HNA Trustee, Steerer all-round good egg, Barry Holland has been off to gain his marine radio certification recently. The course is a requirement for anyone who wants to use a marine VHF DSC radio, it is suitable for experienced boaters as well as novices. It covers both basic marine band VHF operation and Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) procedures using Digital Selective Calling (DSC). The course can be completed and is followed by an independent examination by an RYA (Royal Yachting Association) Examiner.
Here’s how it went…
The classroom course allows you to have maximum hands-on experience. The course runs from 0830hrs to approximately 1630hrs followed by the examination. You will be able to practice procedures using RAYMARINE, SIMRAD and ICOM VHF (types of equipment); DSC and GMDSS equipment fitted with dummy loads in order that they may be operated in the classroom environment. The use of this equipment rather than the computer generated simulators used at some other training establishments enables you to experience hands-on use of the equipment & procedures. These are used throughout the course and examination. Before attending the classroom course we will send you your course pack which will contain a book for you to do some pre-course study, the areas that you need to cover are detailed in the pack.
The above sounds simple enough and indeed is once one gets into classroom mode. However, some time has passed since yours truly was made to sit behind a desk and absorb facts and figures from a tutor standing by a blackboard! In fact, the blackboard no longer exists – I don’t think you’re even allowed to say it any more. Now it’s all TV screens, monitors, power point presentations and digital technology. A vast improvement on the days of squeaky chalk making your teeth come out and dance a cha-cha on your bottom lip!
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. As our hiring public get more adventurous and go further afield some customers feel the need to complete ‘The London Ring’ which comprises of the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal to Little Venice, thence the Regent’s Canal to Limehouse and the River Thames. Upstream to Brentford on the Thames Tideway, going with the flood tide,then re-enter the canal system at Brentford Creek to join the main line that runs to Birmingham and beyond. Provided one remembers to stop at Bull’s Bridge in Hayes, the very start of the Paddington Arm, then one can truly say they’ve done it!
There is in existence a video tape (?) record of this trip being completed in one day, indeed I have a copy and tried unsuccessfully to buy a ticket for the trip. It was filmed by ‘Video Active’ & had Michael Essex Lo-Presti, a well-known canal enthusiast, giving a comprehensive commentary for the 11½ hours that the journey took. He required several throat sweets towards the end in order for his voice to last out.The London Waterbus Company sold the tickets and the man from whom I tried to get a ticket told me that the trip was fully booked & could have been sold twenty times over!
However, Hillingdon Narrowboats Association recommend that a more leisurely, say four days is taken over the completion of the ring.
This where we hit the snag. Training sessions for Steerers Courses are available from HNA and indeed comprise the very waters of which we speak. Naturally, the trainers are fully qualified, including the VHF radio section which all craft over 45 feet have needed for several years. Post training, several people wish to ‘do’ the London Ring, when hiring a boat from us for their families. Unless the steerer has the radio qualification then they are not allowed on the tidal waters.The solution is to take, for the 2½ hours on the tideway, one of HNAs qualified staff on the trip. Prior to my ‘suffering’ in the classroom HNA can boast but a handful of them, hence the decision by committee to get a couple more personnel able, to allow a break for the current holders and to let more hirers to make this fabulous trip through iconic London. Take it from me, you will never, I repeat never see London from such an impressive perspective as this.
So, the day dawned when Ian Maclachlan (a good friend to HNA and former chairman) & myself met at High Wycombe and repaired a few miles to Bisham Abbey Sailing School, on the banks of the Thames near Marlow, where the non-tidal waters do not require such credentials as further downstream on the tideway.
It was a full-on course that was underway by 08:45 and destined not to finish before 17:30 with a short lunch break. It will take a long time before the image of a grown man slotted in behind a desk, struggling to send ‘pretend’ messages and making ‘schoolboy errors’ throughout the day, fades from my memory. No doubt Ian’s view of me engendered the same emotions. Slowly but surely though, our messages ‘tightened up’ and became more accurate and concise as the day wore on. Apologies from the instructor were forthcoming very early in the day as Ian and myself had covered all that was necessary for our needs but, of course, the course was the whole course and nothing but the course—no shortcuts allowed.
The two other candidates in the room for instance are employed by the Environment Agency and will, I am sure, need a lot more of their qualification to make their jobs run more smoothly.
A few days after this intense classroom experience was over, a buff envelope dropped on my mat. Inside was my licence to operate a VHF radio on the tideway – deep joy – be still my beating heart!!