You know how when you’re driving along, especially late at night, how it’s nice to have the radio on to keep you company? Well, boats are usually equipped with more than one radio. One might be a standard radio like you have at home for music, news, talk-radio or whatever. But the other is a two-way VHF radio for communicating directly with another vessel, the Coast Guard or a marina, etc.. And if you have one of these installed, the FCC requires that you must maintain a listening watch on channel 16 (156.800 MHz) whenever the radio is operating and not being used to communicate. None of this is new to me, we did the same sort of thing in the flying business. The idea being that we could hear calls addressed to us (if by no other means) and/or relay distress messages if required. It’s a good idea. I’ve heard a few distress calls in my flying career.
In the last couple of days, Mosey On & Crew have made some long passages (down the Delaware Bay and up the New Jersey shore) where we just had to roll along, as the anchorages were scarce. But while the cruising was straight-forward and predictable, our listening watch on Channel 16 was both a revelation and tragicomic! Within our reception range we heard the following calls to the Coast Guard:
- sailboat’s engine quit, unable to make way
- powerboat ran over sailboat in Manasquan River with injuries
- unattended small sailboat adrift in the upper Chesapeake
- center-console runabout on fire
- cruiser powerboat with bilge full of gasoline off Cape May
- bow-rider powerboat ran across jetty and lost steering
- boat tied to dock…taking on water
- twin engine sport-fisherman 50 miles off Nantucket lost 1 engine – insufficient fuel to get back to port
- sailboat skipper knowingly left channel and ran aground. Tide going out. Boat on her side.
- man looking for wife and children – he had left them on sand bar for clamming, not there now!
These are only the ones that come immediately to mind as I write this. Midst all this chaos, the ‘Coasties’ seemed to take the calls calmly and professionally…help was dispatched, sometimes in time….sometimes probably not (we passed the sailboat hard aground on her side and abandoned some hours later). It’s an amazing combined effort by the Coast Guard, State Marine Patrols, Sheriff’s Depts., Fire and Rescue and local police. Some of these calls reflect real tragedies, others make you want to laugh. I suspect that it’s pretty much the same every day…perhaps worse on the weekends. And you hear it all unfolding on your radio.