Cell phones: A great backup while out on the water

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 20, 2004

Special to the News-Herald

If you have read my column over the past three years you know that I have always and will continue to advocate the use of VHF radios as a primary means of communication for the recreational boating public. VHF radios are very easy to use, and Channel 16 (156.8 MHz) is monitored by the Coast Guard.

As I have written earlier, there is no doubt, hands down, that VHF should be your primary communication method, especially in case of emergencies.

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However, what about a backup method?

This past week actual events validated one possible back-up communication system that every recreational boater should consider: cell phones.

Caught in a violent storm, two commercial fishermen were in a boat that over turned just off the North Carolina coast. They lost all over their onboard equipment, including the emergency back-up systems. All that was left was the cell phone.

The cell phone survived the violent ejection into the water. The men used this capability to call a relative who was able to call the Coast Guard. An H-60 JayHawk helicopter was launched from Air Station Elizabeth City and quickly found the men.

What does this story reinforce? Several things:

1. Always have a back-up plan when boating. From engineering, to communications, to safety equipment you need to think through the worst case and prepare for it.

2. VHF will always be the primary communication system of choice for many mariners. However…

3. Cell phones to provide a great back-up system. I won’t advocate one over another but if you are boating in an area where there is a cell phone signal, they can be truly invaluable.

If you are boating away from your home coverage area, especially in an international situation do some homework in advance. For example, one specific phone system is used in the British Virgin Islands, while another totally different system is used in Barbados or Jamaica.

Communication for emergency situations is something you should think about well before it happens. It may be the different between life and death!

Until next week…Boat Safe, and Boat Smart!