July 2, 2012

Talking to strangers

HOW DO YOU CONTACT a strange vessel by radio? It can be faintly embarrassing to call on VHF when you don’t know the name of the vessel. It’s not much use to broadcast: “Big vessel on the horizon heading towards me, come in please.”

So what’s the best way to go about informing someone that they’re on a collision course with you?

Well, there’s probably no best way that covers all circumstances, but we may be able to figure out some essentials. First, you have to attract the other vessel’s attention, presuming he’s listening on Channel 16. The best attention-getter is the vessel’s name, if you can see it, or if you have AIS. But, presuming you can’t see it, how do you address this unknown vessel?

If it’s a class of vessel you can describe accurately, such as a tug-and-tow, an aircraft carrier, or a submarine, you have an advantage straight away. It’s almost as good as a name. Otherwise, confine yourself to “motor vessel” or “sailing vessel.”  I say this because you might be tempted to call “freighter,” and I know from experience that some container ships or car carriers won’t recognize themselves if you call them “freighters,” and they won’t reply.

The second thing you need to establish is roughly where you are. Your ship-to-ship VHF range is restricted to a few miles, so it’s reasonable to describe your position as “Admiralty Inlet” or “Juan de Fuca Strait,” but much better if you can place yourself off some well-known landmark shown on the chart. “Two miles south-west of Houndstooth Point” or “Vicinity of Buoy E12.” Don’t be tempted to give your exact GPS co-ordinates in this initial broadcast. Right now, you’re just trying to establish communication.

Thirdly, tell the other vessel where you are in relation to him. Say you’re directly ahead of him, or on his port bow, or wherever. And, if you can, guess which way he’s heading: “Vessel steaming south” etc.

Fourthly, give him your boat’s name.

Here then, are a couple of examples of reasonable attempts to contact another ship or boat under way:

* “Tug steaming south two miles west of Cherry Point, this is the sailboat Scuttlebutt on your starboard bow, do you read please? Over.”

* “Power vessel in Bellingham Bay, this is the sailboat Scuttlebutt directly ahead of you. What are your intentions, please? This is Scuttlebutt. Over.”

* “Sailing vessel on port tack two miles east of Heron Island, this is the sailboat Scuttlebutt on starboard tack. Please reply Channel 16. Over.”  

Today’s Thought
A good talker, even more than a good orator, implies a good audience.
— Lesie Stephen, Life of Samuel Johnson.

Tailpiece
“Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup.”
(7)“Yes, sir, it’s the flavor of the week.”

1 comment:

mgtdOcean said...

Thought should be given to naming your boat also due to the talking with strangers need. An acquaintance recently bought a power boat. This guy is 53 going on 15 and decided it would be funny to name his boat "Sissy Bitch".
I can't wait to sail the mid Chesapeake Bay and make the call for him:)