Talking Heads: Communicating On A Boat

Written by Bob Arrington

Any type of maneuvering in close quarters, whether it’s docking, anchoring or picking up a mooring ball requires proper planning, cooperation and communication between the person at the helm and the person handling lines on the deck of the boat.

Depending on the size and configuration of your boat, that could be an easy or difficult exercise. If your helm is open, if eye contact can be maintained between the helm and the deck at all times, and if each person can speak to and hear each other in a normal conversation level, than these maneuvers may be done with ease.

However, many boats may place the helm and deck personnel out of each other’s sight, or out of normal speaking volumes. When this is the case, hands-free radio communicators become a valuable tool for successful close quarters handling. Hands-free radio communicators come in several variations, with a variety of features.

The first and most important feature is complete wireless operation. They of course communicate wirelessly to each other, but it is also important that the headsets not be wired to a remote battery or component belt-pack. All components must be contained within the headset. Adequate communicators allow full duplex operation, meaning you can each speak and hear simultaneously without changing channels or pressing any buttons to switch between hearing and speaking. They must fit securely and comfortably on your head, have appropriate wind-noise suppression and easily adjusted volume controls. They also must be water resistant and it is helpful if they are lightweight and have easy to charge batteries.

Let’s review two models that incorporate the best of these features.

Sena SPH10

The Sena SPH10 at 3.8 ounces is one of the lightest headsets on the market (valued at $199). Its method of communication is via Bluetooth™ 3.0 with duplex operation and almost a half mile range. This unit has a comfortable head-bow that wraps around the back of the head instead of over the top, which eliminates any issues with hats or other headwear. The low profile of the headset also allows your foul-weather gear hood to be comfortably worn over it without interference. The earpieces are held in place with a comfortable over-the-ear hook, which can have some interference with sunglasses depending on the style of the sunglass ear piece.

The Sena SPH10 has excellent wind-noise suppression with crystal-clear audio. The unit also will automatically boost the volume level in noisy environments, while Advanced Noise Control™ technology detects and cuts out background noise. The Sena device does require Bluetooth™ pairing with each other every time they are turned on, but it is a quick and easy operation. Fully charging takes less than 3 hours with a micro-USB cord connecting to the built-in lithium polymer battery. They provide 10 hours of talk-time and 7 days of standby.

In case you have more than one crew member, the Sena allows four headsets to communicate simultaneously. The product also ships with multiple styles of earpiece covers, along with long and short mic booms and extra foam wind screen covers for the microphones.

Eartec UltraLITE UL2S

Eartec is one of the leaders in personal two-way communications, with a full line of hands-free radio communicators specifically built for the marine environment.

The UltraLITE UL2S (valued at $335) is a popular model economically priced for the recreational boater. The unit utilizes DECT 6.0 technology on a 1.9 GHZ frequency to provide a clear reliable connection between headsets. They feature a comfortable padded headpiece with a large cushioned ear cover. The UL2S has a single ear speaker with a swivel adjustable mic, allowing the unit to be worn on either the left or right ear. This device offers full duplex technology for simultaneous conversation with as many as four headsets. The UL2S comes equipped with an easy to change lithium- ion battery that charges outside the headset and can be fully charged in 3 hours and provide 6 hours of talk-time. Volume and mute bottoms are easy to access, even with a gloved hand.

A breakdown in communication has been the cause of many docking disasters and resulted in stressed relationships and embarrassing landings at a marina. Hands-free radio headsets can help prevent these situations and save costly damage to your boat. There is no reason to yell at your boat mate anymore. The technology is here, the costs are reasonable and the products are comfortable and
easy to use.