Marine Communications

Marine communications should not be limited to a satellite phone.... if you have one.... and definitely not a standard mobile/cell phone!

Yes it can be easier to use a satellite phone … for calling home, and for business it can be far more effective.... and the difference between going sailing or staying home. 

But what about the safety aspects in an emergency .... a May Day call down to a trip report or other calls that have to be made for the sake of safety.

Mobile/Cell Phone ver Other Communication:

For offshore sailors as well as those coastal sailing radio communication should provide the main method of communication. All vessels on the ocean usually use VHF (Very High Frequency) radio for communication.

This gives regular weather reports, general communications and trip reports are possible, speaking to other yachts in time of crisis, communicating with coast stations and radio is the means used for emergency distress calls.

Using a modem, other communications such as facsimile and computer data can also be transmitted and received.

Hand Held VHF Radios:

Hand held VHF radios are essential for on deck use if you solo sail and your radio is in the cabin.

There are many times especially when arriving at a destination or leaving when it’s necessary to call Coast Guard and at the same time having to be cautious of your position and being at the helm.

VHF radio is limited to line-of-sight communication this means that the range is usually limited to the horizon, about 40 km. VHF would seem sensible for Coastal cruising 25 to 100km km offshore, then a SSB for over 100km offshore. Marine communications beyond the horizon is possible using HF (High Frequency) radio. HF radio waves tend to curve along the ocean’s surface.

This allows HF radio to travel long distances, well beyond the horizon. Unfortunately the quality of this communication link is affected by solar activity and so it is often not a good signal.

Marine Communications Equipment:


Maritime authorities make it compulsory for yachts to carry marine communication equipment when they go to sea in many countries.

One Forum on the subject brought out some good comments.

  • One Sailor said …. ‘Yes it should be compulsory. I’m a yachtie and know radio's save lives. Not only lives, but a hell of a lot of taxpayer dollars trying to find you. Every yachtie going out to sea must have a radio.
  • Another comment …’Legislation legislation, legislation, you can't even fart without licences here in the UK, don’t do it.  If you go to sea without a radio (or flares or lifejackets or even a compass) and you "encounter difficulties" then you may well die, and then there will be one less idiot in the world’.

  • And adding to the subject … ‘Yes. And there should be compulsory rescue insurance so we don't have to pick up the bill for negligence.  Those who are rescued and don’t have communications equipment should be forced to take courses on the importance of safety measures.  Communication equipment does not mean a cell phone, with all the problems with areas with none … or fickle signals’.


Good marine communications equipment needs to go hand in hand, with other minimum standards and a good deal of common sense. Which unfortunately is not always too common?

Having a radio is only part of the story and knowing how to use it is the next. All of these things are in courses that are cheap compared to the price of a boat.

Good marine communications at sea includes a radio ... what about a satellite phone




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