Your boat’s VHF antenna is a vital link in the onboard communication chain. Regular inspection and testing can ensure that it performs properly when needed.
Look for signs of wear that could affect system performance, including large cracks or fractures on a fiberglass antenna and a bent or badly nicked metal whip.
Check the connections. Loose connectors or those with excessive corrosion can interfere with communications.
Examine the coax between the radio and antenna for kinks, crushing or cuts. Replace damaged cable.
Test the radio system before every trip. On a nonemergency channel, make a series of transmissions to a friend’s boat from a range of known distances and assess the quality of each other’s transmissions. To perform a solo test, tune into a distant VHF weather station. Disconnect the antenna at the radio; the signal should weaken or disappear. Then, reinsert just the tip of the coax connector to produce a signal that will improve as the coax is fully reconnected. If the signal disappears again, the connector or antenna may have problems. Likewise, if wiggling the connector causes large changes in signal strength, its connection to the cable may be faulty.
For more sophisticated testing, you can purchase a radio test meter, such as Shakespeare’s ART-3 Antenna Radio Tester, for less than $100 to measure system performance.
Carry an emergency antenna for reassurance and security in case of antenna failure or accident.