Good morning to Captain and Crew alike and welcome to another edition of the Admiralty Docket. As this unusually cold winter comes to an end and the weather allows more people to get out on the water in South Carolina, a few words about recreational boating safety – and specifically marine VHF radios – are in order.
A hundred or so years ago, when your Charleston Maritime Attorneys were just wee lads, there were few options for ship to shore communications, especially for smaller vessels. We just shouted and hoped that someone could hear us. Now, however, there are a myriad of choices when it comes to recreational marine communications devices, including relatively inexpensive waterproof, durable, handheld and shelf-mounted VHF radios. With the proliferation of cell phones in recent years, however, many owners of smaller vessels have foregone the purchase of marine radios.
A couple of weekends ago, when yours truly was taking a rare but well deserved break from the office to enjoy a day of fishing offshore of Charleston, I was reminded of several reasons that cell phones are not adequate substitutes for marine radios:
- VHF gives you passive access to relevant information from the Coast Guard. On the trip out, Coast Guard sector Charleston broadcast a Notice to Mariners on VHF channel 16 regarding a floating obstruction in the main shipping channel in Charleston Harbor. While this information could be available on the Coast Guard website and accessed via phone, it must be actively sought out rather than passively received by the vessel’s captain;
- VHF allows you to communicate directly with the Coast Guard and other nearby mariners simultaneously in the event of an emergency. Later in the day, the Coast Guard received a call on Chanel 16 regarding a capsized vessel in distress near Folly Beach. A nearby vessel gave the Coast Guard updates on the status of the vessel and its crew which was broadcast to others nearby who helped assist until the Coast Guard arrived. This can be particularly important where the vessel or crew is in immediate danger or when the Coast Guard is a long distance away;
- VHF works in areas where traditional cell phones do not have signal. While the range of a VHF depends on several factors, including the type and size of antennae, a VHF radio can be used to communicate with nearby vessels far beyond traditional cell phone range; and
- Many VHF radios are waterproof. There are relatively inexpensive, waterproof, floating, marine radios available for vessels of all sizes. While cell phones are great to have on any trip, most are not waterproof or do not float and the cost of some phones these days (or their waterproof cases) far exceeds the cost of a VHF radio.
More next week on the Admiralty Docket. Until then, remember that your rights and responsibilities may change as you approach the shore, and may God Almighty grant you pleasant sailing.
The Admiralty Docket is a blog written by Charleston, SC Maritime Attorneys John Hughes Cooper and John Townsend Cooper which focuses on maritime legal issues and current events in South Carolina and the Southeastern United States.