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Icom IC-M35We review the Icom IC-M35 handheld.  Read the full review here.

GMDSS A User's Handbook

By Denise Bréhaut

GMDSS A user's handbook








The Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) provides a fast and efficient way of calling for assistance at sea, whatever the size of craft or its geographical position. Since it was first published, this book has helped explain the system for anyone using GMDSS and has been excellent pre-course reading for students.



SafaSail HatThe SafaSail Hard Hat looks just like a sailing cap, but will help protect you if you get a bang to the head.  See our review here

What Electronics should I fit?

As an active delivery skipper and editor of, I get asked from time to time what is the best electronic equipment to fit for yachts.  I've skippered a good few yachts (and some motor boats) with various electronic devices, and we've reviewed some fairly awesome kit on 

So here what I'd say to anyone who asked.  It should be taken as one person's 'personal' taste, and not as some scientifically tested recommendation.  In fact, there may well be some awesome kit out there that the manufacturer simply hasn't brought to our attention.  Maybe our readers will.  But, for better or worse, here is what I say 'Hooray' to if I'm told it's fitted on board.  And some skipper's 'No No's' as well.  If you would like to discuss possibilities directly, feel free to email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Chart Plotters.

Raymarine C Series C90W ChartplotterFor what it's worth, my favourite for a long time has been the Raymarine 'C Series' display.  It's personal preference.  Raymarine kit has an intuitive feel to it - setting up waypoints, switching between displays, and finding functions like the Electronic Bearing Line (EBL) on the radar display are all in the obvious places on the menu pages.  In fact, there isn't much that you can't find on the C Series simply by using your intuition. Which is useful, because although you are supposed to read the manual thoroughly before using the kit, for a busy delivery skipper there often isn't the time before setting out to do more than get the basics and the important bits 'weighed off'.  

Contrast this with the Garmin kit, which although it works as described on the tin, is anything but intuitive. I once spent a trip from Southampton to Liverpool trying to get to grips with the Garmin display - neither I nor the first mate could work it all out, and that was using the manual during the long night watches!  So for brand, Raymarine has my tick.  And because it's fitted to so many yachts these days, you can often climb on board knowing that you will be able to operate the Chart Plotter without a second thought.

But my three cheers for Raymarine is a qualified one, and there are two qualifications.  The first is that I very much dislike the touch screen displays on Raymarine's more recent offerings.  At sea, you very often want to point to things on the display. And if the display moves, changes, or invokes some esoteric function every time you touch it, it gets more than a little irritating. For example, you might want to lay a plotting sheet across the screen for a quick and dirty radar plot. But if that changes the EBL position, you end up cursing the set, not cherishing it. True, you can switch off the touch screen gizmo, but why have it in the first place?  Screens are for display, not control. Touch screens might be great on the bridge of a ship, where large displays are protected from wet, and where plotting sheets are increasingly irrelevant.  But on a small yacht with a small display and minimum screen space?  Please, no.

And the second qualification is that this issue is compounded by the habit of some Yacht Owners of fitting the display screen in front of the wheel, exposed to the elements, and only readable by the helmsman. Please don't do this.  You don't need the chart plotter in front of the helmslman all the time.  At night the screen has to be turned right down to stop the glare from robbing the helmsman's night vision, and even on the lowest light setting, it becomes a huge irritant. If the wheel is a big one that requires you to clamber over the cockpit seats and squeeze into a small gap behind the wheel, it means that moving from the chart table to double check something is a major issue, often involving wet, cold and darkness, irritating the helmsman, and reading the plotter at an angle that prevents proper use of the controls.  And if the chart plotter has a touch screen switched on, simply wiping the display to get rid of the sea spray or rain causes the thing to go into spasms of irritating change. If you are in a rough sea, when you really need the instruments and sickness is an issue, having the chart plotter in front of the helmsman is enough to prevent you using it at all!

Ideally, a chart plotter should be fitted where it can act as an immediate secondary check to the paper chart; above, or near, the chart table. Preferably in the dry.  And away from the poor helmsman whose night vision is vital to the safety of the yacht (particularly these days, with nets, pots, and floating ullage of a size capable of punching a big hole in your bows). You don't need his eyes to be glued to the chart plotter.  It's a dangerous habit to develop. And steering by GPS has caused no end of accidents.  Get the chart plotter away from the helm; put it above the chart table, or near it, where it can be an excellent aid to navigation, rather than a live version of an arcade game. Many yacht owners fit them inside the cabin, but visible from the companionway.  That's a good compromise.



