No need to shout for David Holmes and crew when anchoring

Smartphones have become indispensable tools for the cruising sailor, offering a myriad of benefits from navigation and weather apps to anchor alarms and AIS trackers, writes David Holmes.

Smartphones can provide convenience, accuracy, and essential information, enhancing the pleasure and safety of cruising.

And like many cruising sailors, we now use our phone rather than the VHF radio to contact marina staff. But, can your phone also be used when you want to drop the hook?

When it comes to anchoring, good communication between crew members increases safety and makes for enjoyable cruising.

And for those of us that sail with our partners, it’s an essential ingredient for a harmonious relationship!

A man wearing a crew headset on a boat

The DIY crew headset provides clear and easy communication between the bow….

Traditionally, hand signals and loud voices have been used in many a quiet anchorage.

For the more well-heeled, an expensive walkie-talkie crew headset has been the go-to solution for maintaining contact between helm and crew.

However, with the widespread use of mobile phones and the availability of good phone signals in many UK anchorages, there’s a simple and cost-effective alternative: using your mobile phone and headphones.

The beauty of this approach lies in the fact that you’re likely to already have your mobile phone on board.

A woman at the helm of a boat wearing a crew headset

…..and the helm

By taking advantage of the technology you already possess, you can save money and avoid duplicating systems unnecessarily.

And of course, communication via headphones leaves both hands free.

The first step is to ensure that your mobile phone is fully charged and you have a set of working headphones on board before you head out.

Many anchorages will have sufficient phone signal coverage, allowing for uninterrupted communication.

As you approach your chosen anchorage, simply plug your headphones into your mobile phone and call your partner or crewmate. This will create a private and quiet channel of communication, allowing you to talk to each other without disturbing the peace and tranquillity of your surroundings.

Using mobile phones and headphones is also particularly useful during deck work, such as changing headsails in stronger winds, picking up a buoy and even coming alongside.

Two mobile phones on a table

DIY crew headset: Mobile phones with earpod headsets are all you need

Instead of relying on shouting or trying to decipher gestures from a distance, you can now speak directly with ease and clarity.

This enables good teamwork and minimises the risk of mistakes or accidents.

In addition to convenience, mobile phones offer the advantage of crystal-clear audio.

Unlike walkie-talkies which can sometimes suffer from interference or poor sound quality, your mobile phone provides reliable, high-quality communication most of the time.

It’s important to note that while using your mobile phone and headphones is a practical solution, it’s essential to prioritise safety at all times.

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Ensure you have a safe pocket to store your phone so that both hands are free and that the headphones are threaded up through clothing so they don’t dangle and become a hazard.

We use the white headphones provided with the phone, but I also have a few headsets left over from the pandemic’s ‘Zoom age’ which we could use if we wanted to look the part!

In our experience, taking advantage of the mobile phone and headphone technology you already possess is a smart choice for quiet communication while anchoring.

To the casual observer (and we all know that anchoring is a spectator sport) it will appear that you are a seasoned professional.

By using this familiar and accessible system you can save money, enjoy clear audio, and maintain a strong connection during deck work or any other tasks.

On the odd occasion that you encounter an anchorage with no phone signal – as we have in the past – there are other options available.

If you own a handheld VHF and also a fixed set that you can hear from your steering position then this is an option, albeit not a hands-free one.

If you’re buying a handheld set today, most have headphone and remote mic options, often with hands-free voice activation, but again, the hefty price tag of two handhelds plus headsets will take this option out of the reach of the average cruising sailor.

David Holmes has owned a number of small boats, starting with an 18ft 6in Proctor-designed Seagull through to a Westerly Merlin. He is semi-retired having recently left the health service where he worked as a technical instructor in mental health services.

David Holmes has owned a number of small boats, starting with an 18ft 6in Proctor-designed Seagull through to a Westerly Merlin. He is semi-retired having recently left the health service where he worked as a technical instructor in mental health services.

There are now a number of downloadable walkie-talkie apps for your phone that use Bluetooth technology to allow you to communicate with each other directly, over short distances of around 30ft, without the need for a phone signal or internet connection.

These walkie-talkie apps using Bluetooth appear, on the face of it, to be a good solution.

However, finding a suitable app for use when a phone signal isn’t available might be harder than you think.

There are a host of free-to-download apps available with variable user reviews to choose from.

In the past, we ‘auditioned’ a number of anchor alarms before settling on our final choice, so we’re now working our way through the PTT walkie-talkie apps in the same way!

However, for ease and simplicity, we always use our phones whenever possible. So, next time you’re out on the water, why not give this a try?

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