There are two types of marine radio that are commonly installed on vessels:

  • VHF – short range marine transceivers, costing from $150, suitable for inshore and coastal use
  • MF/HF – long range marine transceivers, costing from $3,500, suitable for offshore and ocean cruising

MAST recommends that if you are still carrying a 27MHz radio for compliance that it be replaced as soon as possible with a VHF radio as the coverage is greater and not many boats carry a 27MHz and few shore stations listen on that band.

MAST requirements

MAST requires that any recreational vessel operating outside sheltered waters must carry a marine radio.

Mobile phones

For coastal operations a VHF radio provides much greater coverage and allows communication with shore stations for distress and emergency situations. It also allows boaters to talk with other vessels if necessary. A mobile phone cannot be used as a substitute for the legislative requirement to fit a marine radio.  In an emergency situation, a marine radio transmission can be heard by other vessels that may be in the vicinity and so provide a greater chance of receiving a quick response.  Mobile phones are still useful so keep yours in a waterproof cover to ensure it will work when you need it.

Satellite phones

A satellite phone, or satphone is a type of mobile phone that connects to satellites orbiting the earth unlike a mobile that users land based sites. They provide similar functionality to a mobile phone; voice, sms and low-bandwidth internet access are supported through most systems.

A sat phone does not take the place of a VHF radio or HF set and consequently cannot be used as the primary means of voice to voice communication on a boat. The carriage of sat phones for people cruising is becoming more and more popular and whilst expensive, coverage is excellent provided the antenna has a clear view to the sky and satellites.

Sat phone
Sat phone

Important points

  • Always have your radio switched to the Distress and Calling channel when on your boat
  •  Always stow your microphone in its holder when not in use. If the microphone is knocked, it can shut a distress channel down
  •  Make sure the international (INTL) mode is selected on your VHF radio (Not USA or CAN).  This ensures maximum output power and correct use of repeater and ship-to-shore duplex channels
  •  Using a Marine VHF radio on shore is illegal except in emergency situations.

Marine Radio Operator Certification

It is a requirement of the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) that VHF and HF marine radio users are qualified.  If you use a VHF marine radio in Australian Territorial Waters (within 12 nautical miles of the coast), you can apply for the Australian Waters Qualification (AWQ).

The internationally recognised marine radio qualifications – The Marine Radio Operator Certificate of Proficiency (MROCP) and Marine Radio Operator VHF Certificate have had a name change.  Now known as the Long-Range Operator Certificate of Proficiency (formerly MROCP) and Short-Range Operator Certificate of Proficiency (formerly MROVCP), these certificates remain unchanged and are issued for life.