteries could easily recharge a completely flat radio a couple of times over I would think.

A more serious con I've noticed with mine is that while it is waterproof, it doesn't work reliably while it's actually wet! Water gets into the speaker grille making the sound muted and distorted. More seriously, the same thing seems to happen with the mic. Last year I asked the coastguard for a radio check a couple of days after a very 'wet' day mucking about at a symposium and was told "Your signal is strong, but your modulation is unreadable." - they couldn't understand a word I was saying. After drying it out thoroughly it was fine again, and still is.

Recently I had a chance to pick up another HX300 second hand for cheap, so I did. That one is exactly the same - dunk it in water and it's unintelligible until it's completely dried out again - no amount of banging/shaking/blowing etc. in the mean while seems to do any good.

Since then I've been carrying it sort of taped into a plastic bag. It looks ridiculous but seems to work. I don't want the bulk of a proper radio dry bag, and it doesn't have to keep the radio completely bone dry, just stop enough water getting in to inundate the speaker/mic grille. Not ideal though, and a bit of a pain having to unwrap/rewrap it to charge. I'd be interested to hear if anyone has come across the same problem and found a better solution?

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Re: VHF and training

Post by andynormancx » Wed Jul 31, 2019 6:08 pm

I was definitely tempted by the slimmer Standard Horizon HX40E when it came out.

I've had the speaker distortion, but then I had that with the ICOM I had before so assumed it was typical. I've found just giving it a good slap dislodges most of the water.

I've not had the mic problem, though admittedly most of the time I use it it hasn't just had a dunk.

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Re: VHF and training

Post by pathbrae » Wed Jul 31, 2019 6:51 pm

Putting a vhf into an Aqua-Pac type dry-case solves the water in the speaker problem, makes it float and acts as a wind break to make your transmission much more readable in windy conditions. Downside is a slight increase in overall size and (for a DSC set) you can't activate the DSC alarm while it's in the case.
ICOM sets have an "Aquaquake" function to get water out of the speaker - but I don't know how effective it is
So much sea - so little time to see it.

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Re: VHF and training

Post by andynormancx » Wed Jul 31, 2019 8:06 pm

The Aquaquake function on my ICOM didn't seem to make any real difference.

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Re: VHF and training

Post by sleepyfolk » Thu Aug 01, 2019 1:24 am

I liked the HX300E , partly for the floating, mainly for the USB charging as I have a battery pack on board which makes it easy to recharge if we end up stuck on a beach somewhere. I pack any connection points on anything with contralube to try and help with keeping the sea water at bay.

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Re: VHF and training

Post by Sean_soup » Thu Aug 01, 2019 10:15 am

andynormancx wrote:
Wed Jul 31, 2019 6:08 pm
I was definitely tempted by the slimmer Standard Horizon HX40E when it came out.
Aha, I'd not seen that. It looks like just the sort of thing I was on about above - smaller (at the price of being non-buoyant), and seems to have an attachment point for a lanyard that doesn't need to to have the belt-clip attached at the same time. I see they offer a little buoyancy aid as an optional extra - like the diddy RescueME PLB, if you want it to float you have to put it's little jacket on.

I might have to get one of those. :-) (Though I'd miss the USB charging - it's nice having just the one charger for everything.)
I've found just giving it a good slap dislodges most of the water.
Maybe I just don't have the knack, I've certainly tried but can't seem to dislodge the water from the speaker and now that I'm aware of the problem I'm actually much more concerned about the mic.
though admittedly most of the time I use it it hasn't just had a dunk.
I almost never use mine at all, but it seems wise to assume that if there ever comes a time i *really* need to send a message that's going to be received and understood it's likely to involve a dunk!
pathbrae wrote:
Wed Jul 31, 2019 6:51 pm
Putting a vhf into an Aqua-Pac type dry-case solves the water in the speaker problem..
Solves the 'nowhere to attach a lanyard' problem too, but it's a little more than a slight increase in bulk to be fair. In my case it seems to be an increase from "fits nicely in BA pocket" to "you're going to have to stuff it in the day hatch", which is a deal-breaker for me.

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Re: VHF and training

Post by Jim » Thu Aug 01, 2019 3:22 pm

Sean_soup wrote:
Thu Aug 01, 2019 10:15 am
(Though I'd miss the USB charging - it's nice having just the one charger for everything.)
Even better if everything was wirelessly chargable - no charging socket to fail, and again one charger does all.
Of course your wireless pad needs to be USB connectable to to mains adapter, car adapter, solar panel, battery bank etc. - most already are aren't they?

