Sunday, September 27, 2015

MLS Seamanship Series - Marine Communications

Today most marine communications are accomplished by using voice radio transmissions. These radio systems are similar to having a conversation on the telephone, but with significant differences that boat operators must understand. Typically, voice radio communications are “simplex,” or one direction at a time - when one person is talking, the second person may not speak. This differs from what we’re accustomed to in face-to-face and telephone conversations where voices may overlap. Simplex communication is the primary reason for many of the procedural regulations for speaking on a marine radio.

As a boat operator, using a marine radiophone will be an occasional responsibility. It is important to understand and be comfortable with the proper operation of your vessels marine radio. In this entry, we will take a look at some standard procedures and protocol as they relate to the proper operation of your boats marine radiophone.

First we must realize that there are several different types of marine radios. On boats, they are frequently VHF-FM and MF/HF, and usually, are identified by the radio’s mode of transmission. Understanding the basic differences of the types of radios and their use will assist you in determining the best solution to your personal/professional boating needs:
  • VHF-FM (156-162 MHz) is used for local, short-range marine communications. Frequencies in this band operate on the line-of-sight (LOS) principle. Effective communications range depends mainly on:
    • The height of antennas of both the receiving and transmitting stations
    • Somewhat on the power output of the transmitting station.

    VHF equipment is called “line-of-sight radio” because its radio waves travel in nearly a straight line, meaning, if one antenna can “see” another antenna, communications between the two is possible. Occasionally, atmospheric conditions allow VHF signals to bounce or bend in their line of travel, increasing the transmission’s range farther than normal.

  • Boats use the MF band typically to communicate when out of VHF radio range. The MF band uses low frequencies, so the ground wave travels along the surface of the earth, permitting communications at distances up to 200 miles during daylight hours. The low frequency also makes communications at much greater distances at night easier. MF and HF radios of any modulation type always have greater range than VHF. The operating range for MF and HF radios can shift as conditions change, and the conditions that affect the operating range will typically vary from hour to hour. As a consequence, communications between two vessels can be lost due to a number of factors, including changing weather.
Next we must understand how to properly use your marine radio phone. The following steps and procedures are the same for either mounted or portable marine radios:

  • Check the radio setting: Be certain the marine radio is set on the proper frequency and band width. While on a vessel underway you are required to keep a listening watch on 2182 kHz or channel 16.
  • Squelch control: Squelch control blocks out weak signals. Adjust the squelch control until the noise (static) can be heard, then adjust it slightly in the opposite direction until the noise stops. Setting the squelch control adjusts the receiver so only signals strong enough to pass the level selected will be heard and reduces the amount of static noise on the speaker.
  • Do not interrupt others: Before beginning a transmission, listen for a few seconds to avoid interrupting other communications that are already in progress.
  • Microphone placement: Keep the microphone about 1 to 2 inches from lips. When transmitting, shield the microphone by keeping head and body between noise generating sources (such as engine noise, wind, etc.) and the microphone.
  • Know what to say: Before keying the transmitter, know how to say what is going to be said. Keep all transmissions short and to the point. Never “chit-chat” or make unnecessary transmissions on any frequency.
  • Speaking: Speak clearly, concisely, and in a normal tone of voice, maintaining a natural speaking rhythm.
  • Proper prowords: Use proper prowords, ending each transmission with “over” and the last with “out.” Never say “over and out.”
  • Prowords for pauses: In cases where a pause for a few seconds between transmissions is necessary, use the proword “wait.” If the pause is to be longer than a few seconds, use prowords “wait, out.” Do not use “wait one” or “stand by.”
  • Messages are not private: Remember, voice transmissions may be heard by anyone with a radio or scanner.


Friday, May 8, 2015

MLS Seamanship Series (Week 31) - Electronic Charts (Raster vs. Vector)

Although there are many suppliers of electronic charts, the charts themselves can be divided into two groups: raster and vector. Raster charts can be regarded as electronic photocopies of paper charts, produced by scanning a master copy of a paper chart, in much the same way as a fax machine scans a document that is about to be sent. The chart is broken down into a vast number of tiny dots (pixels), and the position and color of each pixel is recorded. Instead of sending this information down a telephone line, as a fax machine does, the chart scanner stores it on the cartographer’s computer, from where it can be copied onto flash memory cards or CD-ROMS, and supplied to customers.

Raster charts are relatively cheap and simple to make, but each chart uses a lot of memory or disc space. Because they are electronically copied straight from the paper chart, they are familiar in appearance, and contain exactly the same information: nothing is added or taken away. The drawback is that they can only be used effectively at about the same scale as the original chart: if you zoom in, then letters and symbols become huge, but without any extra detail becoming visible; while if you zoom out, names and symbols become illegible.

