Using a VHF
A little story of the importance of your VHF:
One weekend my good friend and I checked the regular TV forecast and it said there would be a little rain. So we thought “well, that’s not all that bad.” So we decided it was a go to sail to Catalina. We sailed over on that Friday night. In the morning we saw a hundred dolphin jumping all around us. The sun was shining and all was at peace. We arrived at Two Harbors on Catalina later that morning and got ourselves all situated there. Later we took a stroll and stopped by the Harbor Master to see what the weather was going to be like the following day. We were shocked to see that a gale was on its way with 40 knots of wind!
The following day was sunny and bright and nothing seemed amiss. The wind was blowing the tops of the palm trees but that was the extent of any weather. We both decided to go back home. I thought that maybe we would experience 5 foot waves at the most. Well, we experienced 5 foot waves just leaving the harbor. Then the seas rose to ten feet. After we had crossed out of the shadow of the island, the wind really kicked into gear and the waves got to twenty feet high and stayed this way for the remaining 9 hours home. It was extremely dangerous and we thought the sails would tear or that the rudder would break. Often the wind exceeded 40 mph and we went back to get a report the following day and there were reports of gusts up to 70 mph.
All this to tell you to listen to the NOAA weather report before you go sailing and NOT to trust the local weather stations! The NOAA VHF Station would have told us about the gale coming and we would have saved ourselves a ton of trouble!
Listening to weather report:
Before going out sailing always check channel 1 (one) on the VHF for the NOAA marine weather. I share more details below under “keeping a Log & Preparing for Weather”.
While out sailing, keep your VHF on channel 16 and maintain radio availability. This channel is the basic communications channel and will be used by the coast guard, or by anyone needing to communicate with you or the harbor master or coast guard. Learn the basic alerts and there meanings (such as Securitay Securitay , Pan Pan and Mayday Mayday).
Keeping a Log & Preparing for Weather.
Listen not only for the local area but listen closely and take notes on the “weather along the coast”. Listen for wave hieght and seconds between waves (this will tell you if the waves are choppy or just rollers). Listen for wind strength (15 knots and above be prepared to reef sails down or roll them in). Listen for small craft advisory or gale warnings (don’t go out in a small craft or gale unless your with someone experienced. Gales can be very dangerous so make sure you know what your doing.)