: Ed: VHF radios would have fixed everything. No mention of rescue
: skills, proper paddling attire, leadership, group size, or
: whether the group should have even been on the water that day.
: A VERY important lesson to be taken from the events of Sunday...
: We all have many hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars wrapped up
: in boats, paddles, accessories, and gas every week. We should
: ALL have a handheld waterproof Marine radio.
I agree that everyone having, carrying and using a radio is a good idea. They make communications between spread out group members possible and this can solve a lot of problems.
However, there are many reasons they might not solve the problem described in the above trip report.
The simplest is people forget them, they lose their charge, their antennas break, whatever. There are many reasons radios won't be there when you need them. These can generally be solved by being conscientious in their maintenance and everyone in the group performing a radio check on shore before launching, but the Netherlands incident posted earlier showed many of these problems with radios among ostensibly conscientious, experienced trip leaders.
The next problems are environmental: VHF is primarily line-of-site. While they can transmit over low land, reaching fellow paddlers around a point, they lose reliability quickly along jagged coasts with high land between paddlers. The signal may also be blocked by high waves, or when used very close to the water. A paddler in the boat is already close to the water relative to the intended use of handhelds in powerboats. When someone is in the water their range will be reduced even more. Carl, Jim Rasmus and I have done some testing with the Coast Guard where we communicated with the CG while swimming at a range of up to 5 miles, but the CG has good antennas and sensitive receivers, your mileage may vary (downward).
Even when everyone's VHF is working perfectly, it is possible no one in your group will hear your transmission. On a windy day you may not hear your radio even when the volume is turned up high. If the weather is cold and you are wearing a hood, or maybe a helmet, your hearing will be reduced.
Also in rough conditions even if someone does hear you they may not feel comfortable enough in the water to respond. Without a response there is no way to know if your transmission was heard or not.
In a busy radio environment (summer on LI Sound) where lots of boaters are using their radios to discuss fishing conditions, or where to go for lunch, how stupid those kayaking idiots are, or who still has beer, your transmission may be overwhelmed by bigger, more powerful radios and not get through.
It is also very likely that a kayaker's VHF will be wet. This can do two things. It can reduce the volume of the speaker on the receiving and and it can muffle the microphone on the transmission end. So, even if the transmission is loud it can be anything but clear. It may sound like Charlie Brown's teacher. (blowing out your microphone before transmitting is a good idea)
So, carry a radio, but don't use them exclusively with the assumption that they will work perfectly. Do a radio check before getting on the water. Determine who has a radio. Decide what channel the group will monitor. Channel 9 is the hailing channel, you can use this to get attention, but you will need to switch to another channel as soon as you gain contact. Channel 16 is also a hailing channel, but should only be used for emergencies, not for group coordination. It is best to choose a non-commercial channel where you can talk to each other without having to switch back and forth between multiple channels. Channel 69 is easy for some people of a certain turn of mind to remember. You can talk there all day.
Agree on a group name so you can get the attention of anyone in the group: e.g. "Kayak Pod", "Connyak Group", etc. If anyone in the group hears this they can respond. When you are trying to get attention of the group say the group name three times slowly, clearly and loudly into the microphone (make sure you hold down the transmit button during the whole time you are speaking) then wait a minute for a response before trying again. Even if someone hears you it may take them a while to get their radio out and respond. If you do not get a response, do not assume anyone heard you. If you are on the receiving end, you need to respond as soon as possible. If no one responds to your transmission repeat your hail again and say what you want to say. Even if nobody responds it is possible someone heard you and they will get the message.
The Connyak BBS