— Brinestorm

The Best Signaling Device for the Coast Guard

How do you signal the Coast Guard when you need help? You use your VHF radio, of course, and you broadcast on either channel 9 or 16 (in the US, anyway). Then, when they’re dispatched, what is the very best single way to help guide them to you? Pocket flares? Marker dye in the water? Flashlights? Shoulder strobes? GPS-equipped personal locator beacons?

No, no, no, and no. The answer, once again, is your VHF radio.

I asked this question of the Coast Guard personnel at the USCG Golden Gate Station, at Fort Baker, Marin County, California. This one station executes around 600 rescues a year in and around the Golden Gate Bridge and the fairly treacherous waters just outside the San Francisco Bay. They said, day or night, the best thing you can do is to use your VHF radio to help them pinpoint your location. All their rescue craft have receivers that can locate where you are transmitting from. Stay connected with your radio, keep talking, and they can find you.

Now, we’re talking about the United States Coast Guard here: Your VHF radio won’t let just any old vessel find you. Flares absolutely do have a use for signaling other civilian vessels, who must render assistance to you under maritime law…assuming they’re willing to comply, of course. I’ve moved away from carrying my VHF radio on my person and carrying it in a waterproof case on my deck, so if I get separated from my boat, I can’t use my radio…but, to be honest, I don’t carry flares on my person, either, so that’s tantamount to the same problem. I should probably remedy that, eh?

But it sure makes one rethink how charged their radio is, to ensure that its speaker grille and mic port are clear of water (which can garble transmissions), and that there’s at least one extra radio battery somewhere in the boat.

  1. J says: March 20, 20149:50 pm

    I’m working oldest to newest, so maybe you’ve covered this elsewhere, but do you have a specific model of radio you’d recommend?

    • nathan says: May 31, 20141:12 pm

      Radio choice is very personal. Many like Standard Horizon radios from West Marine, and they work well. I have come to prefer Icom brand, simply because they’ve become familiar to me and they’ve worked well in a broad range of circumstances. Pictured is the floating Icom M36…I own two!

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