March 27, 2024

Tidbit: Walkie-Talkies [GMRS Radios] for casual comms

This is one of a series of brief, no nonsense posts that we call a Tidbit:

noun; small and [possibly] particularly interesting items of gossip or information...
The purpose is to share succinct posts about lessons learned, or things we use or do that work [or don't...] that are common to many of us boaters. 

This post is also worthy for listing in our Stuff we have and use sidebar —>

The goal is to garner feedback from those of you having first-hand experience with a better approach/ solution/ product...  
We never assume what we are sharing is the ideal or only; it just seems to best suit our needs [and/or habits and/or budget] from our experiences thus far...
Sometimes these Tidbits originate from a topic of discussion on one of the forums we participate in, and this happens to be one: Link to original post [27-Mar-2024]

Since we encounter this question on occasion, it made sense to post a more detailed response for future reference.

                               ➛ ➛ Peruse the right-hand sidebar for the up-to-date list of Tidbits ➛ ➛                               

Many users [ourselves included] use hand held Marine VHF radios to maintain comms when some or all crew are off the mother ship [on land or other watercraft] in remote areas.

Sometimes these are not appropriate- especially if you need to issue radios to several different guests off exploring in different directions since other vessels in the area might also hear the conversations [and we might occupy marine channels those actually boating need to use…]

Therefore, we have always keep a few [5; lost 1 over the years] cheaper, general use GMRS radios onboard for years for the same purpose. 

They work great. 
And once [so far…] on a remote kayaking trip, these radios were of great assistance during an emergency when one of 3 of kayakers [each with their own GMRS Radio] broke their wrist [during inclement weather; e.g., It was a dark and stormy night…] because of a fall on ice while hiking alone. 
There are several Walkie-Talkie radio types available, and are well described on this forum post.
Note: Last I knew [in the US anyway] technically you need an FCC license to use the high power GMRS channels, but that may have changed.
We issue them to guests whenever they are venturing off the boat [e.g., kayaking, SUP, dinghy, or hiking on land- remote or in a town.]
For safety, we do also issue those off on their own waterborne adventures from the mothership Marine VHF radios [and PLBs] for emergency use. [e.g., As we tell visitors ‘In case the mothership is struck by a meteor while you are away…’]

Coordination with users who may not be used to using radios:

About 15 years ago, we color coded ours with a wrap of different colored electrical tape on each antenna [useful when wanting to hail someone anonymously; original tape is still going strong…]

Photo taken Mar-2024; Taped applied ~ 2008?

We have fun making up bogus call signs:  [Sounds cool and officious; Less prone to interruptions by other radio users not in your group in crowded locations- like big cities- where we would likely be using cell phones anyway…]
Charley-Alpha-Kilo-Oscar, this is Charley-Alpha-Kilo-Bravo 
[Candy-Ass Kayaker Orange (antenna tape), this is … Blue…]
For distance use when separated, our protocol is to start/ hail first on a specified low power channel (e.g., GMRS 13; 1 watt- for better battery life) then, if unsuccessful raising the other party(ies), switch to a specified high power channel (e.g., GMRS 14; 5 watts?) and try again… [This works best with a comms schedule- e.g., everyone check in every 30 mins.]

Battery considerations: 

We prefer electronics that can use the Panasonic Eneloop rechargeable batteries [AAA, AA] we standardized on almost 20 years ago [still rate among the best for low self-discharge rates; e.g., long shelf life once charged.] This is so we can issue spare batteries for the GMRS issued to those traveling a distance from the boat [just in case… There aren’t any charging stations handy when traveling by kayak, sup, or hiking in remote locations…]

Sidebar: Radios are half - duplex [only one can speak- or more accurately, be heard- at a time, and then you have to release the PTT button to listen… If you want to…] Even if VOX [voice activation] is used. This is very adequate for most of our use cases, and what VHF radio users are used to. [This paradigm is also perfect for certain couples; some have even confided they found that judicious use of their personal volume control very satisfying…]
But for ‘real time’ comms on the boat [volume up; e.g., anchoring, hauling anchor, mooring, etc.- especially in sporty conditions] we prefer full-duplex headsets [you can still hear the other person if you are talking- like a phone; no PTT (push-to-talk) button.]. Nothing missed that way…

We do recognize that some relationships claim to attribute their longevity to only one member being able to [or being the only one to ever] speak [be heard?] at a time [half-duplex; the other party remaining silent until the speaker is finished- reportedly sometimes for long periods thereafter- or has released the button on the radio in our case…] 
But there are situations when the ability to interrupt is necessary [if not sometimes risky…] hence our preference for full-duplex headsets for real-time comms during boat maneuvers… [Always with carefully modulated volume— of one’s own voice of course. After all, they didn’t nickname these headsets ‘Marriage Savers’ arbitrarily…]


Please share your experiences, choices, and recommendations. We learn something new every day…

March 3, 2024

Feline Crew Ladder

We love our feline crew.

If they go for a swim while we are at anchor, we want them to be able to self-rescue.

Since our boat has no swim platform, we braided some stiff, old, retired docklines [3/4” 3-strand nylon] into a feline crew ladder- which we always deploy when at anchor. [That crew has no free roaming deck privileges when underway…] 

We left a loop at the top for hanging on a cleat, and clubbed the bottom. It extends about a foot below the water surface, so could never get caught up in the high speed underwater winch, but facilitates use by a swimming gato. 

To introduce it to the crew when it was new, we temporarily fastened it to the mast and anointed it with catnip…

We made this hawse ladder several years ago,  and it has held up well [and thankfully has yet to be used.]

We sometimes spend weeks at a time lying at anchor, so the underwater portion of the rope will invite some growth and creatures. It is easily cleaned when we forget to retrieve it while getting underway, and is ultimately dragged along in the water at 6-8 knots for a while…  

Yes, we are occasionally asked by other boaters [a rare occurrence where we hang out…] what it is for…