VHF radio can be difference in emergency situations on Lake Superior

A VHF radio, or a marine radio, is the fastest way to communicate with emergency responders on land.
Published: Aug. 31, 2023 at 5:53 PM CDT
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DULUTH, MN. (Northern News Now) - The U.S. Coast Guard based in Bayfield, Wisconsin rescued three people near Saxon Harbor after their boat capsized on Lake Superior Tuesday.

RELATED: 3 people rescued after boat capsizes off South Shore

One of the people on the boat made a distress call using a VHF radio which allowed the Coast Guard to locate them and bring them to safety in 45 minutes.

The Coast Guard said if they had not used their VHF radio, there may have been a different outcome.

On the water, the only form of communication to land is either a personal cell phone or a VHF radio.

In an emergency, the device you choose to call for help could be the difference between life and death.

“If you’re out on the lake farther it might be difficult to find you,” said Peter Dahl, a charter boat captain on Lake Superior of 36 years. “It’s a big lake out there.”

A VHF radio, or a marine radio, is the fastest way to communicate with emergency responders on land.

When a boat’s captain, like Dahl, makes a distress call, the Coast Guard can hear what the emergency is and see the exact location of the boat.

That kind of information is much harder to obtain from a cell phone call.

“When you are in distress, you’ve got a lot of stuff going on,” said Dahl. “So you really don’t have a lot of time to talk to somebody or tell them your exact location.”

Each VHF radio comes equipped with an emergency button that can be pushed to send out the boat’s location if there is not enough time to pick up the radio and speak.

U.S. Coast Guard representatives say every second counts.

“Having a high speed and response is essential,” said Brett Esser, U.S. Coast Guard Bosun First Mate. “Having the appropriate means to communicate your distress aids in that speed.”

Once a distress call comes in from a boat, the Coast Guard responds right away.

“We have a number of different checklists that run through to make sure that we’re responding appropriately,” said Esser. “Then we will make sure notifications are made to other agencies that could potentially help.”

All of this communication is made possible by a network of receptor towers located on the land.

“No matter where you are on the lake, you know they pick you up and you can talk to the Coast Guard,” said Dahl.

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