It confounds me that we are well into the 21st Century, surrounded by new technology, yet I hear a boater comes on Channel 16 in the middle of a busy morning asking for a radio check. Around Annapolis, it happens numerous times an hour. The lack of proper radio protocol is one thing, Good Buddy, the other is the fact that this guy is using an emergency distress hailing frequency. Reminiscent of CB radios of the '70s and Smokey and the Bandit trucker talk, there is no place for this on Channel 16. And you can hear the frustration of the Coast Guard radio operator when he or she calmly informs those listening that Channel 16 is for emergency purposes only. Come on, folks, this is 2018.
There has been a much better alternative for several years now. But getting the word out to boat owners has been an uphill journey.
One of the largest tow boat and marine services around the country is Sea Tow. It is a truly national service, employing certified captains and boat operators to assist members and non-members in whatever issue comes up on the water. Break downs, out of fuel, vessel aground, pretty much anything short of boarding pirates can be handled by the able folks at Sea Tow.
Back around 2010, the company introduced a free, automated radio check service that has proven light years better than any previous way to check on the quality and clarity of one's VHF radio. To use Sea Tow's free Automated Radio Check (ARC) service, one simply tunes one's VHF radio to the appropriate channel for your location, keys the mic and speaks in a calm voice to conduct a radio check as before. But rather than relying on some distant fisherman miles away to respond, when you release your radio's microphone, the Sea Tow system comes back to you immediately, with an automated message and then plays your original call as it was recorded at the base station. You can hear the quality and clarity of your radio check call, its signal strength and how intelligible your voice sounds. There is no better way to check the operation of your boat's VHF radio.
This is also handy when working on or adjusting your radio and antenna, or as part of your checklist of getting under way for a day on the water.
Sea Tow sent me an updated coverage map of the service to show you how the service has evolved and where the ARC is available today, with planned future expansion clearly identified. If you boat in any of the areas shown in yellow, you are good to go to use this system.
The ARC system uses VHF Channels 24, 25, 26, 27, and 28 for this radio service, and one only needs to determine which channel is assigned to your location. It should work out to about 15 to 20 miles from the Sea Tow base station. To identify which channel to use in your boating area, go to the Sea Tow website (https://www.seatow.com/tools-and-education/automated-radio-check) and enter your location. The site will identify the proper channel to use in your area. You can also download the Sea Tow app from ITunes or the Google Play store. The website also has a video explaining the service and how it works. Very simple to use, very helpful, and state of the art.
During the long trek up or down the ICW between your home waters and Florida, it is a simple thing to locate the proper channel for the day and then check the operation of your onboard VHF radio(s). And with the service in the Pacific Northwest, Southern California, some areas of the Great Lakes, and along the Texas coastline, there is even greater utility for a wider audience of boat owners.
Hearing the quality and clarity of your own transmission lets you know the operational readiness of your boat's VHF radio. When you need it, you'll know it works. During this off season, why not identify your "home" channel and put it on a label next to your VHF radio. So you will always have it handy and on your mind. And forget Channel 16. Leave that for true emergencies.
I plan to republish this post in various forms a couple of times as we get closer to the boating season in the Chesapeake Bay area, so we can reach as many boat owners as possible. Perhaps this is one of those blog entries you might "Share" in your own boating area, group, or forum? I see no downside here.
Great job, Sea Tow. Kudos for continuing to expand a great service for all boat owners.
UPDATE!!! The Sea Tow website apparently is not working properly, as stations for Washington State are not coming up. I contacted Sea Tow and Cindy McCaffery sent me this list of Washington stations as an interim measure until they fix the website. Thanks to Ken Buck for pointing out the error:
Location City/State Channel
Meydnbauer Yacht Club Lake Washington, WA 25
Nomadic Research Labs Friday Harbor, WA 28
Quartermaster Yacht Club Vashon, WA 28
Port Ludlow Marina Port Ludlow, WA 28