You need to know your VHF radio is working properly, so getting a radio check is an important safety procedure. Traditionally one would make a general broadcast requesting a check on a working channel other than 16, which is purely for emergency purposes, then wait for a response. But sometimes no one answers the call, leaving you to wonder if there was simply no one listening or if your radio wasn't broadcasting properly. Sometime, that is, until now.
A new service from Sea Tow, called ARC (automatic radio check), is now available in major coastal boating markets across the U.S., including the East Coast, Gulf of Mexico, and Southern California, as well as in select inland regions. To get that automated check, all you have to do is visit the Seatow ARC page, determine the proper channel to use in your area (24, 26, 27, or 28), turn on your radio, and make a traditional request for a radio check. The ARC system will respond with an automated reply, and then play back your own transmission so you can hear the strength of your signal. The service is free, whether you’re a Sea Tow member or not.
In the future, the ARC program plans to offer the service through additional marine outlets in areas throughout the Continental U.S., Alaska and Hawaii. Marinas, boat dealerships, bait shops, and other on-the-water businesses that regularly monitor the radio will host the service, and post-check messages can be pre-recorded to announce local events.
BoatU.S. also has a radio check service, this one with a live voice on the other end. Better yet, it allows you to ensure that the DSC (digital selective calling) function on your radio is working properly. Boaters along the coast from Alabama to New Jersey can use a single digital MMSI hailing number, 0-338-04000, which will link your transmission to the closest TowBoatUS tower. Call the local TowBoatUS company’s landline first to schedule the free DSC-VHF radio check ahead of time (here's the phone number for your local TowBoatUS company), and they’ll verify that your latitude and longitude appears on their screen, as well as confirming your voice transmission.
The next time you shove off the dock, do some advanced planning and be ready to make one of these VHF radio checks. For once, you can be sure someone—or something—is listening, and will respond when your transmission goes through.