In my opinion, every boater should have a VHF radio on board their vessel. Others will argue that this is unnecessary since most people have a cell phone which will suffice for communicating on a boat. I strongly disagree!!
Knowing full well that your Boating Safety Instructor will provide much information on the VHF radio, I will try to summarize why I feel so strongly about the need for it. First, there are two types of VHF radios: one is permanently mounted and the other is portable. I prefer the portable because, first of all it is portable!!, which means that I can take it with me on my dinghy or my kayak, or whatever. It does not transmit as far as a permanently installed one, but if I lose power on my boat, the permanently installed VHF will no longer function. However, the portable one has its own unrelated source of power in its battery pack and will continue to transmit.
While I know that your Instructor will emphasize this to you, I will still state this really important fact: your words will NOT be transmitted unless you depress the talk button!! Too often, in the heat of the moment, we forget this, and our voices cannot be heard. Mark the portable VHF with a red circle or a piece of red tape as a reminder to depress the talk button.
So, why isn’t a cell phone enough on a boat? Let’s examine a situation and follow it through to solution: you are on your boat and your significant other gets knocked overboard. You need to let others know of this emergency, so you pick up your cell phone and fumble to locate the number of the Coast Guard. You hope that your cell phone is able to transmit, then you hope that someone answers the phone, then you hope that whoever answers the phone is the person who can help you.
With a VHF radio, you depress the talk button and issue a “May Day” call. The Coast Guard monitors this frequency 24/7, and is made immediately aware of the situation. They will guide you on how to handle same and, in addition, your call for help has been heard by all the other boaters who have a VHF. The Coast Guard will take over, mobilizing nearby boats to help you and send their own people if necessary.
*Very High Frequency