VHF DSC radio – how best to communicate at sea

By on Nov 2, 2015 in Communications, Emergencies, Preparation | 0 comments

There are many ways to communicate with others at sea. What makes the VHF DSC radio the best form of short range communication and why is it recommended?   The controls of a basic VHF DSC radio There are many ways to communicate with others at sea, ranging from signal flags to satellite phones. While it is not a legal requirement in most countries, leisure vessels are strongly encouraged to use VHF DSC (Digital Selective Calling) radio as their primary means of communication, since this is used by the rescue authorities and commercial shipping.  VHF has a maximum range of up to about 30 nautical miles, but for ocean cruising SSB radio is the preferred option as it has a much better range than VHF. Is VHF DSC radio really necessary for inshore sailing? It is a mistake to believe that a mobile phone is all that is required for inshore sailing. Mobile phones are a useful back up means of communication but cannot be relied on, as even when close to the shore signal can easily be lost. VHF DSC radio features A VHF DSC radio allows users: to communicate with shore-based VHF users such as the Coastguard, harbour masters, lock-keepers and marinas to dial up other vessels by using a unique identity number to have one to one conversations with other vessels to send distress alerts at the touch of a button to automatically send your vessel’s identification number and position to others Operator’s licence Anyone who uses a VHF DSC radio must have an operator’s licence, the Short Range Certificate.  In an emergency, any crew member can use the radio, but it is advisable for those who sail regularly to do the one day course and get their own certificate, so that if for any reason the skipper is unable to use the radio, there are others aboard who know the correct radio procedure and can act quickly if the need arises. A VHF DSC radio that is linked to a vessel’s GPS shows its position on the display screen, as well as the current time Fixed radios vs handheld VHF DSC radios are available as fixed radios attached to a vessel or as handheld, personal...

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Fire prevention on boats

By on Sep 24, 2015 in Emergencies, Practical, Preparation | 1 comment

  Fire prevention on boats – common causes of fire: • Smoking below decks • Galley cookers • Build-up of butane or propane gas in the bilges • Faulty wiring • Petrol/gasoline vapour in engine bay • Flammable paints and solvents Fire onboard a boat – fire prevention tips: • No Smoking below decks • Butane and propane gases are heavier than air and leaks will result in a build up of gas in the bilges. To clear gas, open hatches, head downwind to allow fresh air into cabin areas and pump the bilges • Keep gas valves turned off at the bottle and cooker when not in use • Fit gas and smoke detectors • Regularly check butane and propane gas fittings and tubing for leaks • Keep butane and propane gas bottles in cockpit lockers which drain overboard • Stow all flammable liquids in well secured, upright containers in lockers that vent outboard • Never leave naked cooker flames and frying pans unattended • Always vent engine bays before starting inboard engines • Have the wiring checked regularly All crew should know the location of fire extinguishers and fire blankets on board and know how to operate them. (info. from Safe Skipper app for iPhone, iPad &...

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Capsize – understanding the risks

By on Sep 23, 2015 in Boat Handling, Emergencies, Practical, Preparation | 2 comments

A skipper should know how their boat will cope with rough seas. By working within known limits and understanding the risks, then the chances of a capsize occurring are much reduced. Safety is all about improving the odds. When considering the odds of a boat capsizing, knowing the limitations of its design and stability are critical. In order to do this, it helps to understand the basic principles of how a boat remains upright. Basic principles A boat remains upright because of the way its weight and buoyancy interact. The basic principle of buoyancy is that the upward buoyant force on a body immersed in fluid is equal and opposite to the weight of the fluid that the body displaces. The weight of the fluid displaced is known as displacement and the displaced water has an up thrust, or buoyancy, which is equal to the weight of the boat. The displaced water has a central point, or centre of buoyancy, which varies according to the shape of a boat’s hull and keel. The centre of buoyancy is not to be mistaken for the centre of gravity. The weight of a boat is distributed along its length, pushing the entire vessel downwards.  All the weight acts downwards through a central point, or centre of gravity, which is similar to the fulcrum or central point of a seesaw.  All the structure and the distribution of weight aboard contribute to a boat’s centre of gravity. To keep a boat stable in the water and prevent it from toppling over requires the centre of gravity to be low, which is greatly helped by having a deep, heavy keel and an engine below the waterline. Angle of heel If a sailing boat heels over in a strong gust of wind or is forced over by a big wave, then it will right itself once the gust or wave has passed. When a boat is upright then the force of gravity is directly opposed to the force of buoyancy.  As the boat heels over the centre of buoyancy moves outwards and acts as a lever does, pushing upwards with an increasing force. This is fine up to a point, but eventually as the boat continues to...

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Getting a tow for your sail or power boat at sea or on inland waterways

By on Jun 7, 2015 in Boat Handling, Emergencies, Practical | 0 comments

FREE tips from the Safe Skipper App for iPhone/iPad/Android: Getting a tow for your sail or power boat Plan how to secure a tow rope to your boat. The tow rope must be attached to strong deck fittings As a rescue boat approaches, warn them of any debris or loose lines in the water If you are being rescued by a lifeboat, follow their instructions – they are experienced in rescue techniques If necessary back the tow rope with other ropes to lead to other cleats and strong points on deck Avoid using knots or loops that cannot be released under load Protect the rope from chafing using plastic tube, rags or fenders When being towed in a small boat, you will need to keep the weight well aft to keep the bow up If the boat is down by the bows you may need to be towed from astern The towed boat should always steer to follow the towing boat unless the steering has been disabled The use of a drogue to aid towing can be...

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Always have an emergency grab bag to hand when at sea…

By on Apr 24, 2015 in Boat Handling, Emergencies, Preparation | 0 comments

  Grab bag: In the event of having to abandon ship, it is recommended to have a designated waterproof bag to carry essential emergency items.  These might include items already in use on the boat, as well as some already stored in the bag. Emergency at sea – bag contents: • Handheld GPS  • Handheld VHF  • PLB/EPIRB  • Flares  • Sea sickness pills  • Torch and batteries  • First aid kit  • Thermal protective aids  • Medication  • Food and water  • Ship’s documents  • Personal documents  (see Safe Skipper for more – the app for all boating...

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Distress flares – which flare, how & when to use?

By on Apr 24, 2015 in Emergencies, Preparation | 0 comments

How to use distress flares at sea Flares should be kept in a waterproof container in an easily accessible location such as a cockpit locker. There are several types of flare for different purposes: Red handheld flares: Use as a line of sight distress signal by day and night. Hold with arms outstretched. Point downwind. Don’t look at flare. Lasts approx 1 minute. Orange smoke distress flares: Use as a line of sight distress signal for daytime use only. Handheld and Floating canister versions, which last approx 3 minutes. Red parachute or rocket flares: Use for long range distress signalling. Up to 10 miles in daylight, 40 miles at night. Height 300m if fired vertically. Fire at 45º downwind in low cloud or strong winds. Lasts less than 1 minute. Illuminating flare White Handheld: Only available in some countries. Use to signal your position at night if there is a risk of collision. Hold with arms outstretched. Point downwind. Don’t look at flare. Lasts approx 1 minute. Tips • Handheld flares get very hot. Keep a pair of gloves with the container to prevent burns. • Check your expiry dates and replace when necessary. Take advice on disposal of expired flares locally. • All crew should know the location of the flares on board and know how to operate them. (info. from Safe Skipper app for iPhone, iPad &...

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