VHF vs Cell Phone

Story by Petty Officer 3rd Class David Micallef and Auxiliarist Paul R. Casalese

Communication in the 20th Century is at its peak. More people are connected today than ever before. From smoke signals to smart phones, society has exponentially increased effectiveness in communication. Cell phones connect individuals on land in a timely and effective manner, but is it the most advantageous tool when taking to the sea? Let’s get our feet wet and find out.

Round 1: Audience

VHF: VHF Channel 16 is monitored 24/7 by the U.S. Coast Guard, local agencies and mariners. When hailing for help on a handheld or mounted VHF radio the audience is greater than a cell phone. Hailing out on a VHF radio puts the caller in contact with more people, faster and puts the caller in direct communication with professional responders ready to assist at any give time.

Newer radios have the ability to tie into the GPS of a vessel, making locating a vessel much easier for responders. The radios also have a distinctive red button used in emergency situations. Once energized, the red button alerts the Coast Guard of the mariner’s emergency and position if properly connected.

Cell phone: A cell phone is a great tool people use for calling individuals on land. It’s quick and easy to reach someone on land and within range of cell phone towers. The problem with relying solely on a cell phone when boating is there are no cell phone towers in the ocean.

Calling someone on a cell phone reaches one person, making the audience considerably smaller; it drastically reduces the chance of receiving assistance. Therefore, the odds of reaching someone diminish when this is the sole source of communication.

Winner of Round 1: VHF

Round 2: Cost

VHF: The cost of a handheld or mounted VHF radio at a marine supply store is a long-term investment. Prices can range from $100-$300 depending on what make and model the user wants or needs. A VHF radio doesn’t come with a monthly payment and can last several years when properly maintained. It will also not acquire overages or hidden fees because use of the radio is unlimited.

Cell phone: A wide range of apps and features keep the user entertained and connected with the world. However, downloading apps and other features can potentially cost the owner. The cost of the phone itself is comparable to a VHF radio, but there is a monthly payment plan and the risk of being charged overages.

Winner of Round 2: VHF

Round 3: Battery Life

VHF: The battery life of a handheld VHF radio can last all day as long as it’s properly maintained, and mounted radios are connected to the boat’s power supply. A mariner can take to the water in the morning and be confident the radio will still work in the afternoon. There is not an update to be installed or multiple charging ports to plug into. Mariners don’t have to worry about putting the device in airplane mode or turning it off to save the battery.

Cell phone: The battery life of a cell phone depends on how the device is used. The more the user browses the Internet, plays games, talks and texts, the faster the battery is depleted. Additionally, a cell phone uses more power searching for a signal when it’s out of range of a cell phone tower.

Winner of Round 3: VHF

After an in-depth look at these two commonly used communications tools, there is a clear-cut winner. Having a VHF radio onboard a vessel is the most effective communications tool a mariner can have. From basic questions for nearby mariners to hailing the Coast Guard for emergency assistance, the VHF radio puts mariners in the best position possible to receive a response. The VHF radio beats out a cell phone as the most important piece of electronic safety equipment on a vessel.

It's a KO                                                                                                                                                                                                                          ###