Is it difficult to install and use?

To use marine-band VHF radio, you need a transmitter/receiver set on your boat or a portable set. For frequent users of these larger waterways, it is worth investing in a fixed set, with a separate aerial mounted as high as possible.  Installation is simple, requiring only a link to the boat’s DC power supply and a connection to the aerial.  On narrow boats, where you are standing outside in the wind, perhaps with significant background engine noise, an external speaker on the cabin top is a useful accessory – the type used by the RNLI on their inflatable lifeboats is the best bet, as these are waterproof.  If you will be using your vessel at sea, you should fit GMDSS capable equipment and this will also provide benefits on the larger inland waterways.

If your planned trips on these waterways are on an occasional basis, a handheld (ship portable radio) set (borrowed or hired) may be a more practical and affordable option, although these will not give as good a range as a set with a separate antenna.

Your ‘ship radio station’ (i.e. your fixed radio installation) or your ‘ship portable radio station’ must of an approved type and must be licensed with the Radiocommunications Agency (RA).  On application through OFCOM, who deal with maritime radio licensing for the RA, you will be given a licence and a call sign. The licence is available free and can be applied for on the OFCOM website.

Users must be qualified to operate the set or must use it under supervision of a certificate holder (except for marina Channels M1 and M2), although in an emergency with risk to life, anyone may use the radio to call for help.  To obtain the necessary certificate is straightforward and the Royal Yachting Association administers the necessary short course and examination, which can be undertaken at very many centres, including in the Midlands, far from the sea.  Having passed this and declared that you will preserve the secrecy of correspondence, you will be given your certificate, complete with your photo, which is valid permanently unless revoked.

The reason for the regulation of radio use is to make sure that you can use it correctly in an emergency situation (yours or anyone else’s) and to maintain discipline in the use of the correct channels and procedures. You should make sure you remember how to make and how to respond to a Mayday (emergency) call, similarly for Pan Pan (urgency) calls, Pan Pan Medico (medical urgency) calls and Securité (safety) calls.  Write down the procedures and keep the crib sheet handy. It is worth noting that use of marine VHF radio on international channels without a radio licence or operator’s certificate can attract a summary fine of £5000 or a six month prison sentence, or an unlimited fine and two years if it goes to the Crown Court!