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Receiving you five-by-five 

CartoonIs the humble VHF radio a blessing or a curse? Jake Kavanagh, yachting journalist.

Personally, I’m divided on the issue. Listening to some of the banter on a busy Bank Holiday Monday, you could be forgiven for thinking it was an unregulated free for all.

Occasionally even the professionals slip up, such as during one routine weather forecast. “This is such and such radio (real name withheld) - two sugars please – here is the weather forecast…”  

But where the radio scores is the fact that they do broadcast, unlike a mobile phone, which only transmits to a dedicated receiver. Anyone within range of VHF can hear what’s going on.

Take the case of Colin

He decided to try windsurfing one day. He’d bought all the latest high-fashion gear, and had asked his friends with a motorboat to take him well out to sea so he could practice away from onlookers.  

Some way out into the Solent, they stopped the engine, dropped the hook, and set Colin off on his windsurfer. Nothing much happened until a gust of wind took hold of the sail, and Colin was whisked away, bending backwards and forwards like a demented limbo dancer, but miraculously staying upright.  

Because the anchor had fouled, it took his surprised friends some time before they could set off in pursuit, but by then there was no sign of him. Fearing he could half way to France by now, they put a VHF call in to the local Coastguard. “We’ve lost our friend,” they said, after being steered to a working channel.

You can't miss him

“What was he wearing?” the Coastguard asked. “Well, a bright pink and yellow wetsuit, a fluorescent yellow headband, pink gloves and the board had a matching pink and yellow sail. His name’s Colin, and you can’t miss him.” “Well, you did, sir,” quipped the Coastguard.

About two miles away, Colin had just slumped exhausted onto his windsurfer when a smart yacht drew up along side him. An impeccably dressed yachtsman leant over the gunwale and gave him a wave.   “I say,” the yachtsman bellowed, “it’s Colin, isn’t it?”

Colin was stunned. He had never seen this man before in his life, but was being greeted like a long lost friend…   “I’m awfully sorry,” he spluttered. “But I’m afraid I can’t recall your name..”   “Oh, you don’t know me,” the man said, “but they’re looking for you.” He gave his VHF a tap. “I’ll tell ‘em where you are.”  

So whilst some broadcasts can be a nuisance, at least they keep everyone informed.

Jake Kavanagh, marine journalist.

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