Marine radio

Marine radios provide a means of calling for assistance if a vessel is in distress, monitoring and/or updating rescue operations, and positioning a vessel by radio direction finding.

Marine radios operate on:

  • VHF marine radio channels
  • MF/HF marine radio frequencies
  • 27MHz marine radio channels

Marine Radio Victoria

In Victoria, VHF and HF emergency radio traffic is monitored and recorded by Marine Radio Victoria (MRV) 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year.

MRV covers the Victorian coastline, up to 20 nautical miles from the coast on the VHF emergency channels and out to 200 miles for the HF emergency frequencies.

MRV also provides radio checks and broadcasts weather forecasts and warnings.

TSV recommends that boaters install a VHF radio instead of a 27Mhz radio to take advantage of the benefits of MRV and the superior functionality of VHF radios.

Request a VHF marine radio channels sticker

Use of standard procedures avoids confusion and shortens transmitting time.

Unnecessary chatter can mask a weak call for help and one day that may be your call. Only the recommended phonetic alphabet should be used in bad conditions.

Radio operating procedure

Your two-way radio is your communication lifeline so it is important to remember that you:

  • Do not transmit unnecessarily
  • Listen before transmitting and avoid interfering with other stations
  • Use one of the following calling distress channels:
    • 27MHz channel 88
    • VHF channel 16
    • HF frequencies 4125, 6215 and 8291KHz
  • Maintain best contact channel or frequency and be guided by the coast or limited coast station when sending distress messages
  • Arrange to switch to a working channel once you have made contact with the person you called for non-distress messages
  • Always use your call sign or the name of the vessel for identification – use of given names or surnames is not permitted
  • Keep messages brief and clear
  • Be familiar with the type and syntax of emergency, urgency and safety messages
  • State your position, the nature of the distress, the time afloat, the type of vessel and the number of people involved if making a distress call
  • Stop transmitting when requested to do so by a coast station.

How to use marine radio in an emergency

Certificate of Proficiency

A marine radio operator Certificate of Proficiency is required to transmit using MF/HF or VHF radio.

The Office of Maritime Communications at the Australian Maritime College (AMC) is responsible for the management of marine radio examinations and certification services in Australia. Visit the AMC website for more information and the Marine Radio Operators Handbook.

Read more about marine radio qualifications on the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) website.

Selection of marine radios

An alarm signal is used to attract the attention of operators to the incoming message. It produces a two-toned warbling sound which can be easily distinguished, even in poor reception conditions.

How to call for help

Distress call

Distress messages prefixed "MAYDAY" repeated three times are used only in grave and imminent danger.

Urgency call 

Urgency messages prefixed "PAN PAN" repeated three times are used when you or your vessel are not in grave and imminent danger.

Safety signal 

Safety signals prefixed "SECURITE" repeated three times (pronounced SAY-CURE-E-TAY) are used when a station wants to pass important information concerning safety such as navigational warnings or weather warnings.

Distress and urgency communications can be made on the following channels:

Radio type Channel/frequencies
VHF 16 (67 alternative)
27MHz 88 (86 alternative)
HF (frequency) 4125, 6215 and 8291kHz

Graphical illustration of marine radio channels