Top tips for using your VHF radio during OnBoard

24 Jan 20

As a coach it is crucial to maximise every minute of the time you are out on the water with your OnBoarders. Ensuring each session is planned and executed well will ensure the session keeps its pace, your OnBoarders stay interested and they get the key messages you are trying to get across.

Your marine VHF radio can be very beneficial tool  in making this happen. As communicating instructions, it will allow you to keep everyone safe, as you can react to any unusual situations that arise quickly. Anybody operating a marine VHF radio should either hold, or be directly supervised by a holder of the RYA Short Range Certificate.

Make sure that your radio is working properly

It's essential to know before you go out on the water that your radio is fully working. Firstly make sure it turns on, and the channels you want to use and functions work properly. Do a radio check with a colleague on the shore.

If it's a hand portable radio make sure the radio is fully charged. If you're on a patrol boat and are operating from a fixed radio after powering the radio up you should also do a radio check to make sure it's working properly.

Practice your Microphone Technique

It's important to have a good microphone technique to convey your messages clearly. Hold the radio microphone one inch from your mouth, speak slowly in a normal tone of voice so you avoid any distortion.

Be brief, disciplined and clear in all your transmission.

You will need to be brief, clear and disciplined when you operate your radio. Think about what you're going to say before you say it. Talk slowly and wait for the other person to reply. During your communication make sure the person you are talking to acknowledges your communication by saying ‘Over’, ‘Understood’ or 'Say again' if it's not. Ensure each transmission ends with 'Over' if a response is expected and 'Out' if it's not. This will pay dividends when you're communicating in very windy conditions, so everyone knows what is happening.

Make sure everyone helping in the session knows what channels to use and try to ensure the channels don’t get clogged up with chit chat. Try and get everyone involved with running the session into the habit that if a communication isn't beneficial to the session it shouldn’t be conveyed over the radio.

Only use the radio as part of the session or if you need to use it in an emergency. Ask yourself, do I need to send this message? Would it be easier to motor over to the other patrol boat or shore crew if they are nearby. Always make sure the squelch control on your radio is set just at the point where it cancels out static noise but not so far up it prevents you from hearing other radio traffic. 

Politeness is a Virtue

It's a good habit to say please and thank you when using the radio. Thanking other users will make them think more kindly about you.

Watch your language

Don’t forget that a VHF radio is open to the world and everyone in range can hear you, including any OnBoarders in earshot! Bad language is unacceptable and isn't allowed under the rules in your licence.

Radios aren't toys!

Our radios meet the highest standards of waterproofing and dust proofing. But radios can be damaged due to repetitive mistreatment such as being dropped, chewed aerials (yes, this really does happen!) and swinging the radio by the antenna etc. Continued manipulation of the aerial may break the aerial or reduce its performance.

This may lead to the wrong conclusion that the radio isn’t working when in fact the aerial is impaired. Protecting the exterior of your radio will help protect its components, minimising repairs and cost of replacing the equipment.

The Use of Aqua Bags

Even though Icom radios are waterproof we know  some schools put VHF radios in aqua bags. Although providing an extra layer of waterproofing, if the wrong size bag is chosen, this can bend the aerial, which will ultimately lead to poorer coverage. Also, ensure the bag and radio is dry when sealed. Trapped humidity in the bag can be counterproductive and cause corrosion.

Aqua bags also provide an extra layer against pushing the buttons. If it's a poorly fitted bag it could lead to the radio slipping. This could mean even though you think you may be pushing the PTT button, you may not, and your message may only be delivered intermittently.


For day to day battery charging make sure all the battery contacts are clean from corrosion both on the charger and the rear terminals of the battery. If the contacts are dirty then the battery may not be detected by the radio charger and will not charge the battery correctly. Make sure that you charge your radio batteries in a compatible charger otherwise you could potentially damage your battery and radio.

The Dangers of Salt Corrosion

It’s a fact that over time your VHF radio and other marine electronic equipment can suffer from salt corrosion. If corrosion is the bad news then the good news is there are steps to ensure that your VHF radio continues to be your trusty safety aid.

As mentioned in most manuals, it is good practice to clean your radio thoroughly with fresh water after exposure to saltwater. Otherwise, keys, switches and controllers may become inoperable due to salt crystallisation. This simple, practical procedure will ensure that you can prolong the life of not only your VHF radio. If rinsing any other waterproof portable marine electronic equipment that you might be using, ensure it is waterproof before giving it a bath. Don’t forget to dry the radio after cleaning it.


After the radios have been washed to reduce salt corrosion, they should be stored in a clean, dry, cool place. When you store your radio for long periods, e.g. end of the season, you should remove the battery (if the battery is removeable).

As an instructor, you need to keep our students safe. Your employer owes a duty of care to ensure everyone arrives back to base safe as well as happy. As well as being a great tool to help deliver a lesson, a VHF radio is an important device to keep everyone safe.

We hope you find these simple tips helpful in improving your session planning and radio etiquette.

If you are interested in learning more about using a radio then why not join an RYA SRC course. Find your nearest here.