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Old 04-07-2015, 01:03 PM   #1
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VHF range?

Just completed our second trip to the Bahamas on the Turtle E. Awesome (Hope Town area - wonderful!). This time, we had a friend go with us in his boat. Throughout the trip, we tried to keep in touch with our radios, but were very disappointed in their performance - both the handheld and the mounted.

Near the end of the trip, we parted ways out on the ocean. His radar can track a target and display info about it, including distance. So we know that, at only about 2.5nm apart, we lost the ability to effectively communicate over the VHF's. Both of our radios were in high power mode (25w for the mounted, and 5w for the handheld, I think).

Shouldn't we be able to communicate via VHF over far greater distance than 2nm? Seems like a good mounted radio should work at least to the distance at which you lose sight of another boat on the horizon - is that unrealistic?

We have a tall Shakespeare antenna on the mounted radio - it's 16' taller than the top of the bimini, putting the tip of it 32' off the water.

What could be wrong? Should I take the mounted radio to a shop for testing, or is there a way for me to self-test? All help greatly appreciated, as always!
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Old 04-07-2015, 01:32 PM   #2
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VHF is line of sight. Line of the antennas' sight, not yours. It sounds like antenna height is not an issue for you. We have a 24' antenna on our boat and in our home slip we can hear the BC ferries calling for Active Pass which is a good 30 miles away or more with chunks of islands between us. And we have talked to boats in a bay at an island some twenty miles from us.

So for whatever reason, you are not getting much signal strength to and from your radio. Could be too much resistance in the line, I suppose, or a fault with the radio. Or maybe too much resistance in the power feed to the radio.

I know very little about the care and feeding of a VHF radio, but you are most definitely not getting the kind of performance that you should be getting.
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Old 04-07-2015, 01:32 PM   #3
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VHF range?

Must be the connections. Passing mangrove cay, I think it was about 6AM (can't remember) I received a transmission from Tow Boat US FTL KGA455. Which i thought was damn good.
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Old 04-07-2015, 01:41 PM   #4
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Start by checking your connects and have the radio tested.
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Old 04-07-2015, 02:08 PM   #5
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Must be the connections. Passing mangrove cay, I think it was about 6AM (can't remember) I received a transmission from Tow Boat US FTL KGA455. Which i thought was damn good.
Funny you should mention Mangrove Cay - we were on one side of it and our buddy was on the other side - unbeknownst to us because of the crappy radio performance up to that point in the trip!

Sounds like I need to have the radio tested, and if it tests OK, then check all the connections.
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Old 04-07-2015, 02:31 PM   #6
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Brian,

I would check connections first but the problem might also be yours friends radio in the other vessel unless he has done an independent test with another station. If you haven't tried a radio check with a different station I would do that before I started taking things apart. 2.5 miles handheld to handheld might be a problem in some situations, but handheld to a fixed radio should work just fine with clear line of sight. How is the radio on NOAA weather reception? It doesn't take much corrosion on a connector to make things go south on you. Modern radios generally don't degrade over time but their antennas and connectors do.

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Old 04-07-2015, 02:34 PM   #7
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you can have a technician with a Bird watt meter to check both your radios and antennas.


but you need good connections and at least 12.7 volts at the back of the radio when transmitting.
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Old 04-07-2015, 02:45 PM   #8
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You can check the connections for free. Unless it's under warranty, it will cost you to have the radio checked.

But more important, it's generally the smarter way to troubleshoot something by starting with the simplest and fastest potential problems to cure and then work your way in deeper. For example, if one of my engines doesn't start, I'm not going to have the starter removed and rebuilt as a first step. I'll check the battery connections, then the starter connections, then the start button, and so on.

I may ultimately need to have the starter removed and rebuilt but it seems an unproductive place to start.

So in the case of a weak radio I'd start with the antenna cable connections. Loose, corroded, bad solder joints? Same thing with the power connection to the mounted radio. If I had a second mouted radio on the boat, which we do, I'd connect it in place of the "bad" radio and see what happened.

