A necessary requirement of operating radio equipment on a yacht is having the proper credentials. Government standards address minimal skill requirements but as any good skipper knows, it's prudent to make sure you know how to operate radio equipment with confidence. A distress situation on-board is not the time to be pulling out the radio manual!
For sailors venturing no more than 30 miles offshore, a Short Range Certificate (SRC) is sufficient to satisfy local licensing requirements. If you take a course from a certified RYA facility you'll come away knowing how to use your VHF radio not only for handling emergencies but for all your daily communications needs like entering a marina, talking to other yachts, reporting a buoy light not working, etc.
When you decide to venture further offshore however, your VHF radio becomes useless for contacting shore-based facilities. The range of the VHF is limited by line-of-sight. The curvature of the earth will eventually disrupt the VHF signal; this becomes a factor once you can no longer see the shore.
This is where a Single Side Band (SSB) radio comes in as well as more expensive gear like Satellite Internet. SSB radio has been around for a very long time and is capable of allowing you to communicate from thousand's of miles away! It does this by skipping radio waves around the planet like you'd skip a stone on a pond. With SSB on board, a skipper can set the appropriate frequency, pick up the microphone and talk to Falmouth Coast Guard from the Caribbean!
In order to use that shiny new SSB you just had installed, you need to get a Long Range Certificate (LRC). There are a number of places to take this course in the UK and EU (I just completed one in Southampton given by Bob Smith of YachtCom). The course takes anywhere from 2-4 days depending on your ability to work with simulators online and perform some self-study versus working in a classroom environment with an instructor.
I chose the later (i.e. the 4 day course) and was grateful for the extra time to work with the equipment in real life rather than a computer simulator online. Also, hearing questions and answers from the other students brought up issues I would not have thought of. Our instructor, Bob, did a good job of preparing us for the final examination.
After three days of classroom practice, an independent examiner comes in to test your skills to a world-wide standard (AMERC). Achieving at least 75% on all the written tests (there were three different ones) as well as being able to demonstrate practical skills on the actual equipment to the examiner will earn you the LRC which is valid for life.
Regardless of the path you take, the material is very interesting and I've come away from the experience confident of my abilities to handle the equipment in any situation. Of course all information that you've learned slips away if not used so I plan to work with my SSB in the evenings to continue to hone my skills.
Note, if you have a SSB installed on-board and do not have the LRC you could have issues with authorities of some of the countries you may visit. Holland, Germany and Spain have reputations for low tolerance on this issue. Fines will be significantly more expensive than taking the course!
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