What do you do when you need help right now on your boat?
Assuming there are other boats around, the first thing is to put out a call on the VHF stating exactly what you need. Five blasts of a horn will also get attention.
In the past couple of weeks here in Boot Key Harbor, there have been several calls for help.
- A man who keeled over, unconscious. His wife put out a call for help. 911 was called and he was gotten to shore, where a ambulance was waiting. Turned out to be a heart problem which was treated and he is now back aboard his boat.
- A boat dragging towards other boats in high winds. A call on the VHF got at least 4 people there in just minutes to help the singlehander.
- A boat on fire, reported by a nearby boat. Almost instantly there were several dinghies on scene to see if anyone was trapped inside (no).
The VHF is a one-to-many call for help, with people who are on the water. Generally, calling on 16 or a local hailing channel summons help instantly. (If you’re offshore, an emergency call on 16 will usually be picked up by the Coast Guard, who are specially trained to get assistance to you as fast as possible.)
Calling 911 gets local responders to the waters’ edge, but generally doesn’t get them to your boat. Make a VHF call first, then someone else can make the 911 call while you do what you can on the scene.
And of course, if you hear an emergency call, do whatever you can to help!
P.S. Learn more about making emergency VHF calls (including automated ones that include your position) in VHF Radios: Everything You Need To Know.
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Your VHF radio is one of the most versatile pieces of equipment on your boat, as well as your first line of communication in an emergency. Do you know how to use all of its amazing functions? Learn how in just a few hours!