vhf radio use

In the course of researching a series of articles on VHF radio use, I came across the Coast Guard’s cache of audio case files.

The audio on this channel 16 VHF mayday call is frightening and, I think, instructive, even though it is not a kayak fisherman’s call.

I loaded the audio into a video editor and added subtitles.

A scuba diver has slipped below the surface in the fast tidal currents off Ram Island in the East Coast’s Fishers Island Sound.

The topside caller, the diver’s boyfriend, making an understandably frantic mayday on channel 16, has noticed that his girlfriend didn’t have time to reinsert her respirator before sinking.

He makes the call while hauling anchor and while trying to track her bubble trail.

I think the audio is worth listening to despite - or, perhaps better, because of - its garbled distortion, repeats, and confusion and miscommunication.

The distortion, known as clipping, makes the Coast Guard watchstander’s job difficult.

It’s only when a nearby boat intervenes on the call that the situation - although by then an active Coast Guard rescue - becomes fully clarified.

To me, at least, the clip shows understandable desperation’s effects on broadcast clarity.

The case ended tragically.

I added subtitles to the audio which is courtesy of the US Coast Guard’s media page:


To files like that is tough when you know they’ve ended tragically. Whether they are military, law enforcement, or marine/maritime, it helps to understand exactly what you have to convey, and convey quickly and clearly to the Coast Guard.

You want to keep radio traffic to an absolute minimum in an emergency, hence the importance of broadcasting who you are, where you are, how many in your party, your description and the nature of your emergency.