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Five Ways Radio Communication Differs from Talking on Phones



The other morning – at 5:00 AM, actually – I was awakened by the sound of a diesel engine very close to La Luna. I scrambled out of bed and popped up on deck to see a bare-boat charter anchoring about 30 feet to port of us. That is too close. It was a dark and stormy morning and as the wind blew them even closer to La Luna,  called EW out of bed to stand by with me. We don’t know whether they had been anchored elsewhere in the bay and dragged or whether they had just come in from what would have been a stormy night passage, but we did know two things: 1) they weren’t great at anchoring and 2) they were too damn close. We didn’t call out to them, but stood on silent watch in the cockpit as they decided to pull their anchor. How close were they? Somehow their anchor had set just a bit out from our bow, and their dinghy brushed against La Luna as they hauled the anchor up Definitely too damn close!  We watched as they moved well off and tried to anchor again, facing away from the wind. That is definitely not a good anchoring technique. They later left that spot as well and we aren’t sure where they ended up in the bay. I never got back to sleep, so was a tad grumpy, but realized that I would not be able to call a friend and vent because anything we say on the radio can be heard by other boaters. There was no reason to embarrass those boaters by telling their tale over the radio for the whole anchorage to hear. Since we have no cell phone active in St. Lucia, the VHF and SSB are my only voice options and this got me thinking about the differences between marine radios and cell phones.


Below, is our VHF Radio. Here it is monitoring 68 and 16. (You can’t see the little 16 in the corner.



  1. The VHF and USB channels are public conversations.  In some ways it reminds me of the party-line phone we had in Island Falls, Maine many years ago. On the radio, listening to other cruisers is expected, if not encouraged. Some folks call it “lurking”. We tend to eavesdrop only on other friends’ conversations. A boater we enjoyed cruising with in the Bahamas listened at will to any conversation of interest to her. (She also kept binoculars in the cockpit and made liberal use of them, as well. I learned a lot from her.) Remember the Golden Rule and reverse it. If you lurk or listen, you should certainly expect others to listen to your conversations, so snark is not advisable. I can be the “Queen of Snark”, but curb myself on the nets.
  2. If you think ring tones are annoying, you should hear the Martinique and Guadeloupe Coast Guard Announcements. To reach someone on the radio you click on a hailing channel, call their boat name three times, and give your boat name, “FoxSea, Foxsea, FoxSea this is La Luna”.  In order to hear folks calling, you have to keep the radio on and the hailing frequency open, so we hear boats hailing boats, boats hailing ports and marinas, boats hailing coast guards, and the automated Coast Guard announcements from the French Islands, twenty times a day.
  3. Marine Radios don’t have answering machines. After Luperon, we got out of the habit of having the radio on when we weren’t under way. New friends in De Shaies, Guadeloupe chastised us as they would have to get in the dinghy and motor over in order to invite us for drinks. That is just wrong – and we could miss an opportunity – so we began leaving the radio on when we’re on board and awake. In Rodney Bay, we listen to two hailing channels, 16 and 68. I don’t want to miss anything and 68 is where many of the anchored boats hail each other. Here in Rodney Bay, one of our boating buddies called us and were surprised when we answered. “Well! You’re finally listening to the radio. Good!”  We can learn new things.
  4. Good etiquette is required and there are laws about how we can use both radios. On your cell phone, pretty much anything goes, but we are expected to maintain proper radio practices. In the States, the U.S.Coast Guard will go on the radio and chastise boaters who chatter on hailing frequencies. Down here, other boaters have been known to break in and ask folks to pick a channel and move to a different frequency for conversation. That’s where lurking comes in. If you want to know what those other boaters are talking about, just switch channels with them and listen in. If you have something to add to the conversation, it is acceptable (at times) to wait for a pause and say, “Break, Break” and, when recognized, add your comment or suggestion. The SSB radio is really a HAM radio and some channels require us to have a HAM license. Until then, we can legally only broadcast on those channels in an emergency. Getting licensed is high on our To-Do list.
  5. While we can send emails over the SSB, I cannot up-load of photos to Facebook and Twitter, or sendP7030003 a quick email to friends.  I miss the iPhone. I miss the iPhone a lot, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make in order to live our dream. It’s a tough life, but somebody’s got to do it.

At right is our SSB. We are listening to the Coconut Net this morning to find out where other cruisers are and what they’re up to. 4060 at 8:00 AM.

For now, I have to go. The marina has offered a free breakfast to cruisers. We heard about it on the radio. Happy 4th all!


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