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Re: VHF and training

Post by Chris Bolton » Thu Aug 08, 2019 7:13 am

I bought a spare battery for my HX300. It's less bulky than a power bank. However, I've just returned from a week long trip, where I probably had it on standby half the time. I was impressed that the battery still showed full charge at the end - until I tried to transmit. Even a short transmission dropped the charge icon to empty, and the Coastguard said the signal was poor. I'll be doing some more tests.

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Re: VHF and training

Post by andynormancx » Thu Aug 08, 2019 7:55 am

Jim wrote:
Thu Aug 01, 2019 3:22 pm
Even better if everything was wirelessly chargable - no charging socket to fail, and again one charger does all.
If you were on expedition, relying on a powerbank, you definitely wouldn't want all your devices wirelessly (inductive) charging. At best inductive charging is only 80% efficient, in practice you can actually end up throwing half of the power away in heat.

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Re: VHF and training

Post by on the rocks » Thu Aug 08, 2019 6:06 pm

Chris Bolton wrote:
Thu Aug 08, 2019 7:13 am
I bought a spare battery for my HX300. It's less bulky than a power bank. However, I've just returned from a week long trip, where I probably had it on standby half the time. I was impressed that the battery still showed full charge at the end - until I tried to transmit. Even a short transmission dropped the charge icon to empty, and the Coastguard said the signal was poor. I'll be doing some more tests.
I took my HX300 away last weekend, battery icon showed full so I left the charger at home, it went flat after 10 min on standby. I’ll always give an overnight charge in future and take the charger with me. The battery lasts a long time but the battery icon is useless

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Re: VHF and training

Post by Chris Bolton » Thu Aug 08, 2019 8:54 pm

I’ll always give an overnight charge in future
The recommended charging policy for Li-ion is to store at about half charge, so I leave mine as it is after a trip unless it's completely flat, and charge until full before use.

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Re: VHF and training

Post by grizzly7 » Sun Aug 18, 2019 6:44 pm

Sean_soup wrote:
Wed Jul 31, 2019 4:24 pm

You can get a battery tray as an optional extra to take 3xAA batteries instead, but using that limits you to low power transmission only. (1W as opposed to 5W). Last thing you'd want in a genuine emergency potentially. I think that's generally the case isn't it? Does any handheld VHF give you the full 5W running on AAs?
Hi

6W even for some, The instructions for a Cobra MRHH600 say with fresh AAs in the alternate battery tray it transmits on full power. But you need to unscrew one to swap between the lithium pack to the AA housing and then it may not float. An Icom M93D at least allows you to easily swap over a new lithium pack but that is a bit pricey. The Cobra is IPX8, the Icom 7. You can get a separate microphone/speaker from Icom which says it makes a different model of radio float so I suppose it would help buoyancy by itself. Using one of those you could either leave the radio in a pocket, or hold the radio above your head while still maybe having a chat to someone further away?
The Cobra is cheaper and has bluetooth to make phone calls via your phone too. And it's orange :)

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Re: VHF and training

Post by pugwash » Mon Aug 19, 2019 8:57 am

One thing I’ve never understood about people’s desire for a 6w vhf in a kayak. The range of a vhf is about 1nm per watt, so more watts could equal more range,, and on a large ship it does, but range is also limited to roughly the square root of the height of the transmitter. So say I’m standing up on tip toes in my kayak and reach the dizzy heights of 2m, my range is only about 1.2nm. So why have the extra power?

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Re: VHF and training

Post by Sean_soup » Mon Aug 19, 2019 9:34 am

pugwash wrote:
Mon Aug 19, 2019 8:57 am
..but range is also limited to roughly the square root of the height of the transmitter.
The combined heights of both antennae innit? There's you to the horizon, and then there's the other person to their horizon - if the two overlap you have 'line of sight' to each other.

Kayak to kayak that might not be very far, kayak to the mast on a yacht is further, kayak to radio mast on a clifftop is further still. If you monitor the radio whilst paddling that's why you'll so often hear the CG talking to someone but don't catch the other half of the conversation.

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Re: VHF and training

Post by grizzly7 » Tue Aug 20, 2019 10:50 am

6W from 5W is a 20% increase, surely worth having?

Reviews of such radios suggest more like 5 miles, not 1 and a bit? Although talking to who is a good question, another kayaker or big ship???

One rescue of a canoeist I read about said that even when the distressee could see the helicopter close by, they could not see him even with bright coloured boat and clothing. Line of sight to something airborn will be a lot further.

