VHF Radios

On certain areas of the canal and rivers system, you need to have as a legal requirement a Marine VHF radio. This may seem a simple thing to have but the law in respect to it requires you to have two things. 

1) A Ofcom License which is free
2) A Royal Yacht Association VHF Radio Short Range Certificate which is normally about £75 for the course and certification by RYA £60.00

You can't operate a VHF radio without the above certificates. They are however the RYA is a life time certificate, and the Ofcomm licence 10 year renewals, unless they are revoked, or you change your boat or portable handset.

The first question is what VHF radio.
You can have two types of radio, Fixed onboard VHF radio or a portable VHF handheld radio. I selected the portable radio as it it can be transfered between boats if you wish to buy another narrowboat. When you license a handheld radio through Ofcom you register the HANDSET not the boat, where as you register the boat with the Fixed radio option. 

With the fixed VHF radio you do get advantages, It will have a higher range, higher watt output, and a thing called DSC (Direct Selective Calling). I will explain about DSC later. All fixed radios have to have DSC by law.
With the handheld portable radio you get exactly the same as a fixed radio however some models do not have DSC. Portable VHF at this time do not have to have DSC at a requirement. The advantages are that your equipment is as the name suggests portable and is more convenient to canal narrowboat users.

If you are looking at the future for handheld portable VHF sets then please look at one with DSC as I can see that this will be made a requirement in the near future.

The best radios that are on the market are Standard Horizon and iComm, both have a wide range of equipment. The picture to the left is a Standard Horizon portable VHF transceiver that has DSC, it also floats, and is submersible down to 1 meter.
This is a video giving you an idea what this portable can do.

If you are looking at the future for handheld portable VHF sets then please look at one with DSC as I can see that this will be made a requirement in the near future.

The best radios that are on the market are Standard Horizon and iComm, both have a wide range of equipment. The picture to the left is a Standard Horizon portable VHF transceiver that has DSC, it also floats, and is submersible down to 1 meter.
This is a video giving you an idea what this portable can do.

The down side is that a portable will be less powerful than a fixed radio, and will not have the same range as a fixed radio.
With a portable radio you will get about 3 miles line of sight range standing on the ground at about 1 meter high, where as a fixed radio, depending on the aerial size, and height can be anything from 3 Miles to 12 miles. However with narrowboats you can't have a large mast, or large aerial due to the canals bridge restrictions.

However a portable radio is ideal for use on any narrowboat as these restrictions do not encumber it.

You may think that VHF is not used on the canal system. You would be wrong, very wrong. Many areas of the canal system have VHF radio contact and monitoring, such as Marinas, Lock Keepers, tidal control stretches of river and bridge control. Here is a list of some of the VHF channels on the Inland waterway (correct 2011). Having seen this list you will most likely to be suprised at the long list of VHF channels.

The VHF system is controlled tightly so hence the legal requirement for qualifications. You will need to know for example the full distress procedures, how to communicate properly, call signs etc, plus how your radio works and how it can work for you.

One of the examples is DSC. This is Digital Selective Calling or DSC for short. When you register your DSC boat radio with Ofcom, you will be allocated a special unique number called a MMSI number. This number is linked to a national database that gives details regarding the holder of this number in case of an emergency. However it also automates many of the procedures which would otherwise be carried out by voice on the Distress, Safety, and calling on channel 16. The information is passed in a data stream automatically on pressing a button on the radio for 5 seconds on a NON Voice channel 70 which must not be used in any circumstance. You can now start to see why you need training to know this.