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Monday, February 25, 2013

How To Use a Marine CB Radio

How To Use a Marine CB Radio
A Raymarine CB Radio
A CB or Citizens Band Radio is a vital feature while out on the water.  One can never be too sure about cell phone reception on the high seas, and before cell phones, the only option was the CB anyway!

A whole lot of fun can be had on an afternoon by hanging out in your cockpit with a cold brew in hand, listening to the chatter on the various radio frequencies.  Particularly in a busy harbor, you'll hear a chorus of what can sound like another language to the uninitiated.

Before we begin, here are some useful channels you need to know:

Channel 9: Monitored by Coast Guard, particularly in the northeast, but technically a 'boater calling' channel.  Use this to hail your friends, then switch to a 'working channel.'

Channel 13: Bridge-to-bridge station.  Use to ask politely for the time of the next bridge open.

Channel 16: Coast Guard.  Call for help, or advise of hazards on this channel.

Working Channels: All channels marked 'non-commercial' that can be used to talk to your friends at length.  Typically, 68, 69, 71 and 78A.

Those are the basics, but a comprehensive list can be found here.

There is a certain way to correspond on marine radios.  Interestingly, there was a recent article in a trade magazine about the radio chatter in George Town, Bahamas that seemed to downplay the importance of using special terms to signal a radio transmission.  I personally feel that the terms were invented to avoid confusion, and should be used for exactly that purpose!  

So, here is a typical conversation from captain to prospective transient dock:

CAPTAIN: Blue Boatyard, Blue Boatyard, Blue Boatyard - this is the Caro, over.

BLUE: Caro, this is Blue Boatyard, over.

CAPTAIN: Coming in for a transient slip tonight - please advise on slip number, over.

BLUE: Slip will be on B Dock, that's Bravo Dock, number Zero, Niner, Fife - repeat, Bravo Dock Zero Niner Fife, over.

CAPTAIN: Roger Bravo Zero Niner Fife, I'll be approaching in four minutes, thank you - Caro out.

Here is a link to information about how to say letters and numbers in marine-speak.  This will greatly help you figure out why a person is picking up a mooring while simultaneously drinking whiskey (actually, he's picking up a mooring labeled 'W' for 'whiskey!').

In this example, there are a few things that always ring true: first, say the name of the entity you are calling three times.  Then identify yourself, and say 'over' to mark the end of the transmission.  Sometimes, BLUE BOATYARD will respond with just, 'Caro, Blue Boatyard' to signify that the person has gotten your transmission and is identifying that s/he is ready to receive again.  After discussing your business, you'll want to say 'roger' (more official) or 'copy' (less official) to signify that you have received the important information you were seeking and you will comply.  Then, at the end, you want to tell them that you're 'out,' or done transmitting.

Again, this is very basic, but often the point with all of this is only to communicate efficiently and effectively with the person at the other end, who is accustomed to rules governing this kind of communication.  Listen to transmissions around you for people who clearly know what they're doing, and while you're at it, you can have some innocent fun at the expense of someone who is clearly lost in the sauce.  "Hello?  Blue Boatyard?  Is that you??"

Most importantly: DO NOT abuse channels 9, 13 or 16.  Monitor them closely, but do not converse on them longer than is necessary.  16, and sometimes 9, are serious emergency channels and need to be kept clear for that reason.

Other than that, enjoy your moment in the spotlight as you sound like a Top Gun fighter pilot.  I secretly do.
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