If after doing all this the radio was still not transmitting very well, it would be off to our marine electronics shop.

As a pure aside, a comment on radio checks. We hear them all the time because most people do them on the wrong channel -16- instead of the channel the CG wants us to use which used to be 22A but I believe has changed to a higher frequency.

So a guy comes on and says "This is the XYZ looking for a radio check." And usually a bunch of people if it's boating season come on and say, "XYZ, this is the JKL. I hear you loud and clear." Or maybe, "You're coming in pretty weak." Or whatever. XYZ says thank you and that's that.

That to me is a totally worthless radio check. Why? JKL didn't say where he was. And THAT'S what I want to know if I were to do a radio check. Where is JKL?

Is he two slips down? Is he a couple of miles out in the bay? Is he halfway up Hale's Passage? Is he 22 miles away on the other side of Lummi Island in Echo Bay at Sucia Island?

Knowing where the radio check reply is coming from is the only reason to ask for one because it's the only way I can gauge the performance of our radio and antenna system without having the required test equipment on board.

But almost nobody responding to a radio check call does this. We do it. The couple we boat with as often as we can do it, probably because they were active in the CG Auxilliary and so know how frustrating it can be to not get the position information they needed. But outside of us, I virtually never hear this information included in an answer to a radio check. "Loud and clear," that's all one gets around here which tells you nothing about your radio's performance other than it's broadcasting enough of a signal for somebody to hear.
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Old 04-07-2015, 03:06 PM   #9
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In some areas, the towing companies operate an automatic radio check service (here it is on channel 27), which rebroadcasts (with a short commercial) your transmission (and they have a tower mounted, high-wattage antenna). That way, you hear what you sound like to others, at least if the receiver part of your radio is working correctly (the weak link is usually, in my experience, the transmission part).
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Old 04-07-2015, 03:10 PM   #10
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I contact Sea Tow Automated radio check on channel 28. I know where they are so know the distance. It is free.


Automated Radio Check Service

We all know that having a functioning VHF radio on board is a necessity. Checking your radio to ensure it is working should be done every time you go out boating. In the past you used to need to make a radio check request and wait for a response, but no longer!
Now you can do it yourself with Sea Tow’s Automated Radio Check Service. Provided as a FREE public service to boating communities nationwide, Sea Tow’s innovative Automated Radio Check Service reduces the volume of non-urgent communications traffic on VHF channel 16, the international hailing and distress channel, while still allowing you to perform the check to ensure that your radio is functioning properly.
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Old 04-07-2015, 03:45 PM   #11
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The automated check is a good idea. We don't have Sea Tow up here, only Vessel Assist (so far as I know). I'm not aware of an automated radio check system here, but it would be nice to have one if for no other reason than to get everyone asking for checks off 16.

Something I dont understand... The CG doesn't want people asking for radio checks on 16. Fine, good idea, makes sense to me. But every time someone asks for a check on 16, the CG comes on and tells them not to do it. But the CG just gave them a radio check by telling them not to do one.

Seems to me the CG's solution is to just not say anything when someone asks for a radio check on 16. If some other boater answers the query, THEN the CG should come on and chew both of them out for conducting a radio check on 16. Two birds with one stone, so to speak.
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Old 04-07-2015, 03:48 PM   #12
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Quote:
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The automated check is a good idea. We don't have Sea Tow up here, only Vessel Assist (so far as I know). I'm not aware of an automated radio check system here, but it would be nice to have one if for no other reason than to get everyone asking for checks off 16.

Something I dont understand... The CG doesn't want people asking for radio checks on 16. Fine, good idea, makes sense to me. But every time someone asks for a check on 16, the CG comes on and tells them not to do it. But the CG just gave them a radio check by telling them not to do one.