Again, Raymarine kit is my favourite.  I've not sailed much with the new Broadband radars, but where I have, they have been excellent.  Fit the best you can afford. And then learn how to use it. Learn how the Electronic Bearing Line (EBL) and Variable Range Marker (VRM) work.  Learn how to do parallel plotting, fixing a floating EBL along a hazardous coast, so that you create an electronic clearing line that has an accurate range to it. And practice, practice, practice.  Radar is a brilliant aid for a yacht, but again, it can create risk if you don't know how to use it. I don't like radar overlays - I much prefer to run two screens - the chart and the radar - which again, is a good reason for getting a wide screen display like the C or E series. And get it away from the helm position.  Unless you are single-handed sailing, your ideal set up is to have a helmsman who is concentrating on steering and watching for hazards, and a navigator (often the skipper or first mate) who is running the plot and checking the chart plotter and radar.  And at night, when you are sailing without the engine to boost the amps, there's no need to run it continuously.  A few sweeps every fifteen to twenty minutes will do in low traffic conditions, and on the open ocean, you don't really need it that much at all.  If you do a fair bit of long-distance open ocean work, a passive radar alarm that sounds when a big ship's radar is in range is all you really need. But remember, the other yacht may be doing the same as you, and may have his radar switched off, so even in the open ocean, a good lookout is advised, especially at night.



Yes, please.  AIS is set to grow exponentially, not only with ship-bourne navigation, but increasingly on marks and lights. At the very least, if you can afford it, have a passive set, but ensure that it integrates with your chartplotter (and possibly your radar, but I've found it much more useful on the chart plotter).  And given that most yachts' radar reflectors are almost useless unless they are active (or at the very least , why not spend the money instead on an active AIS that gives the other guy your course, speed and other details?  Better than any radar reflector, provided the other guy has at least passive AIS fitted (and with AIS expanding all the time, he probably will if he's likely to be a danger to you). You can always switch it to passive in highly congested waters - or switch it off. 



Icom M423You want your VHF radio to 'just work', reliably, solidly, and well.  No fancy gizmos to confuse you in a crisis.  I've had to deal with a fire at sea, and the solid, reliable, gadget-free VHF was great for the PAN PAN I had to send.  My choice would be ICOM.  ICOM kit 'just works'. And it goes on working. We review a couple of the ICOM sets in our equipment reviews, but for VHF the IC-M91D is well worth having if you don't have a DSC set fitted (but remember to get your MMSI number sorted).  And the latest ICOM fitted VHF DSC unit is the IC-M423.  There was one fitted on the yacht I delivered from Cyprus recently, and it 'just worked'. In fact, because we had difficulties with the chart plotter display being at the helm position, we used it to give us the GPS position at the chart table.  Get the Antenna up as high as possible, which on a sailing yacht means on top of the main mast.  But for safety, fit a spare to the pushpit.  It will only cost a few pounds, and will be there for you if you loose the main antenna, without you having to mess about fitting it.

For HF sets, the ICOM M801 is almost a standard fitting for yacht HF rigs.  And for long-distance Amateur Radio operators (my own call, G4JJP, is active when I'm at sea with an amateur set fitted) frankly any of the ICOM HF gear will work, but if you can afford it, the 9100 is a great choice. Get a decent antenna tuner and ground plate if you are using HF at sea - again, if you can get one, the SGC SG230 would be my choice for automatic antenna tuner.  You can pick one up second hand if you are lucky. Again, it just works, and goes on working. There have been acres of pages written about using HF at sea in a yacht - google will provide many of the links - but the key issue in my own experience is having a decent ground plate attached to the hull, which means fitting at haul out time, and having a decent antenna tuner, such as the SG230. And an insulated backstay for an antenna is possibly the most efficient way of getting the signal out there.

An alternative to HF if you're not a radio amateur, is to use a satellite phone.  The prices are coming down, and the coverage is now excellent. It's instant communication with a Marine Rescue and Coordination Centre, and because most commercial ships have abandoned HF in favour of satellite, many coastal stations have as well. 

Budget consious fittings

And if you only have a few pounds to spare, can't afford a chart plotter, and can only have a hand held?  My advice would be to get the new ICOM M91D, and to fit an active radar reflector such as the Sea-me.  The Sea-me could be the best £350 you have ever spent, and if it does it's job, you may never know it!  The EchoMax active radar reflector is only a tenth of the price at around £40, but I don't have any experience of this and therefore would want independent evidence that it did the job before fitting one.

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