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I am looking for a suitable VHF radio for cruising the tidal Trent in a 60' narrowboat

Asked by: Rob Henry  | 6.12pm, Tuesday 2 March

WW says:

The main choice comes down to a fixed unit (which typically has an output of 25 watts) and a hand-held unit, with an output up to 5 watts.
Fixed ones are more powerful- and VHF is usually line of sight- so the higher the aerial, the better the reception. However, the steel superstructure of a narrowboat can sometimes interfere with the transmission output, so specialist advice might have to be sought.
A handheld VHF unit is easier to use, but you are unlikely to get the range of a fixed unit. Note that the fixed units must be DSC units and type-approved.
Don't forget that you also need a radio licence, for the vessel (which gives you an MMSI number), plus an operators certificate- which is a one-day course, offered by the RYA, leading to the VHF (short range) certificate. it is illegal to use a VHF without these two conditions.
As for the radio, a chat with a river-based chandlery will probably help- or a narrowboat owner (or, more likely, cruiser owner) based on a river, will help you make a decision.
If this is not enough to help you, please let us know!

Mark Langley  | 12.05PM, Wednesday 3 March

Hi Phillip.
I agree with your comments about DSC being possibly "over the top" for narrowboat owners, but all new fixed VHF sets must be DSC- with handheld possibly moving that way in a few years.
A simple handheld VHF will probably work, although on the tidal Trent, it does often mean that the aerial (which in is your hand) is below the level of the floodbanks, which can attenuate the signal so that very little gets through- and range can be quite limited.
I would generally prefer fixed units, for their greater power, and, usually, higher antenna- though I agree, that the GMDSS component fo the DSC set with a GPS unit is possibly overkill... though bear in mind that some tidal waterways (Port of London) may be moving to using DSC in the future, especiall if you are adventurous, and want to head to the Medway!

Mark Langley  | 9.11AM, Sunday 14 March

It is in the construction of the actual sets, under the international regulations governing marine-band radios, that DSC is compulsory for new fixed units, and the intention (as the technology improves) to make all new marine handheld sets DSC compatable.
I must agree, I have used mobile phones on tidal rivers (especially when I didn't get an answer calling on Ch16 or ChM !) and they are possibly more use in contacting lockeepers, though, of course, suffer one disadvantage, that you can't listen to other vessels calling.
In the meantime, a handheld VHF is possibly the easiest way to go, though improved coverage might warrant a fixed unit. There has not been a date set (yet) for when all new handhelds will have to be DSC compatable- even then, there will be a changover perdio, much as when older non-DSC VHF sets were being phased out for sale.

Mark Langley  | 10.27AM, Tuesday 16 March

Readers say:

I have just completed the RYA Short Range VHF radio course and am asking the same question. I was favouring a DSC type because of the advantage of being able to make exclusive calls to specific boats holding an MMSI number and the ability to send a position automatically. However to send a position I would also need a sat nav attached to the radio, which is more expense. The tutors advised me that a radio of this kind is over spec for most narrow boat owners. So I have decided to go for the portable kind that one of the tutors had bought recently i.e. Icom ICM35 (Boyant). However, I could probably buy a cheaper one that would do the job perfectly well.

Philip Dale  | 9.03AM, Saturday 13 March

I took the RYA Short Range course principally to travel from Teddington Lock to Limehouse basin, although we do run along the Trent. We have done the Teddington-Limehouse once without a VHF transeiver, but last year we were not allowed to do the trip without one. Interestingly, I spoke to a NB owner who had done the trip with a VHF radio and he said that all his comminication with the lock keepers had been by mobile phone.
Last year we took our NB from Sharpness to Portishead and then to Bristol. We hired a different pilot for each part. The pilots had a simple portable VHF radio similar to the ICOM M35. I was not aware of the intention to make DSC compulsary. Nothing was said about that on our course. I wonder whether this will apply to rivers?

Philip Dale  | 6.11PM, Monday 15 March

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