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Marine radios

Marine radios are essential safety equipment for communicating with other boats, marine rescue groups and to receive navigational warnings and weather updates. There are three types of marine radios:

  • 27MHz has a very limited range and, although better than no radio, 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 88 but larger vessels at sea do not listen to this radio.

  • VHF is the preferred radio for short range communications. Maritime Safety Queensland and volunteer rescue stations monitor VHF channel 16 along the majority of the Queensland coast on a 24 hour/7 day basis and are able to act in case of emergency. All large vessels and an increasing number of smaller boats monitor Channel 16. Weather information is regularly broadcast on channel 67. Channel 16 is for emergencies or initial calls and should not be used for routine messages or chat. Most areas throughout Queensland have a local chat frequency or a common use rebroadcast frequency. The local marine rescue station can advise on this practice.

    Southern Queensland VHF network

  • HF radios have a greater communication range if travelling long distances from shore although they are reliant on atmospheric conditions and to some extent on 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). Weather broadcasts are made on frequency 8176 kHz. Navigational warnings are also broadcast on this frequency at the scheduled times. To increase communication efficiency, all HF equipment should be connected directly to the battery. Avoid patch panels and switch boxes if possible, as this will add to unwanted resistance and reduce performance. A good ground plate increases the efficiency of most communications equipment. Grounding straps between antenna tuners and ground plate should be made of copper pipe or copper sheet, approximately 50 mm wide. The battery terminals and other connections on all radio equipment should be checked regularly and cleaned.

Radio handbook available online

The Australian Maritime College (AMC) certifies users of marine radio (VHF and UHF). The Marine VHF Radio Operators handbook is available from their website.

Marine radio users are encouraged to take advantage of this offer and download the handbook.

Licences and certificates

All crew should be competent in the operation of the marine radios onboard, know the frequencies dedicated to distress and safety and be able to properly format and transmit distress and safety messages. Under federal regulations, operators of VHF and HF radios are required to hold an operating certificate; the normal certificate for recreational operators is the Marine Radio Operators Certificate of Proficiency (MROCP). Many Coast Guard and Volunteer Marine Rescue stations provide this course or may advise where a local course is available. Operators of 27 MHz equipment are not required to hold a certificate but are strongly recommended to obtain one. Information about licensing of radios and operators, can be found at the Australian Communications and Media Authority website.

Operating procedures

Standard radio procedures are used by boats of all nationalities.

Standard calls

When making a standard call to another boat or volunteer group state clearly:

  • the boat/group you are calling – spoken three times
  • this is – name of your boat – spoken three times
  • message
  • over
  • await response.

Distress calls

The distress call 'mayday' may be used only if the boat is threatened by grave and imminent danger and immediate assistance is required. This distress call has absolute priority over all other transmissions and may only be transmitted on the authority of the skipper or the person responsible for the safety of your boat.
Call procedure:

  • mayday   mayday   mayday
  • this is – name and radio call sign of boat in distress, spoken three times
  • mayday
  • name and radio call sign of boat
  • details of boat's position
  • nature of distress and assistance required
  • other information including number of people on board.

Urgency calls

The urgency call should be used when you cannot justify use of the distress call but have a very urgent message to transmit concerning the safety of your boat or the safety of a person. Once again, you may only make an urgency call on the authority of the skipper or person responsible for the safety of your boat.
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 three times
  • details of the boat's position
  • details of assistance required and other information.

Safety calls

The safety call should be used if you wish to broadcast an important navigational warning to other stations. For example, you have sighted a large floating object that could damage the hull of a boat.

A safety call is more likely to be made by a coast station or a limited coast station operated by a marine rescue association and may include important weather warnings such as severe thunderstorm, gale and cyclone warnings.
Call procedure:

  • say-cure-e-tay   say-cure-e-tay   say-cure-e-tay
  • hello all stations   hello all stations   hello all stations
  • this is – name and radio call sign of boat or shore station, spoken three times
  • details of the warning.

You may make the initial safety call to all stations on a distress frequency. However, you should change to a working frequency to make the broadcast of the safety message.

Distress radio frequencies

MF/HF transceivers:

  • Distress and calling 4125, 6215, 8291KHz.
  • Navigational warning 8176KHz.

VHF transceivers:

  • Channel 16 with channel 67 as a supplementary.

27 MHz transceivers:

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

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

Last updated
24 October 2013