You can easily make the argument that if you are a skilled kayaker or part of a group of skilled kayakers, you will not have a need for VHS marine radios or other devices for wireless communication. There is no need to drop everything at this moment and scramble over to the nearest marine radio store for a VHF radio; the choice is a personal one that depends on a number of factors including your personal circumstances, needs, and financial situation. However, it would be disappointing to find yourself in a disastrous or even merely unpleasant situation and realize that you could have prevented the situation from reaching its present level of severity if you had simply remembered to bring your cell phone or radio along with you when you left home.
There are many practical reasons for using a radio to keep in touch with fellow kayakers on the water. Besides the potential downfall of having yet another instrument to keep track of and manipulate while you are in your kayak, having a radio present can remove a lot of potential guesswork about the intentions and whereabouts of other kayakers. A good radio communication system can also help you steer clear of miscommunications and negate the need for shouting at each other over the surf and spray of the water. This article contains some information about the different types of communication devices that are available for kayakers today.
VHF marine radios offer kayakers the ability to contact help immediately when they find themselves in life threatening situations and circumstances. However, you can also use them in a variety of non emergencies as well, and they are very practical radios to keep around for regular, everyday use. The hand held variety of VHF radios essentially resemble large walkie talkies, and they are convenient and user friendly for kayakers to make use of while out on the water. Different channels on VHF radios may be used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, or NOAA, the U.S. Coast Guard, mariners in charge of boats and ships of all shapes and sizes, and a number of different marine organizations. You are not allowed to use VHF marine radios on land.
On your VHF radio, channel 16 is designated as a hailing channel; you use it to start communications with people already listening on the channel. For example, one kayaker may call another kayaker on channel 16 to exchange information and then agree upon a different channel to use for a more detailed conversation. You can also use channel 16 to initiate a distress call, as the local Coast Guard outposts in your area will listen in on channel 16 for distress calls 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
If you want to make a distress call, you should say “Mayday” three times. Provide your name and inform anyone who responds that you are floating in a kayak; tell them the color of your kayak. If you are in a group, provide information on how many boats are present. You will of course want to provide your location to the best of your ability and inform the listener of the type of emergency you are experiencing. If you are in range of local authorities, they will provide you with instructions depending on the nature of your emergency. You might happen to be lucky and heard by a boat or ship nearby that might respond. Because of the dangers of sea navigation, vessels with VHF radios typically listen in on channel 16 to be aware of emergencies. The typical range of a handheld VHF radio is 5 miles.
Remember that using the various VHF radio frequencies is akin to speaking in a public area where anyone can hear you if they bother to listen in. You should not say things you would not want other people to hear and should reserve communications that are meant to be private for other systems of communication. Furthermore, you should always speak in a way that is socially appropriate; if you use bad language and the right (or wrong) people are listening, it is possible that you might have to face fines from the local authorities.