How to Call Safe/Sea for Assistance & Why You Need a VHF Radio

How To Call Safe/Sea For Assistance

Correct Procedures Result in a Faster Response

After last season, our busiest ever at Safe/Sea, with just under 1,100 calls for assistance, I thought that our caseload was about as high as it could get. But with over 4,300 members this year, and the forecast of a very warm summer, we may well top that.

Imagine yourself in a 10' by 12' room with 5 radios, 4 phone lines, and 4 computers. A member calls you on the radio for help. As you're collecting their information, the phone rings, and another call comes in on another radio. Unit 1 is calling you on the dispatch radio and your primary computer crashes. Now, imagine you’re alone! Welcome to the Safe/Sea Dispatch Center.

This is just a written sample of what it's like to be one of our watchstanders on a busy summer weekend. The Dispatch Center is the heart of our operation. Virtually every call for help goes through the watchstander either by radio or telephone.

Detailed computer records for every case are generated by the watchstander. The captains on the boats also get their times and billing info from the dispatcher upon completion of each case.

The watchstander must know the location of all our resources and maintain proper positioning throughout our coverage area.

In 2000, we set a company record for the most assistance runs in one day with 44 calls on the Sunday of the exceptionally busy Fourth of July weekend. When you consider that we run six boats, and the average call is between 1.5 and 2 hours with some much longer, well... you can do the math. Needless to say, it makes for a long day.

To help our members and our dispatchers work together more efficiently, we would like to pass the following information on to our customers.

If you do not have an emergency, we prefer that you call for assistance on a cellular phone. It allows an uninterrupted conversation directly with our watchstander. However, it’s important that you know your cell phone number, so we can call you back if the call is dropped. If you do not have a cellular phone, please contact us on VHF radio channel 16.

Regardless of the ease of cell phone use, we stress the need for all boaters to know how to properly use their VHF radio. In an emergency, or if your phone is out of range, the VHF radio will assure that your call is heard by the largest number of people simultaneously.

When calling, speak loudly and be sure that you call Safe/Sea by name! Even today, some people still call the wrong company for assistance. Remember, if you call the wrong company, you may be responsible for their towing bill.

Once communications have been established, you will be asked to shift to a working channel, where we will ask for your location. It’s helpful to have your membership number handy; on your membership card it appears as SS#xxxx.

Your Membership number is very important, as it is the single fastest way for our watchstander to locate you in our computers, confirm your membership status, and get a boat underway to assist you.

If you are broken down, please anchor your vessel unless it is unsafe to do so. The Safe/Sea watchstander will ask your exact position, the nature of your problem, and confirm that you are anchored.

If you are traveling to unfamiliar areas, please have a chart on board, look it over before you leave, and know how to describe your position.

If you do not know your exact location, you should attempt to flag down another vessel for location assistance and take note of the color and number of any bouys near you.

Once your membership has been confirmed and your destination and the description of your vessel has been ascertained, you will be given the name of the vessel that is coming to assist you and its estimated time of arrival.

The towboat Captain will then directly communicate with you and the dispatcher will return to channel 16.

Please help our watchstander to help you by having all your information available and knowing your location. This will ensure a timely response and a rapid resolution to your problem

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Why You Need a VHF Radio

Cell Phone Coverage Still Patchy at Sea

Over the last three seasons, Safe/Sea dispatchers have noticed an increasing amount of assistance calls coming to our dispatch center via cellular phones. With the increasing availability and affordability of these phones, many boaters seem to be disregarding VHF radios and are considering them a thing of the past.

While we encourage the use of cellular phones to call us for non-emergency assistance, we feel the need to stress the importance of having a working VHF radio on board your vessel.

There are many advantages to carrying a VHF radio. First and foremost is the number of listeners should you experience an emergency.

For example, if you were to begin taking on water and called for help on your cellular phone, the only informed party would be the one you dialed. If you were to relay your message via VHF, you would not only inform the Coast Guard, but also Safe/Sea and all other concerned boaters monitoring channel 16. So, there would be many more resources alerted and underway to assist you as quickly as possible.

The use of a VHF also makes it much easier for our captains to locate you. Without a precise location, finding a disabled boater on a busy Sunday afternoon is as akin to looking for "a needle in a haystack." With a VHF radio, you can speak directly to our captain and direct him to your position as he approaches.

The reliability of cellular phones on the water is also an issue. Cellular towers are placed to maximize coverage over land, not sea. Many calls are lost in this way. In anticipation of this happening, our dispatchers will immediately ask you for your cellular number when you call us on a cell phone. Be sure to know this number should the call fade and we need to call you back.

Even though we ask that you contact us here at Safe/Sea by cellular phone to help keep the air waves less cluttered, we highly recommend that you maintain a working VHF radio on board your vessel at all times to insure your own safety.