Two weeks ago we were 185 miles offshore and there were no boats out there, our last visual of other craft was what we believed to be an albacore fishing fleet, 150 miles off the coast of Oregon. It was dark and we weren't sure if they were indeed fishing vessels so we tried to hail them on 16, to no avail. I heard no chatter on the working channels and gave up after awhile. Today I learned that most commercial crew communicate via phone or email - I'm guessing via either satellite or SSB, maybe DSC too. They were probably monitoring 16, but later we learned that our VHF signal was severely lacking. I think it's entirely possible that commercial crew only half-listen to 16 much of the time, maybe like I did while driving the pax ferry in Seattle - only perking up my ears when I heard a pan-pan or mayday. Besides that job, I never spent much time in the wheelhouse when I worked on non-tallship/commercial vessels, so I hadn't fully realized how little they use the radio these days. It's a good thing to keep in mind. After that pax ferry job, and after our West Coast sailing to this point, I strongly believe in owning an AIS. In some ways, the AIS is equally or more important than a radar. If you have an AIS and want to get the attention of a distant vessel, you might have more success in getting their attention if you knew their name.
I'm really interested in helping establish a better understanding between crew on small voyaging vessels, and crew aboard commercial boats, including tall ships, fishing boats and everyone else. I don't mean through radio contact - rather incorporating topics in the magazine that all of these people can relate to or learn from. If anyone has good ideas for implementing this, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Good luck communicating with commercial vessels. Based on my (limited) expirence oboard a commercial vessel the mates running the boat may or may not be paying any attention to the radio or the radar, they are more likely to be making coffee. In some cases I found that they just weren't interested or concerned by things that on tallships I was taught to pay attention to, like communicating your intentions to other vessels. Sadly AIS won't help compensate for pour seamanship practices on the bridge of commercial vessels. I too would love to hear from someone who has more time on the brige of something in the unlimited tonnage catagory on this subject. In their defense, a position that I am reluctant to be in, they do have WAY to many gauges to look at and are so insulated from the weather that they frequently forget to notice things like squalls or decreasing visibility. I suspect that being so insulated from the world makes one inattentive, but thats just speculation.