Amateur radio (illegally) aiding yacht racers
By Dan Romanchik, KB6NU
The Golden Globe Race (https://goldengloberace.com), a 30,000 mile, non-stop solo yacht race to celebrate Sir Robin Knox-Johnston’s historic 1968/9 world first solo non-stop circumnavigation. There are 18 sailors in the race, which started on July 1, 2018 from Les Sables-D’Olonne, France.
Amateur radio is at the heart of the latest controversy surrounding the race. Scuttlebutt Sailing News reported (https://www.sailingscuttlebutt.com/2019/01/21/maintaining-information-barrier/) on January 21, 2019 (day 205 of the race):
“Sailors have been making use of the Amateur Radio net (ham radio) for decades, and while National telecommunication authorities have often turned a deaf ear to unlicensed operators using made-up call signs while at sea, warnings from a National regulator to Golden Globe Race skippers has created intrigue into an exciting finale for race leaders.
“Modern navigation and routing tools are restricted from use in the 2018-19 contest, limiting GGR skippers to the type of equipment available for the inaugural Sunday Times Golden Globe solo non-stop round the world race in 1968-69. That includes Amateur Radio.
“The skippers have been using this free communication system to gain weather forecasts and maintain contact with their teams, which is allowed under the Race Rules. However, it is the responsibility of each skipper to ensure that they abide by National and International regulations which Jean-Luc Van Den Heede and Mark Slats, in first and second in the race, have not been doing. [[Neither Van den Heede or Slats have valid amateur radio licenses…Dan]]
“Said the warning, ‘You use an amateur callsign and are making connections with amateur radio operators. The call sign letters are not registered, and thus illegal. I ask you to stop. If you have a legal amateur callsign then I urge you to present it.’”
As a result of this warning, Slats is considering dropping out of the race, even though the race is nearly complete. Yachting Monthy reports (https://www.yachtingmonthly.com/boat-events/golden-globe-race/golden-globe-race-slats-considers-quitting-comms-row-68574):
“Mark Slats, who is less than 50 miles from Golden Globe Race leader Jean-Luc Van Den Heede, has announced he is thinking about retiring from the race after being banned from broadcasting on the Ham Radio Net.
“Race organisers said the Dutch skipper does not have the required licence, and has been warned by the Dutch authorities to stop broadcasting, which has left him unable to communicate with his shore team.
“Under the rules of the race, all of the entrants are able to use this free communication system to gain weather forecasts and maintain contact with their teams, but, it is the responsibility of each skipper to ensure that they abide by national and international regulations.”
It’s not only the yachters that are flouting the rules, it’s the amateur radio operators who are communicating with them. According to Yachting Monthly, OFCOM, the UK regulator issued the following warning:
“Fair warning both to unregistered GGR skippers and to legitimate Ham radio operators communicating with them. In Britain, the Ham Radio net is controlled by OFCOM, which recently revoked more than 500 licences for non-compliance. This includes communicating with unregistered Ham radio operators. The maximum penalty is 6 months in prison, a £5,000 fine and loss of their licence.”
This is a fascinating story, and I wish that I’d found out about this sooner. It would be interesting to listen in on some of these communications. One question I have is why these guys failed to obtain a valid amateur radio license? The Golden Globe Radio website notes, “[The race] will be sailed under the auspices of the Royal Nomuka Yacht Club in the Kingdom of Tonga. His Royal Highness, Crown Prince Tupouto’a Ulukalala is Patron of the Race.” They probably could have issued valid amateur radio licenses to all the racers.
If any of you have heard the communications or know any more about the technical details, I’d love to hear from you.
Dan Romanchik, KB6NU, is the author of the KB6NU amateur radio blog (KB6NU.Com), the “No Nonsense” amateur radio license study guides (KB6NU.Com/study-guides/), and one of the hosts of the No Nonsense Amateur Radio Podcast (NoNonsenseAmateurRadio.Com). When he’s not think about operating maritime mobile, you’ll find him on 30m, 40m, and 80m.