The Single-handed Communication Techniques
The Single-handed Communication Techniques

Discover the crucial communication techniques needed for single-handed sailing, from VHF radio etiquette to satellite communication devices and emergency signaling, to ensure your safety and success on the open sea.

The Single-handed Communication Techniques

Sailing single-handed is an incredible accomplishment and a testament to one’s skill and determination. It requires a unique set of skills and techniques to navigate the open sea alone, and communication is a crucial aspect of this endeavor. In this article, we will explore the various communication techniques that are essential for single-handed sailors, ensuring that they can stay connected with the world and maintain their safety while out on the water.

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As a single-handed sailor, you are solely responsible for the safety and well-being of yourself and your vessel. This means that you need to be well-versed in various communication techniques to stay informed about weather conditions, communicate with other vessels, and call for help in case of an emergency. In this article, we will discuss the different communication methods available to single-handed sailors and how to use them effectively.

VHF Radio

The VHF (Very High Frequency) radio is a staple communication tool for sailors. It operates on a line-of-sight basis, meaning that its range is limited by the curvature of the Earth and any obstacles in the way. Typically, a VHF radio has a range of about 20-60 nautical miles, depending on the height of the antenna and the power of the transmitter.

Using a VHF Radio

To use a VHF radio effectively, you need to be familiar with the various channels and their purposes. Channels 16 and 70 are reserved for distress, safety, and calling, while other channels are designated for specific uses, such as weather information or communication between vessels.

When making a call, always start by stating your vessel’s name, the channel you are using, and the name of the vessel or station you are trying to reach. Speak clearly and slowly, and always repeat important information, such as your position or the nature of your emergency.

VHF Radio Etiquette

It’s essential to follow proper etiquette when using a VHF radio to ensure clear communication and avoid interfering with other users. Some basic rules to follow include:

  • Keep your transmissions short and to the point.
  • Always listen before transmitting to avoid interrupting ongoing conversations.
  • Use the appropriate channel for your communication needs.
  • Avoid using profanity or offensive language.

SSB Radio

The SSB (Single Side Band) radio is another valuable communication tool for single-handed sailors, particularly for those venturing far offshore. Unlike VHF radios, SSB radios have a much longer range, allowing for communication over thousands of miles. This is achieved by bouncing the radio signal off the Earth’s ionosphere, which can extend the signal’s reach significantly.

Using an SSB Radio

Operating an SSB radio can be more complex than using a VHF radio, as it requires tuning into specific frequencies and adjusting the antenna for optimal reception. It’s essential to familiarize yourself with the various frequencies used for marine communication and practice tuning your radio before setting sail.

SSB Radio Nets

One of the benefits of SSB radios is the ability to participate in radio nets, which are scheduled gatherings of sailors on a specific frequency. These nets can be an excellent source of information, camaraderie, and support for single-handed sailors. They often include weather updates, position reports, and general discussions about sailing topics.

Satellite Communication

For single-handed sailors venturing far from shore, satellite communication can be a lifeline. Satellite phones and communication devices allow you to stay connected with friends, family, and emergency services, no matter how remote your location.

Satellite Phones

Satellite phones work by connecting to a network of satellites orbiting the Earth, allowing for communication in areas where traditional cell phone coverage is unavailable. While satellite phones can be expensive, they are an invaluable tool for single-handed sailors who need to stay connected while at sea.

Satellite Communication Devices

In addition to satellite phones, there are several satellite communication devices on the market that offer text messaging, email, and GPS tracking capabilities. These devices are often more affordable than satellite phones and can be a great option for single-handed sailors who want to stay connected without breaking the bank.


AIS (Automatic Identification System) is a valuable tool for single-handed sailors, as it allows you to track and communicate with other vessels in your vicinity. AIS transponders broadcast information about your vessel, such as its name, position, speed, and course, which can be received by other vessels and shore-based stations.

Using AIS

To use AIS effectively, you need to have an AIS transponder installed on your vessel and a compatible chart plotter or computer to display the information. By monitoring the AIS data, you can identify nearby vessels, determine their intentions, and communicate with them if necessary.

AIS and Collision Avoidance

One of the primary benefits of AIS for single-handed sailors is its ability to aid in collision avoidance. By monitoring the AIS data, you can identify potential collision risks and take appropriate action to avoid them. This can be particularly valuable when sailing in busy shipping lanes or areas with limited visibility.

Weather Forecasting

Staying informed about the weather is crucial for single-handed sailors, as it can significantly impact your safety and comfort while at sea. There are several communication tools available to help you stay up-to-date on the latest weather forecasts and conditions.

Weather Fax

Weather fax is a service that transmits weather charts and forecasts via radio frequencies. By using a dedicated weather fax receiver or a computer with appropriate software, you can receive these transmissions and use them to plan your route and make informed decisions about your voyage.

GRIB Files

GRIB (GRIdded Binary) files are a digital format for weather data that can be downloaded and viewed using specialized software. These files provide detailed information about wind, waves, and other weather conditions, allowing you to make informed decisions about your route and sailing strategy.

Satellite Weather Services

For single-handed sailors with satellite communication capabilities, there are several satellite weather services available that provide detailed weather forecasts and updates. These services can be invaluable for staying informed about changing weather conditions and planning your route accordingly.

Emergency Communication

In the event of an emergency, single-handed sailors need to be prepared to communicate their situation and call for help. There are several communication tools available to help you do this, including:


An EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) is a device that, when activated, transmits a distress signal with your position to search and rescue services. This can be a lifesaving tool in the event of an emergency, such as a sinking vessel or a medical crisis.


A PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) is a smaller, more portable version of an EPIRB that can be carried on your person. Like an EPIRB, a PLB transmits a distress signal with your position when activated, allowing search and rescue services to locate you in an emergency.


DSC (Digital Selective Calling) is a feature available on some VHF and SSB radios that allows you to send a preformatted distress message with your position and vessel information. This can be a valuable tool for single-handed sailors who need to call for help quickly and efficiently.


Communication is a vital aspect of single-handed sailing, and mastering the various techniques and tools available is essential for your safety and success on the water. By familiarizing yourself with VHF and SSB radios, satellite communication, AIS, weather forecasting, and emergency communication devices, you can stay connected, informed, and prepared for whatever challenges your voyage may bring.