What the MCA thinks about requests for radio checks

This statement from Peter Dymond, Head of Search and Rescue at the MCA, was first published in the September 2004 issue of Yachting Monthly in response to a reader’s question.

HM Coastguard Co-ordination Centres will always try to accommodate radio checks from vessels at sea.

However, as our centres become increasingly multi-functional there are occasions when responding to a radio check becomes more difficult, particularly if there are ongoing SAR, Counter Pollution or security operations. Also when maritime safety information broadcasts are underway (which a vessel may not hear) or other MCA-wide tasks such as Port State Control checks are being carried out. Some of these activities may be apparent to the vessel so hopefully it will not call for a radio check at that moment.

In areas where there are high levels of vessel activity particularly on summer weekends, then the calls to Coastguard for radio checks can result in unacceptable levels of VHF traffic, particularly on VHF Channel 16, and thereby increasing the likelihood of a missed distress or urgency call. In these areas, Coastguard Co-ordination Centres may broadcast the fact that they will not be taking radio checks between certain dates and/or times.

Coastguard advice to vessels, particularly those operating in areas of high vessel activity, is to carry out radio checks with another vessel, preferably on a pre-arranged VHF working channel or with another shore station licensed to transmit on VHF, such as a marina.

HM Coastguard is aware that its operating policy for radio checks creates inconsistency between its Co-ordination Centres around the coast but we have to accept the fact some centres are operationally busier than others and inevitably, these centres are responsible for areas where vessel traffic is greatest too.