One of the biggest safety concerns when boating is having a method of contact with the rest of the world.
There’s a good chance that your phone isn’t going to get a signal and the only way to communicate would be to use a marine radio. This is especially important if you plan to cruise around further away from land, in which case you may need a radio that offers more power and range so that you can safely communicate with any nearby coast guards, marinas, harbours or even other ships.
Depending on the maritime laws in the waters that you plan to travel on, you may be required to carry a type of radio, but choosing one and picking the right features can be difficult. To help you out, we’ve put together this useful page which will help you understand everything you need to about marine radios.
The types of marine radios available
There are three main types of marine radios that are typically used.
- MF/HF – Perhaps the least common type of radio as it’s commonly used for boats that are travelling very far from the coast. If you plan to use an MF/HF radio, then you’ll need to own a license and you will be given a radio call-sign to be used.
- VHF – One of the most common types of radio available, but it does require that you own a license in order to use it (not own one). It offers short-range communication and they typically come with a wide range of different features.
- 27mHz – Another common type of radio that typically only supports short-range communication as long as you have a line of sight with the target. No license is required to own or even use this type of radio.
Marine radios come with unique features that help to set it apart from others in its class. For instance, some radios have buoyancy which means they won’t sink if dropped into water, and some offer extra accessories such as a headset which doesn’t require you to physically hold the radio.
Some radios also come with noise cancelling technology which can be useful when you’re exposed to the engine; the extra sound in the background can often make it difficult for the person on the other end to make out what you’re saying. Waterproof ratings are also important to learn as some radios are considered splash proof but not completely waterproof, meaning they will fail if dropped into water or if exposed to water for long periods of time.
Picking the right type of radio for your needs
With three different types of marine radios, it’s important that you understand the pros and cons of each one so that you can make the right purchase decision that will help keep you safe when you’re out on the water.
27mHz marine radios are typically the cheapest and easiest to operate. They’re the most common type of radio that you’ll find in small boats and they offer a decent range although it is limited by line-of-sight. In addition, they’re prone to interference so they’re not the best choice when you’re travelling out far from the coast. However, they’re excellent for most boat-to-boat communications and can also be used to monitor distress signals should someone near you be experiencing an emergency.
VHF VHF radios are another common type of radio. While they are a little more expensive, they do come with more features such as aerials which can boost the signal while also offering a very high-quality signal for clear speech and sound. They do require that you have a certificate in order to use it, but this is a good thing because the course involved will teach you all you need to know about the radio so that when the time comes to use it, you’ll understand how to do so without fumbling or doing something incorrectly.
MF/HF radios are entirely different. They are far more expensive and often difficult to operate. In addition, the reception isn’t always reliable due to the much greater ranges that it will typically serve. While it does offer communication across several thousand miles, this type of radio is typically only used on large ships or boats which will be travelling a very long distance from the shore. This also requires a certificate in order to use.
In most general use cases, we’d recommend a 27mHz or VHF radio. They are the most commonly used, they’re relatively simple to operate and offer great communication that will meet the needs of most people that use their boat on a regular basis.
Do you need certification to use a radio?
It depends on the type of radio.
- MF/HF – These do require that you have a license to use them. In addition, you’ll be given an official call-sign which you will need to use when communicating with harbours, marinas, coast guards and other boats or ships.
- VHF – VHF radios do not require a license to own. However, using one does require a certificate of proficiency. You will need to speak with your local coast guard in order to enrol in the course to obtain this certificate.
- 27mHz – No license is required to own or operate this radio, but it’s still important to consider learning how to use it effectively.
The certification for using MF/HF and VHF radios is known as the AWQ or Australian Waters Qualification certification. It was first introduced in 2015 and courses are offered by the Australian Maritime College and also by volunteers across the country. While only the operator is required to own this certificate, anyone who also travels on a regular basis with you on your boat is encouraged to obtain certification as well in the event of an emergency.
Important radio channels to remember
For 27mHz radios, here are the most important frequencies to keep in mind:
- 27.86 Alternative Emergencies
- 27.88 Distress and Emergencies
- 27.96 Boat to Boat Contact
For VHF radio communication, you will typically use channels to communicate.
- Ch 16 Distress and Emergencies
- Ch 67 Alternative Emergencies
For MF/HF marine radio, there are multiple channels for distress.
- 4125 Distress and Emergencies
- 6215 Distress and Emergencies
- 8291 Distress and Emergencies
Keep in mind that these are radios so it’s vital that you have whatever necessary important conversations you need to and then switch to a separate channel to continue a conversation without clogging up the frequency.
If you think you may have trouble remembering these important channels, then there are fact sheets that you can purchase or print off and attach to your boat should you end up in an emergency situation.
Can a marine radio be used on land?
Marine radios work on similar technology to regular land-based radios, but operating them on land is strictly prohibited and you must own a specific license in order to do so. If you are caught using a marine radio on land then you may be subject to a hefty fine.
Hopefully, this information has helped you choose the right radio for your personal circumstances. Although there are several different types of radio available, your choices will often be limited to your personal needs and your intent with your trips. For the sake of your own safety and that of your passengers, it’s vital that you learn how to use your radio effectively and also follow protocols to ensure that you do not disrupt frequencies or clog emergency channels with accidental conversations.