More specifically checking from that particular 1988 UK report, the helicopter passed twice within half a mile, kayak broadside on, paddles waved to signal distress, heavy seas but reasonable visibility, yellow canoe deck, bright red and yellow clothing, no flares carried, force 6-7 forecast, 3-5 foot swell, helicopter eventually guided to the canoeist by a shore lookout.

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Re: VHF and training

Post by GrahamC » Tue Aug 20, 2019 10:04 pm

The difference in range and signal strength between 5W and 6W is not detectable, however the battery drain will be higher. Generally a doubling of power would be the standard to aim for [in scientific terms this is a 3dB increase - to put this in perspective, radio enthusiasts express the signal strenth as "s" points, on a 1 to 9 scale, and one "s" point is 6dB relative to the next]. 5 to 6 W is an increase of 0.8db.

The antenna on a handheld is a compromise between size and efficiency, so generally the longer the better, until a length of around 46cm is reached, this is the standard quater wavelength antenna. Such an antenna is available for the nearby ham radio band at 145MHz but I have never seen one for marine band (156MHz).

To get a good signal you also require a good "ground" connection. This can either be another antenna length from the body of the radio (know as a counterpoise - 46cm long), a very conductive surface (car roof, metal deck), or, in the case of a handheld radio, your body. To make the handheld work most efficiently hold it vertically and grip around it with as much hand as you can, ideally without a glove. Talk into the radio and make sure the antenna is in cear space (not in your hat!). The difference between a correctly presented radio and one held with the antenna almost horizontal behind the ear, being held like a phone, can be well over 6dB so correct technique has a much greater effect than minimal extra power (so your 5W actually behaves like 1.25W!!)

It is possible to add an external antenna to the radio. I have a simple anteanna based on an 18 foot fibreglass fishing pole. At the end of it is basically a 46cm wire, effectively lifting the antenna high above the kayak. The increase in range (principally from the ability to "see" further over the horizon) is impressive (I have tested it on the 145MHz amateur radio band), however, it is not particularly practical for kayak use as it requires the radio to be held in one hand and the fishing pole in the other, I guess two group members could raft and do this?. Taking off the original rubber antenna also means that it is no longer waterproof. It is a practical solution on a beach, but a PLB is even more practical and can be used anywhere, even in the water.
___________

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Re: VHF and training

Post by Jonny Hightower » Mon Sep 09, 2019 2:50 pm

I might well have the wrong end of the stick here since I haven't yet done a VHF training course, but to me it looks as though in future you're more likely to get assistance if you have a radio with DSC: http://completeguide.rnli.org/vhf-radios.html

Most VHF references I can find online say that ships and coastguard maintain a listening watch on channel 16, but it appears from the above that this may no longer be true.

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Re: VHF and training

Post by Chris Bolton » Mon Sep 09, 2019 3:21 pm

My course was well before DSC was invented (although my certificate remains valid) but my understanding is that CG no longer maintain a dedicated watch, ie, there isn't somebody sitting with a headset on listening to Ch16, but they do still have a speaker and can hear transmissions. Certainly I've been able to call them up on 16 on the West Coast of Scotland. I think things might be different in more crowded areas like South Coast of England.

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Re: VHF and training

Post by Jonny Hightower » Mon Sep 09, 2019 4:31 pm

I think you're right with regards to the CG. I'm not sure about ships though. Realistically, I wouldn't expect them to completely abandon monitoring Ch16 because its use is so ingrained into so many VHF users, but it was the RNLI page's use of the word "instead" which gave me pause.
Chris Bolton wrote:
Mon Sep 09, 2019 3:21 pm
Certainly I've been able to call them up on 16 on the West Coast of Scotland. I think things might be different in more crowded areas like South Coast of England.
I suppose this is the sort of information you might get on a classroom-based course and might miss out on in an online one.

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Re: VHF and training

Post by Chris Bolton » Mon Sep 09, 2019 5:21 pm

For much of my paddling, whether DSC would be better or not is academic as it just isn't practical unless you can recharge daily. if you want to use DSC in an emergency, you need to leave the radio on so that the GPS location is up to date. The battery in a non-DSC radio won't last long enough for a multi-day trip, and GPS would drain it even faster. I don't think DSC was invented for handheld radios. Until a few years ago, nobody made a DSC handheld.

