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Marine radios

Marine radios are essential safety equipment and can be the only way to:

  • communicate with other boats or marine rescue groups
  • receive navigational warnings and weather updates.

Skippers and all crew should know:

  • how to operate all marine radios on board your boat
  • the distress and safety frequencies
  • how to properly format and transmit distress and safety messages.

Equipment

There are 3 types of marine radios:

VHF is the preferred radio for short range marine communications. VHF channel 16 is for emergencies or initial calls and should not be used for routine messages or chat. Maritime Safety Queensland and volunteer marine rescue stations monitor VHF channel 16 along  most of the Queensland coast 24 hours/7 days and can respond to emergency calls. All large vessels and an increasing number of smaller boats monitor VHF channel 16. Weather information is regularly broadcast on VHF channel 67. Most areas in Queensland have a local chat or common use frequency. Your local marine rescue station can advise on this.

27MHz has a very limited range,  so you should check that a limited coast station is in your immediate vicinity before relying on this equipment for your safety. Most marine rescue groups monitor channel 27.88MHz, but larger vessels at sea do not listen to this radio.

HF radios have a greater communication range if travelling long distances from shore, but they rely on atmospheric conditions and hull material. They can be difficult to operate without training and practice. Queensland HF services cover coastal waters to a minimum of 200 nautical miles seaward from sites located at Cairns (call sign: coast radio Cairns) and Gladstone (call sign: coast radio Gladstone). They monitor HF frequencies 4125, 6215 and 8291kHz 24 hours/7 days. Weather broadcasts and navigational warnings are made on HF frequency 8176kHz.

Licences and certificates

Under federal regulations, you need an operating certificate to use a VHF and HF radio:

  • The Marine Radio Operator’s VHF Certificate of Proficiency (MROVCP) is for VHF radio and is the normal certificate for recreational boaties.
  • The Marine Radio Operator’s Certificate of Proficiency (MROCP) is for VHF and MF/HF radio.

You do not need a certificate to use 27MHz equipment, but attending a course will improve your knowledge of marine radios and give you the confidence to use it correctly.

Many volunteer marine rescue stations provide radio courses or can tell you where a local course is available. More information about licensing of radios and operators can be found at the Australian Communications and Media Authority website.

Coastal distress marine radio network

Maritime Safety Queensland has a 24 hour listening watch service to cover most of the adjacent coastal waters between Cooktown and the New South Wales border on VHF channels 16 and 67 for distress and urgency calls.

Volunteer marine rescue organisations (Australian Volunteer Coast Guard and Volunteer Marine Rescue) play an important role in delivering the coastal distress marine radio network service. They maintain a listening watch during their operating hours, which is then handed over to Maritime Safety Queensland vessel traffic service centres after hours.

Marine radio contacts

For information on volunteer rescue stations and frequencies monitored in your area please visit:

Operating procedures

The Australian Maritime College (AMC) Marine VHF Radio Operators handbook is available from their website and outlines the full standard operating procedures for marine radio to be used by boats of all nationalities.

Distress radio frequencies

MF/HF transceivers:

  • For distress and calling use 4125, 6215, 8291KHz.
  • For navigational warnings use 8176KHz.

VHF transceivers:

  • Use channel 16 and channel 67 as a supplementary.

27 MHz transceivers:

  • Use 27.88MHz (channel 88) and 27.86MHz as a supplementary.

Key radio call procedures

Routine callsDistress callsUrgency callsSafety calls
Boats are strongly encouraged to log on/off with their local volunteer marine station and update changes to location and intentions. The distress call ‘mayday’ may be used only if the boat is in grave or imminent danger and immediate assistance is required (e.g. if the boat is sinking or on fire). This call has priority over all other transmissions. Distress frequencies are VHF 16, 27.88 MHz or HF 4125, 6215, 8291 kHz. The urgency call ‘pan pan’ should be used when the distress call cannot be justified but a very urgent message about the safety of your boat or a person needs to be transmitted (e.g. your vessel is disabled and drifting onto a lee-shore or a crew member is seriously ill). Distress call frequencies may be used. The safety call ‘securite’ should be used to broadcast important navigational warnings to other stations (e.g. a severe weather warning or if you see a large floating object that could damage a boat’s hull).

Call procedure:

  • clearly state the boat/group you are calling (spoken 3 times)
  • ‘this is – name of your boat’ (spoken 3 times)
  • clearly state the message
  • ‘over’.
  • Wait for a response.

Call procedure:

  • ‘mayday, mayday, mayday’
  • ‘this is – name and radio call sign of boat in distress’ (spoken 3 times)
  • ‘mayday’
  • ‘name and radio call sign of boat’
  • ‘detail of boat’s position’
  • ‘nature of distress and assistance required’
  • ‘other information, including number of people on board, vessel description and intentions’.

Call procedure:

  • ‘pan pan, pan pan, pan pan’
  • ‘hello all stations, hello all stations, hello all stations’
  • ‘this is – name and radio call sign of boat’ (spoken 3 times)
  • ‘details of the boat’s position’
  • ‘details of assistance required and other information’.

Call procedure:

  • ‘say-cure-e-tay, say-cure-e-tay, say-cure-e-tay’ (SECURITE)
  • ‘hello all stations, hello all stations, hello all stations’
  • ‘this is – name and radio call sign of your boat or shore station’ (spoken 3 times)
  • ‘details of the warning’.

Note: The initial safety call can be made on a distress frequency, but you should change to a working frequency to broadcast the safety message.

Phonetic alphabet

A Alpha
B Bravo
C Charlie
D Delta
E Echo
F Foxtrot
G Golf
H Hotel
I India
J Juliet
K Kilo
L Lima
M Mike
N November
O Oscar
P Papa
Q Quebec
R Romeo
S Sierra
T Tango
U Uniform
V Victor
W Whisky
X X-Ray
Y Yankee
Z Zulu

Quick safety tips

  • Carrying a VHF marine radio when going boating can be an added safety measure. It means vessels in the area can hear a distress call if there is an emergency.
  • Mobile phones are only good as a back-up for marine communications. They can easily be out of range or have a flat battery.
  • The battery terminals and other connections on all radio equipment should be checked regularly and cleaned. For better communications, all radio equipment should be connected directly to the battery.
Last updated
14 August 2014