Vector charts are produced by electronically tracing raster charts. The fundamental difference is that lines are not stored as strings of darkened pixels, but as lines. Vector charts originally became popular for small boat hardware plotters because although they are more expensive to produce, they occupy much less memory. The vector format also allows more flexibility in the way the chart is used: a vector chart can be zoomed in or out much further than a raster chart, but the letters and symbols always stay the same size.

On a raster based chart, a feature such as a buoy is represented by a cluster of colored pixels that make up the shape of a buoy symbol exactly as it appears on the original paper chart. On a vector chart, however, the buoy’s position is linked to a database of information about the buoy. The software can use this database in various ways. Some programs will represent all navigation aids by means of the same diamond-shaped symbol. When you select one (by ‘pointing at it’ with the cursor) the data is revealed in a text panel somewhere on the screen. Other systems use the database information to display a symbol showing the shape and color of the buoy itself.

More sophisticated versions of this are used on some electronic charts to provide graphic representations of the changing height of tide at particular places, to provide additional information such as lists of port facilities, or to superimpose arrows showing the tidal stream on top of the main chart.

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Friday, May 1, 2015

So You Want To Be A Captain - No Coast Guard Exam!

After you completed the Mariners Learning System coursework, you will need to take our proctored exam in order to get your OUPV/Six-pack or 25/50/100 Ton Master Captain’s license, etc. Mariners Learning System has USCG-approved testing facilities all over the country. Once you complete and pass the exam, you will receive a MLS Certificate of Completion. This Certificate of Completion is accepted as a substitute to taking the corresponding USCG exams. To find one of our Coast Guard approved locations and corresponding test dates, go here.

You can locate the state you reside or the one closest to you. You will know if we have a testing location in your state if it’s colored in blue. Remember that it’s important to register early. It will guarantee you a seat as spaces fill up quickly and registration closes within fourteen days of the exam. Those that are still listed within fourteen days mean that you can still register for that time. You will need your electronic confirmation form when you arrive for test day.

Besides the exam enrollment form, you will need your online final exam completion letters and USCG- recognized photo identification. Here is a list of those that are acceptable:
  • U.S. Military identification card
  • U.S. driver’s license
  • U.S. Passport
  • Official identification card issued by a State, or local government.
  • Official identification card issued by the Federal Government.
  • Law enforcement credential, with photograph of the applicant, issued by Federal, State or local government
  • Merchant Marine Document issued after February 3, 2003
  • Foreign Passport
Once you have those items settled, all you have to worry about is the exam. There are no worries here. When you successfully completed your Mariners Learning System coursework and lessons, the exam will be a breeze. Happy Testing!


So you want to be a Captain - How difficult is the test?

Mariners are required to successfully pass written examinations in order to earn a Coast Guard License. This applies to original licensing, as well as raises of grade, increases of scope, and renewal, both for officer and rating endorsements. 

Exam topics include Navigational Rules of the Road, Deck General and Safety, Environmental Protection, Navigation General, and Plotting Questions. The total number of questions and minimum passing score depends on the type of license you wish to obtain. 

The OUPV/Six-pack or Charter Boat Captain's License is the most popular of the Captain's Licenses and is required for those wishing to offer fishing and sailing charters, drive a dive boat, or run sightseeing tours, etc. This license is commonly referred to as a "Six-pack" because it allows the holder to take up to six paying passengers and crew on the water.

The grading standards for this license are shown on the following chart:

What do I need to know about testing?

Passing the test requires study, but you can do it. Taking an approved course will help you be prepared to pass the test (for example, more than 25,000 students have taken a Mariners Learning System online course since 2002, with a 98.7% success rate). We run hundreds of approved testing facilities throughout the country. A view a current list of dates and locations Click on this link.

What if I fail the test?

A big benefit of taking the exam through an authorized trainer like the MLS is that not only did we write the course but we also wrote the final exam, so your preparation will enable you to pass the course with flying colors and you will know where you stand during each stage that you prepare for the exam. If you do not pass one or more modules, you may retest twice more without delay on just the failed module. But don't worry! As long as you follow our processes and procedures throughout the learning experience there should be no surprises along the way.