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Re: VHF and training

Post by PhilAyr » Tue Sep 10, 2019 4:57 pm

Chris Bolton wrote:
Mon Sep 09, 2019 3:21 pm
My course was well before DSC was invented (although my certificate remains valid) but my understanding is that CG no longer maintain a dedicated watch, ie, there isn't somebody sitting with a headset on listening to Ch16, but they do still have a speaker and can hear transmissions. Certainly I've been able to call them up on 16 on the West Coast of Scotland. I think things might be different in more crowded areas like South Coast of England.
Hi Chris. As far as I know your old certificate is only valid for a non DSC radio. If you decided to use a DSC radio ( you probably wont and why should you !) you would then have to go on another course.

kind regards

Phil

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Re: VHF and training

Post by Chris Bolton » Tue Sep 10, 2019 6:47 pm

Thanks, Phil. I think you're right in both respects, it won't be valid for DSC, and I'm not likely to buy a DSC radio.

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Re: VHF and training

Post by grizzly7 » Tue Sep 17, 2019 3:56 pm

I would like to have a hand held with DSC that would be left off mostly.

A Cobra DSC version can use AA's which could be lithium which then allows multi day use. You could probably rig some sort of little solar panel to trickle some juice into a radio that can only accept it's own lithium battery pack giving occasional use on a trip.

I don't think emergency use of a DSC requires it to be on all the time. I seem to remember either ICOM or Cobra (the only two I've asked stuff of) will transmit with DSC from cold and then repeat once it's got a gps fix. A PLB/EPIRB will also not know where it's when first turned on but no-one says therefore they are no use?

I have a PLB already in one of these https://www.customdivers.com/plb-dive-c ... -744-p.asp They do a radar reflective inflatable marker buoy too. But if a not immediately life threatening emergency meant not quite pressing a PLB button but some help would be a good idea, maybe from a nearby vessel and not the emergency services at all, then a handheld VHF seems helpful, DSC being another thing worth another £50 maybe.

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Re: VHF and training

Post by grizzly7 » Sat Sep 21, 2019 1:26 pm

So, in anticipation of buying a handheld vhf i just completed the one day RYA course.

The instructors agreed that if all I wanted was a unit to use for a genuine Mayday then since such use is ok for anyone, doing the course for just that is not required.

Buying the book gives you all the info ISBN 9781905104031 which is cheap second hand but you get one if you pay for the course. This week there is a small change to one type of urgency call, and some of the book is outdated but still what they use. You might do the course online and then visit somewhere for the test which might be cheaper? Test fee is I think £60 to RYA, so one day course fee should include that I would think.

If you actually want to use the VHF as any other vessel does then the course is required and helpful.

To me, some of it is overcomplicated, and similar to the ongoing variation you get over the years doing first aid and what CPR must be. In both cases instructors said it used to be this which is fine, but today it must be this because those on high say it's better but not in my day etc. As well as you will use one of their radios so you are tested on it's specific use but the one you end up using won't be the same most likely.

To both send and more especially relay a Mayday it would very much help to have a pen and paper. A handheld with a built in gps position and DSC makes it easier to send one because a series of button presses followed by a tiny data burst is probably easier and more understandable than a rushed garbled voice message, the Cobra MRHH600 for instance says it can rewind and replay the last bit of what was heard so that might help in relaying someone else's info? MIPDANIO

There was some debate as to wether a gps fix is a better thing to say than a bearing and distance from a known thing. The DSC won't say 3 miles on 165 degrees from Fastnet but folks hearing that locally will immediately know where there that is. If you get it right of course!

A VHF bolted to a boat or ship will have the name of that vessel and it's callsign registered to it, so in raising someone else you would use the vessel name in the call, local people and friends will maybe know what your boat is called. A handheld is registered to you as a person, your callsign is T followed by six numbers that Ofcom give you. No name. So in saying hello to anyone you should it seems say T123456 or whatever and not any name, so no-one will know who you are? Even if you christen your kayak unofficially that cannot be included with your official call sign for a handheld. So how would other's here raising another boat nearby using a handheld describe themselves?

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Re: VHF and training

Post by TheEcho » Sat Sep 21, 2019 1:57 pm

I have never heard anyone use T... callsign and I used to hang out in an area with plenty of radio traffic from handhelds - two largish sailing clubs who mostly raced dinghies and small keelboats so did not use fixed sets. Everyone communicated using the name of the boat they were on, and the person standing on the shore talking was either “Boatname mobile” or “Beach”. I was “Sea Kayak Tempest”.

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Re: VHF and training

Post by grizzly7 » Sat Sep 21, 2019 4:46 pm

Would that have been non DSC handhelds which presumably wouldn't have been individually ID'd by Ofcoms non boat or club licence? Since DSC requires your iD in the radio, but it does seem a bit daft called yourself a six digit number all the time.

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Re: VHF and training

Post by TheEcho » Sat Sep 21, 2019 7:10 pm

Some were DSC, some were not, I think.

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