In Sweden it is pretty much quiet on the VHF. Even on a sunny day when thousands of boat are out sailing it is quiet. Pleasure boats uses two designated channels, L1 & L2 in order to reduce the traffic on 16.
Traffic has increased significantly as further south we have been coming. The big change came when we entered English waters. We have had PANPAN and distress messages more or less every day!!
The record was when we sailed from Plymouth. Within 1-2 hours we had two DISTRESS and two PANPAN. This was on a calm sunny day with no wind, when you would expect nothing to happen. One mayday was certainly for real, as 3 fishermen had to go in the life raft when the boat sank. Luckily they were saved. The other was a false alarm (MOB)
It got really confusing when we had 2 PANPAN at the same time. One was from England and the other one from France. Both where transmitting on channel 16 and was over-speaking each other, one in English and one in French.
What really surprised me (or perhaps not) was that the French PANPAN was only transmitted in French language. In the English Channel there are boats from many different nationalities. Chances that someone could assist would certainly increase if important messages were transmitted in English as well!
It is also annoying to hear the frequent radio checks made on 16. The use of traffic channels would solve that.
On our way over Bay of Biscay a Spanish fishing boat played music on Channel 16 in the middle of the night. After 10-15 minutes some Spanish colleges asked him to stop. Music stopped, but instead we had to listen to fisherman’s that whistle or make other noises on 16.
It is sad that “professionals” are abusing a safety system. In La Coruna I talked to several boats that had been turning off the VHF, as they were fed up listening to all the crap. That is not improving safety at sea! I think it is time to enforce ATIS for all VHF traffic in all waters. I´m sure that would improve the VHF traffic discipline, as all calls would be traceable. On European Inland waters ATIS is required.