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MLS Seamanship Series (Week 32) – Estimating Wave Height

An accurate estimate of wave height is subjective and sometimes difficult to accomplish, but there are a number of methods that, with practice, will give good results:
  • Height of eye – With your boat in the trough and on a level and even keel, any wave that obscures the horizon is greater than the height of a person’s eye.  One can also compare a wave to the deck edge or a structure such as the handrail.  The wave face is observed while bowing into it and in the trough on an even keel.  This is also generally the best method for judging surf.
  • Comparison with floating structures or vessels - This technique is most useful when observing from land, but may be applied while underway.  If the distance from the waterline to the top of a buoy is known to be 13 feet, that information can be used to determine the height of the waves passing it.  A buoy can also be used to determine the wave period.  One can observe a vessel underway and by estimating the freeboard of the vessel and observing its motions on the water, he or she can gain a fair estimate of the seas in which it is operating.
  • Comparison with a fixed structure - Observation of waves as they pass a fixed structure, such as a break-wall, jetty, or pier, can be very accurate and can also provide wave period.
  • Depth Sounder - Using a digital finder with a fast update speed can be very accurate for determining wave height.  By comparing the depth in the trough on even keel with the depth at the crest on even keel, an accurate measurement can be obtained.
All of these methods can be useful and fairly accurate for determining wave height, but they require practice and experience.  By comparing a local Weather Service buoy report with the crew’s observations, they can fine-tune their sense of wave height.  With enough practice, you should be able to judge wave heights simply by looking at the waves themselves.

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Friday, March 6, 2015

So You Want To Be a Captain - Why Our Students Succeed

Mariners Learning System is highly regarded and recognized, with its award winning courses earning the approval of the United States Coast Guard, National Maritime Center, Department of Military, Veteran Affairs and Homeland Security.

Our teaching style is based on making the assumption that you know nothing. This does not mean that we speak down to you, it simply means that we will build the foundation on which you will learn. We believe that you need to crawl before you walk and that you need to walk before you run. By incorporating this methodology with our standard practice of teaching understanding, not just how to pass the USCG Exam, we enjoy a success rate that is unrivaled in the industry.
This learning method, refined and perfected by years of experience, has proven remarkably effective and is the reason Mariners Learning System has one of the highest success rates (98.7% with 25,000+ graduates) in the industry.

We invite you to learn more about our school, and specifically, our Captain's License Program. You may be surprised at how easy and affordable it can be to obtain your Captains License. Whether you're a casual weekend boater, or a maritime industry professional, we'll help you learn the numerous ways you will benefit from becoming a licensed Captain.

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Saturday, January 31, 2015

So You Want To Be a Captain-Benefits of earning a USCG License

When asked  what is the primary benefit of getting a license our first response goes something like this: “Getting your license is like having a key that is capable of opening many doors… If an opportunity presents itself and you have the key (Captain’s License) you can either choose to walk through the door or around… However, if you do not have the correct key you will never be able to unlock the door.” Funny thing about this saying… The more keys I have hanging from my belt the luckier I keep getting! 

So why do most want to get their license in the first place?  
  • To work as a paid captain or mate
  • To start a fishing charter business
  • To learn or refresh your boating and seamanship skills
  • To earn a credential that shows your experience and may even reduce insurance costs
This is just a short list of the reasons why many of our clients decide that now is the time to earn their Captain’s License.

What if becoming a full time Captain is not for you… Perhaps 80% of our clients get their license for the personal knowledge and safety that will comes from that knowledge. They have no interest in using their licenses professionally, however, they recognize that some day those plans may change… Many of our students are guys and gals looking to supplement their current full time income with some additional cash…. They find jobs working for BoatUS or perhaps working for the Duck Boats or a Sea Taxi operation ferrying passengers around. This type of work can be seasonal and does not need to interfere with your full time job. 

What if you own a boat and wish to turn your passion of fishing into a paycheck. By earning  your Captain’s License you can turn this dream into a reality. What kind of money can you charge? Captain John Luchka of Long Run Fishing Charters ( offers half-day fishing trips for $650.00. Captain John works full time for Princeton Tec as an Industrial Sales Manager. On many weekends throughout the year he is off doing what he loves… Sharing the fishing experience with others. “Since getting my license I have established my guide service out of New York, Long Run Fishing Charters. Besides earning additional income, I have had the opportunity to speak at and market my business at fishing and boating shows as well as network with others in the industry. It has also led to writing for numerous magazines and appearing on Addictive Fishing TV, Northeast Angling TV and appearing with George Poveromo and his Saltwater Sportsman Seminar Series.” 

You do the math… If this sounds like something you are interested in without a license it will always be a dream and never become your reality.

We would love to hear what you think about this post. Share your thoughts in the comments below.