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Back when we ran our own business, we were frequently astonished to find just how awful some peoples’ telephone skills were. We would occasionally receive calls where the person on the other end of the line would, without identifying himself first, abruptly say “who’s this?” Others would identify themselves only by their first name, assuming that we know only one “John” in the world. And when it came to deciphering recorded messages, many people forget that just because they know their own telephone number off by heart, the person they are leaving the message for doesn’t!

There are lessons in everything and we tried to learn from those people by not making the same mistakes ourselves. It’s no big surprise though that we see a perfect parallel on the VHF radio, the primary means of communication onboard a boat. While there are a great number of people who do speak very well on the radio, the vast majority in fact, there are… others.

I know they aren’t reading this but here are just a few tips for those people:

1. Say the name of the party you are trying to talk to before saying your vessel’s name. When people hear their own name they perk up and start paying attention. Say their name more than once (3 times is proper I believe).

2. After completing number 1 above, say “this is…” and then your vessel’s name AT LEAST TWICE. Just as with the recorded phone numbers above, just because you know your vessel’s name, don’t assume that the vessel or marina on the other end of the radio does.

Collins Bay Marina, Collins Bay Marina, Collins Bay Marina

This is Zero To Cruising, Zero To Cruising. Over.

3. Don’t have a conversation on channel 16 unless you enjoying getting yelled at by other boaters and/or the Coast Guard. After making contact, move the conversation to a working channel.

4. Don’t take on the self-appointed role of “Radio Police.” You’ll just sound like an ass to everyone else listening.

We don’t stress out when people talk poorly on the radio but some people sure get worked up about it. We typically just poke fun at them (between ourselves of course, not over the radio). We do also try to learn from their mistakes though and do a better job when we need to get ahold of someone. Now, if you’re calling a buddy on the radio and/or someone who is expecting your call, feel free to tone down numbers 1 and 2 above. You should still try to retain the basic structure though.

Some more nighttime pics of the Jacksonville Landing area…

Ana (m/v Knot Tide Down), Rebecca and our new friend Beth.


  1. One of the worst on the radio are some of the Coast Guard people – they seem to sound like they are trying to read the message as fast as possible. The is especially true when they read of the Lat. and Lon. of some incident – and they don’t repeat it for those of us who don’t have a pencil at hand. So we have no idea if an incident which occurred is near to us.

    Suzi thinks when they get out of the C.G. they’ll get jobs as auctioneers or those guys who read all the warnings at the ends of commercials.

    BTW, do you use DSC to talk to buddy boats to save on traffic on channel 16?

    • That’s funny that you say that about the CG reading stuff very fast. Many of them also apparently don’t know the significance of the word “break” that they use. πŸ™‚

      We have only just started using the DSC to call our friends. I was planning on writing about that in the blog a bit later.

  2. 4. Don’t take on the self-appointed role of β€œRadio Police.” You’ll just sound like an ass to everyone else listening.

    That is SO funny and SO common.

    As Larry said, there will be a broadcast that a boat is sinking, and then the position is given at auction pace and not repeated. In fact, the one time I called the Coast Guard I had to call back on a cell phone and request a supervisor, because the guy on the radio admitted he wasn’t a boater and didn’t understand my question. Often Coast Guard responses smack of inexperience. Kind of scary.

  3. I started following this blog late last summer. I don’t know what happened, but I have apparently fallen waayyyy behind on your progress. Last time I checked y’all were sailing around Canada and reluctant to release a departure date. Are you all the way down in Florida now?
    Well done.

  4. Great advice! Love the bridge pictures. Looks like ya’ll are having a blast.

  5. Did you know there is an App for iPhones and Droids that makes your phone work like a walkie talkie? It’s called Hey Tell, it’s free and works quiet well, that is if the person you are talking to has knowledge of how to speak on a walkie talkie (doesn’t drop the button before they are finished talking.)

  6. Your points about speaking on the radio are well taken. I would add to always speak distinctly and clearly, and don’t rush. Also, be aware of the effect of background noise on the clarity of your message.

    Lovely pcitures, Mike. I LOVE the night shots! Is that bridge really blue?

  7. I know it is entirely human nature, but if someone are not being heard at the other end (or if they just *want* to be heard), people talk very loudly. In fact, this decreases their effective range, since the audio just becomes distorted. Developing an effective radio voice takes time and practice (and feedback!).

    Nevertheless, I have to bite my tongue all too often, to keep from keying the mic and saying, “You’ll be heard much better, if you take the microphone *out* of your mouth.”


  8. Awesome bridges!! I don’t know who Helen is but I love her. Wise woman. . . .

    • The bridges are awesome, unless you lose an engine and get pushed towards them in the quick-running current!

      (That hasn’t happened to us but it does seem a risk of being in this area.)

  9. Fabulous photos…especially the middle one!!

  10. Mike, I think one of the problems with many boaters on the radio is that they have never been taught how to speak properly and what is appropriate vs. what is not. When I learned to fly my instructor taught me what to say, how to say it, and when to say it. There was a whole chapter in the instruction book on radio work. I am happy to say that after 22 years as a professional pilot I have never heard anyone lose their cool, cuss, or say anything inappropriate over the VHF. You must be clear, efficient, and to the point in aviation or it is a likely possibility that someone could get hurt. In contrast, I have at times been horrified by some of the language and unprofessional things I have heard on Ch. 16 while on the water. People calling Mayday for things which are not an emergency, cussing, and whole conversations as if they were the only people in existence, to name a few. I think many in the boating community could do with a requirement for some lessons prior to getting on a boat and the radio.

    Glad to see you two have made it to warmer waters!

  11. We keep a digital voice activated recorder in the “junk” drawer right by the VHF. Lin Pardey recommends doing this in case you are the only boat in range to hear a Mayday or Pan-Pan call.

    So far, we haven’t had to use it in an emergency (guess we should check the batteries?)

    Fair Winds,

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