RIB Electronics Part 2
After looking at big ticket items – EPIRBs and Radar on your RIB, it’s now time for the smaller, but just as important items that should be on your RIB checklist, kicking off with VHF radios.
Even with our reliance on mobile phones, marine VHF radio is the best way of summoning help onboard your RIB – unlike mobile phone technology, it is possible to contact the coastguard up to 50 miles off-shore and talk to other yachts up to 15 to 20 miles on the open sea depending on conditions and your VHF set up.
If you use a marine VHF radio onboard your yacht you are required, by law, to hold a marine radio operator’s certificate. The Short Range Radio Certificate can be studied at hundreds of RYA approved schools in the UK and you can search for your local RYA centre here. It is also a legal requirement for VHF radios to be licensed.
The majority of fixed VHF sets sold today are Digital Selective Calling (DSC) enabled. DSC radios have the ability to alert another vessel or rescue centre directly and exclusively to the fact that you want to talk, before opening voice communications in the normal manner, on the normal channels. Most importantly, before putting out an urgent safety message you can digitally alert ‘all ship”. The benefits of digital selectivecalling can be found here in this guide to GMDSS and a DSC video guide is here:
Guide to Digital Selective Calling
So, what should you consider when looking to purchase a VHF radio for your RIB?
Power, reliability, price and integration are my top 4 things to look at, starting with power.
The power of VHF sets is measured in Watts and the higher the power the further the range, but more power out means more power is required in so shorter battery life for handhelds or non-recharging batteries on your RIB.All fixed sets have at least two power settings, 1W and 25W. Handhelds have various power levels, typically 2.5W to 5W as standard.
As you can see, there is a big difference in power and therefore range of handheld sets and fixed sets – for this reason, I’d recommend investing in a good fixed set (and antenna set up) and a handheld for your RIB’s grab bag if your budget allows.
Price wise, fixed VHF sets range in price from £80 to £500. As with most items, you get what you pay for and I’d recommend sticking to one of the two major manufacturers here and here – and budgeting for a quality antenna, mount and connectors for the set. These can make all the difference in range – as VHF is line of sight, it goes without saying that the higher you mount the antenna on your RIB, the better your range is likely to be, all other things being equal.
In terms of reliability, I’ve not heard of too many issues with fixed sets from the major manufacturers – if your budget will allow, try and get a set which meets IPX7 standards (waterproof to depth of 1m for 30min)as this will give you confidence that your VHF will cope with pretty much everything your RIB can put it through…
Handheld VHF sets come in waterproof and buoyant guises – I’d still opt for a low cost VHF waterproof bag though – these can be clipped on to your wet weather gear or lifejacket and will extend the life of your VHF set considerably..
Other things to consider are integration with AIS and your chartplotter. Stiicking to the same brands of kit can often help – but NMEA is the protocol designed to ensure your gadgets talk to one another.
Whichever kit you choose, don’t forget to charge your batteries the night before you head out and always carry out a radio check before you depart – some useful background info on using VHF radio is here.