Seems to me the CG's solution is to just not say anything when someone asks for a radio check on 16. If some other boater answers the query, THEN the CG should come on and chew both of them out for conducting a radio check on 16. Two birds with one stone, so to speak.
But in the process they educated a bunch of other people, some of whom would have immediately asked for their own radio check.
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Old 04-07-2015, 04:30 PM   #13
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Certainly sounds like antenna/cabling/connection issues.
The Sea Tow service is nice because it let's you hear how you hear. Port St Lucie and Fort Lauderdale are Ch 27, Ft Pierce 26. here is a handy search guide to see where and what channel.

https://www.seatow.com/tools-and-edu...ed-radio-check

Another way to do it is call a draw bridge or marina on their working channel, so you know how far away you are from the respondent. Just ask them what their schedule is, can they hear you OK and thank them for the info.

I think making sure of the radios' performance is an essential pre-departure check before heading out onto the briney blue.
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Old 04-07-2015, 05:08 PM   #14
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If you both were experiencing the same thing it sounds like you may both have an issue.

Did you do Radio checks before leaving for the Bahamas? Is this a new problem?
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Old 04-07-2015, 06:32 PM   #15
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One bad antenna connection on one radio would do as you describe. You (or your friend) would transmit and receive poorly. The way to find out is with a VHF test meter or both of you contact a third boat (or the SeaTow automated radio check) some distance away. The boat with the bad antenna will be obvious.
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Old 04-07-2015, 07:41 PM   #16
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But in the process they educated a bunch of other people, some of whom would have immediately asked for their own radio check.
In theory you're correct. But it doesn't seem to make a dent in the number of radio check calls on 16 around here, particularly during what passes for our boating season..

In fact I can recall one time when a fellow called 16 for a radio check, was given a reprimand and the correct channel to use by the CG, and then a half hour later or so, called for a radio check on 16 again.

I learned to use a VHF radio when I started learning to fly in Honolulu way back when. As I know professional pilots like FlyWright are, my wife and I are very comfortable using the radio either in the air or on the water. It's not intimidating to us and we understand the logic of what should be said, who to say it to, and when to say it. As with everything else, it's mostly common sense as well as understanding what information the folks at the other end need to have and are looking for.

So it always baffles us when we hear boaters using the radio in sometimes very strange, often very annoying, or illogical or flat out incorrect ways.
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Old 04-07-2015, 07:49 PM   #17
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Ninety-eight percent of the time when hearing USCG responses to boats under distress, I don't hear from the distressed boats themselves. No doubt this is largely due to the USCG having signal repeaters and the distressed boats are not in line-of-sight.
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Old 04-07-2015, 07:54 PM   #18
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In theory you're correct. But it doesn't seem to make a dent in the number of radio check calls on 16 around here, particularly during what passes for our boating season..

In fact I can recall one time when a fellow called 16 for a radio check, was given a reprimand and the correct channel to use by the CG, and then a half hour later or so, called for a radio check on 16 again. ...
Frequently hear reprimands for using channel 16 for radio checks. Personally, haven't seen the need for a radio check (the radio always works). Why not just call a nearby marina (what are your fuel prices?), and however they respond, you've got your radio check?!
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Old 04-07-2015, 08:02 PM   #19
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Why not just call a nearby marina (what are your fuel prices?), and however they respond, you've got your radio check?!
That would work. The USCG seems to be fine with conducting radio checks on the correct channel. I'm not sure what that channel is these days. It used to be 22A.

PS-- Here is what the USCG has to say about radio checks....

"Radio checks with the Coast Guard Communications Stations on DSC and HF radiotelephone are allowed."
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Old 04-07-2015, 08:04 PM   #20
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VHF range?

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That would work. The USCG seems to be fine with conducting radio checks on the correct channel. I'm not sure what that channel is these days. It used to be 22A.

Here in FL, when a CG cutter hailed me, we went to two two Alfa and then he took my info on where we going how many people aboard, etc. So I guess here it's not.
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