Are you VHF ready?

VHF marine radios save lives.

You're in trouble. You're in the sea. You're floating and you're OK, but you still need rescuing. Luckily, you've got your VHF radio. With a click of a button you make a mayday call. You continue, "Five nautical miles west of Slipper Island. Boat capsized. Over."

VHF radios are designed to get you help when things are going wrong. That's why you need to get a radio. Take a short online course and increase your chances. Maritime NZ monitors channel 16 and responds to tell you that they've "Received MAYDAY." It's going to be OK.

Always take two waterproof ways to call for help

Remember if you can’t call for help we can’t rescue you.

A VHF radio is your best two-way communication device at sea

With a VHF radio, calls can be received by Maritime NZ, Coastguard and by vessels which may be in position to give immediate assistance. A VHF marine radio also helps ensure that storm warnings and other urgent marine information broadcasts are received.

Off coastal water, a VHF radio should be your first communication in an emergency. With a few exceptions, even a portable VHF radio can give you up to 50kms of coverage. Even better, on channel 16, a trained operator will take your emergency call within a minute and begin co-ordinating your rescue.

A distress beacon is the ideal back-up device

A distress beacon (EPIRP or PLB) will greatly increase your chances of rescue. It can send a distress signal to a search and rescue satellite when you activate it but you can’t speak or give any details of what has happened.

Cellphones are fair-weather friends

Cellphones are great for checking the weather, callings friends and using marine apps. But cellphones generally can’t provide ship to ship safety communications or communications with rescue vessels.

Use Channel 16 in an emergency

Channel 16 is the international distress channel for VHF. In New Zealand, it’s monitored 24/7 by Maritime New Zealand’s Maritime Operations Centre, which is staffed by experienced radio operators. Be aware though that a VHF radio has a range limit and is subject to “dead spots” in difficult terrains, like Fiordland, that block your line of sight to a repeater. That’s why we recommend taking a beacon as well as your VHF radio.


Four simple steps

Follow these four simple steps to make sure that your VHF radio is ready in an emergency.

  1. Get the right VHF waterproof radio for your boating activity

    The best advice is to always have a handheld, waterproof VHF radio on your person, preferably attached to your lifejacket. A fixed VHF radio has a greater range and is better for regular communication, but you won’t be able to access it if it's water damaged in a capsize. Carry both a handheld and a fitted VHF radio on your vessel.
  2. Complete a Maritime VHF Radio Operator Certificate course

    Knowing how to use a marine VHF radio correctly and with confidence is vital in the event of an emergency. To operate a maritime VHF radio you are required to hold a VHF Radio Operator Certificate, unless you are transmitting in an emergency or in distress.
  3. Get a call sign

    call sign for your boat is the best way of making sure each radio transmission is individually identifiable.

    Your call sign is registered on a national search and rescue database. This means search and rescue authorities can access information about your vessel to help locate you faster in an emergency.
  4. Each time you go boating, check the VHF radio coverage, and take two waterproof ways to call for help

    VHF radios have excellent coverage in most coastal regions, but are not reliable in many inland waterways. Before going boating ask a local boatie or Coastguard. They will know where there is no or little VHF coverage due to the coastal terrain.

Also check the VHF coverage map.

 View coverage map

If the area you're boating in doesn't have good coverage, make sure you have an EPIRB (a distress beacon for boats), or a waterproof PLB (personal locator beacon) and a cellphone. In fact, it's always a good idea to have a beacon anyway.