RYA VHF and RYA Radar Course – Upskilling

I’ve recently ticked two more important pieces of training off my list… I completed the RYA Radar course, and the RYA VHF (very high frequency) radio course. I did these with Elite sailing in Chatham, Kent. In this blog post I’m simply going to summarise the course content and give a bit of a review of the days I spent in the classroom.


RYA VHF/SRC Radio Course:

I did the course on the Elite Sailing training barge in Chatham Marina. There were 12 of us on the course (the max number of people), of those, 5 were women. Our instructor for the day was Andy (who also taught my Diesel Engine course).

We learnt the basic principles of radio and various other topics including:

– How radio’s work!
– The science behind frequencies, wavelengths, and how the earth’s curvature impacts radio
– How to calculate range and other basic arithmetic calcs relating to radio
– We learnt how to set up a radio, along with the pro’s and con’s of different types of radio
– The rules and reg’s surrounding radio, i.e. OFCOM regulation, licensing and international law
– We played with various radio sets, and learnt the principles of comms i.e. how to speak to another vessel – what is OK, and what is not. i.e don’t call another vessel for football banter!
– How to make a DSC call
– Importantly we ran through the protocol for PanPan, May Day (including a relay), and also Securitay calls, and we thoroughly practised all of these

The day then culminated with a written exam (approx. 25 mins) which honed in on what we’d learnt that day. Followed by a practical assessment using a fixed ships radio set.

A practise radio set used on the course

In my practical exam I had to do a May Day relay call, as well as carry out a radio check, and also set the radio up. The exam was carried out by an independent RYA assessor.

I proudly passed with 100%. I did read the RYA VHF radio book beforehand, I don’t think that this is essential, but it does mean that you will have a good foundation knowledge on which the course can build.

I would recommend the VHF course to anyone who gets out on the water. Learning the basics, the protocol and practising various calls which you might need to make or certainly listen to and understand is so important to all types of mariners.

I wanted to just share with you some footage of a real life May Day call that was made by the Skipper of CV30 during the 2013/14 Clipper race. This call was made when crew member Andy Taylor went over board (he was not clipped on, and was recovered and survived). The call in this video is the genuine real life call (recorded by a film maker who was on board). The footage shows the skipper calmly and firmly making the May Day. He didn’t panic, and was well versed. This is in essence the perfect May Day call, made by a true pro.


RYA Radar Course

The RYA Radar is a much more specialist course than some of the other theory courses that the RYA offer. It is fairly technical, and some would say focuses on a technology that is nearly redundant as a result of other technologies. I found it useful and insightful though. I believe that radar is a vital tool to aid navigation in fog, and can work very well alongside AIS and a chart plotter. These 3 tools together will give you the perfect combination, as opposed to any one of these in isolation doing 100% of the job you require.

The course was run from the Elite sailing training barge, and was taught by Duncan Smith an experienced sailor with many stories to tell. Interestingly he opened the course with the story of Wahkuna, a cruising yacht which met its end in the Solent. The yacht collided with a P & O vessel called Vespucci (or should I say, Vespucci collided with the yacht). The incident happened in daylight when fog came down thick and fast, reducing visibility to near zero. Both vessels were fitted with Radar, but it seems that neither were being used properly – the MAIB report made several clear findings relating to radar. The cruising yacht was lost forever, but miraculously the crew were found and survived.

That disaster alone highlights why radar is still an important tool today.

Radar practise kit and radar plotter paper – for identifying collisions

On the course we covered:

– How radar works
– Antenna set up and factors that come in to play
– Radar beam (calculations for horizontal and vertical beam)
– How curvature impacts radar
– What other factors impact radar
– How to set up a radar
– Radar horizon calculations and formulae
– Radar propagation
– How to use radar for collision avoidance – using an EBL, a VRM, MARPA, and a plotter (the old fashioned pencil and paper method) to determine whether a collision is likely and estimate the closest point of approach and time of that approach (i.e is there minutes until you crash or hours) – and then we covered how to avoid that collision and what the sound signals are to use in fog

During the day we played with radar sets, setting them up and then running RYA training scenarios to test us on collision avoidance and some of the skills learnt in the final point above.

Running an RYA simulator on a practise radar set – we could identify and respond collisions

The day didn’t really require any pre-reading and there was no formal exam at the end. But it was certainly a useful day and provides an excellent foundation knowledge of radar.

I’m pleased with the new found knowledge I’ve gained through completing the RYA VHF and Radar courses. Next stop…. Yachtmaster theory!

One thought on “RYA VHF and RYA Radar Course – Upskilling”

Leave a Reply