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.

Licences and certificates

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

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.

Distress Radio Frequencies

MF/HF transceivers:

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

VHF transceivers:

  • Ch 16 and Ch 67 as a supplementary.

27 MHz transceivers:

  • 27.88MHz and 27.86MHz as a supplementary.

Key radio call procedures

Routine calls
Boats are strongly encouraged to log on/off with their local volunteer marine station and update changes to location and intentions.
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.
Distress calls
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.
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’.
Urgency calls
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.
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’.
Safety calls
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:

  • ‘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