When Jonty Pearce discussed calling for help if you have a man overboard, he realised a VHF radio in the cockpit would be preferable, but it wasn't simple

Carol and I have done a few talks on man overboard recovery. During our first presentation at the Cruising Association MOB seminar, the issue of when to send a Mayday arose. We all know the RYA-recommended drill, but this sometimes needs a little adaptation when applied to cruising couples; when the skipper has gone overboard the mate is single-handed. Carol feels that the Mayday should be sent after the MOB has been secured because on Aurial the DSC VHF radio is currently below decks at the chart table: to send an alert means leaving the boat unmanned and the MOB potentially having drifted out of sight. Many would disagree with her, arguing that the very first thing to do is to call for help. At the seminar the discussion frothed to and fro. It became evident that those with a radio to hand in the cockpit had an advantage. 50 per cent of the delegates (mostly pelagic cruising couples) had their main DSC radio so fitted.

Ever since the seminar I’ve been pondering the matter. Whilst I would like to be able to access (and hear) my radio from the cockpit, I also enjoy being able to use it at the chart table. The trouble is, Aurial’s layout offers little spare space to fit a cockpit-accessible radio – the companionway bulkhead has been filled with an autopilot repeater, EPIRB, the binocular box, and my Odeo LED flare, topped off by a tiny VHF loudspeaker tucked on top of the autopilot repeater. Space for a VHF unit is conspicuous by its absence. My Simrad RD68 unit is installed tidily in the control panel and could easily be replaced, but I could not see how to route a remote handset up to the companionway.

EBay provided the Alleluia moment in the form of a used Raymarine RAY240 VHF with two handsets and active speakers. One of these will fit comfortably on a re-arranged chart table control panel, and the other is small enough to squeeze into the companionway bulkhead, although the binoculars might have to migrate. The VHF base station will fit neatly by the AIS/splitter unit behind the saloon seat backs, and the cable runs are easy. The set even came with the necessary extension cable.

Once installed, the unit offers switchable main handset units, intercom facility, and full function including DSC from each station. Job done! Most importantly, the cockpit handset is easily reachable from the helm, and, with active volume control for each speaker, we will be able to hear the radio over the background noise of wind and wave whilst not deafening the Indoor Dragon as she sleeps below. After nerdishly reading the manuals, I’ve gleaned that it will even be possible to display the position of DSC alerts on the chart plotter as well – the joys of system integration!

Before installation I shall have to take the second-hand base station to my local Raymarine dealer to have the previous owner’s MMSI number erased. Any DIY approach to this vital step isdeemed impossible by the forums – a special bit of kit is needed. Still, it is worth the inconvenience: the previous owner’s shore contact could have a nasty surprise if we sent an alert without reprogramming the unit.

Now, does anyone out there want a Simrad RD68 VHF radio in perfect working order? I’ve even got a spares unit that I picked out of Neyland Yacht Haven’s recycling skip…