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Ask Ken: Using Your VHF Radio’s Hail Function

The hail function on your VHF radio is one of the most overlooked boating safety and navigation aids.

June 23, 2016
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VHF Radio Hail Function
Using Your VHF Radio’s Hail Function Standard Horizon

Q. How can I make use of the hail function on my VHF radio?

A. Connect a length of 18- or 16-gauge, two-conductor cable from the hailer or PA terminals on your radio. Run the cable to a marine loudhailer speaker/horn such as the Standard Horizon 240 SW ($45, westmarine.com), which can be mounted in a forward section of the boat, hardtop or arch.

Before mounting, test the speaker to be sure it is positioned an adequate distance from the radio to prevent feedback or a screeching sound when speaking into the microphone.

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On larger boats, a second speaker facing aft can be useful to communicate to boats approaching from behind as well as to anyone in the cockpit. A toggle switch lets you select between the forward- or aft-facing speaker.

Some sets have a “listen” feature that can amplify the voices of those shouting to you from other boats, or even crew working on the bow.

Mastering Your VHF’s Hail Function
The hail function on your VHF radio is one of the most practical yet overlooked boating safety and navigation aids you can have on board.

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The ability to hail can keep you out of harm’s way by clearly stating your intentions to nearby craft when maneuvering in close quarters. This can prevent accidents and injuries, and avoid expensive repairs.

A full-function hailer such as the Furuno LH-3000 ($895) or Standard Horizon VLH-3000 ($450) offers additional functions, such as automatic signaling, that can be helpful to anyone manning the helm.

A hailer’s “listen” feature can collect and amplify distant voices and sounds picked up by your hailer speaker horn and play them through your radio or hailer’s front panel speaker.

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At reduced volume, a hailer can be indispensable when asking others on board to assist in handling lines or perform other tasks, or just to request a sandwich or soft drink. This is also helpful when communicating with someone on shore when docking.

When making your way back to port in thick fog or in the dark of night, a hailer can come in handy. One of a hailer’s most important features is its foghorn. It can broadcast your presence in poor visibility. When in automatic mode, a hailer can produce foghorn sound patterns for both coastal and inland waterways, as well as special signals when underway, at anchor or undertow. In manual mode, it can function as a ship’s horn by depressing the mic button. Some even have a built-in siren.

The listen feature can be used to pick up the clang of a buoy or the sound of a foghorn off in the distance. This can help confirm your location and guide you toward your intended destination. The sound of the surf breaking on the shore can warn you when you are getting close to land.

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Some have found the foghorn can also effectively alert a preoccupied or daydreaming sailor who is cutting across your bow or approaching dangerously close to your boat.

Add one or more intercom speakers ($35 to $60) and you can provide two-way communications throughout the boat, thus eliminating yelling and foot stomping.

There is another option if you don’t have a hailer or hail option on your radio. A megaphone, such as the West Marine ER-66S ($143), can be used to talk to nearby boats. It not only amplifies your voice, but it can also project it in any direction. At reduced volume you can also communicate to family or guests on board.

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