Marine radios

Find out about safety requirements and rules for using marine radios.

A marine radio is an essential safety equipment item when out on the water. You can use them to communicate with other vessels, log on and off, and make distress and emergency calls to marine rescue.

When boating in the Northwest Cape region, we recommend that you carry a VHF radio.

You must be qualified to use a VHF and HF radio.

A mobile phone is useful as a backup but does not replace a marine radio. 

Marine radio requirements

Registrable vessels

All registrable vessels, including personal water craft, must carry a VHF or HF marine radio when operating beyond 4 nautical miles from shore.

Registrable vessels are vessels, including sailing vessels, that are or can be propelled by mechanical power.


Paddlecraft must carry a marine radio when operating beyond 5 nautical miles from shore.

Note: 27-MHz radios are being phased out over five years and will no longer be compliant.

We strongly encourage you to update your marine radio units as soon as possible to improve your safety on the water. Find out more about what safety equipment you need. 

Distress frequencies

When at sea, you must have your radio turned on and tuned to the distress frequency or channel:

  • VHF distress channel 16
  • HF distress frequencies 4125, 6215 and 8291
  • 27 mHz distress channel 88.

Not all Marine Rescue Groups monitor Channel 88 and VHF Channel 16.

If your radio is logged on with a shore station such as a Marine Rescue Group, you can stay on the working frequency of the station. 

HF/VHF monitoring and emergency call information

Water Police: HF monitoring/emergency calls

The Water Police Coordination Centre monitors the 4125, 6215 and 8291 kHz 24 hours, 7 days a week.

The Water Police also broadcasts relevant Western Australian navigation warnings on 8176 kHz.

Water Police: VHF monitoring/emergency calls

The Water Police monitors and provides local weather and navigation warnings on VHF channel 16/67 at 0718 and 1918 hours Western Standard Time.

Severe weather warnings, when issued, are broadcast every 2 hours.

This VHF service only covers Perth metropolitan waters within 20 nautical miles of the shore. 

Radio qualification requirements

Operators of 27 MHz marine radios do not need to be licensed.

You must hold a Marine Radio Operator's Certificate of Proficiency to operate a VHF and MF/HF marine radio.

Find out about marine radio qualifications and courses on the Australian Communications and Media Authority website.

Operating procedures

Standard radio procedures are used internationally.

Find out more on the Australian Maritime College VHF Marine Radio Operator's Handbook.

How to use a marine radio

When using a marine radio:

  • Listen before transmitting to avoid interfering with another station calling on the same frequency.
  • Always use your call sign and/or the name of your boat for identification.
  • For normal (non-distress/urgency) messages, ask to switch to a working channel once you have contacted the other station.
  • Keep your message brief and clear.
  • Stop transmitting when requested to do so by a local marine radio station.
  • Always return your radio to the distress frequency when you have completed a call on another frequency.
  • Do not transmit unnecessarily or allow children to play with the radio. There are severe penalties for using a radio to falsely indicate distress. 

Distress calls

Mayday distress call

The Mayday distress call may be used only if the boat is threatened by grave and imminent danger and immediate assistance is required, for example, when your vessel is sinking or on fire. 

A Mayday call on one of the distress frequencies will attract the attention of land stations and other vessels in your area.

Use VHF channel 16, 27MHz channel 88, or HF frequency 4125 to make a distress call.

Stay calm and clearly explain the problem, your position and the number of people on board.

Follow the instructions Marine Rescue or the rescuing vessel give you.

Notify Marine Rescue if the situation changes or the danger has passed.

Mayday procedure

"Mayday, Mayday, Mayday"
"This is [vessel name and/or call sign if you have one]" (spoken three times)
"Mayday [vessel name and/or call sign if you have one]"
"My position is ... [Details of the ship's position]"
"My vessel is ... [Nature of distress and assistance required is identified]"
"I have ... [Other information including number of persons on board]"

Mayday relay

If you hear a distress (Mayday) call and a coast station does not answer, provide assistance where reasonable or attempt to relay (pass) the message the message on to the closest coast station.

Pan Pan urgency call

The urgency call should be used when the distress call cannot be justified but there is an urgent message to transmit concerning the safety of the vessel or the safety of a person (for example, mechanical breakdown, medical emergency or a man overboard).

Pan Pan procedure

"Pan Pan, Pan Pan, Pan Pan"
"Hello all stations, Hello all stations, Hello all stations"
"This is [vessel name and/or call sign if you have one]" (said 3 times)
"My position is ... [Details of the vessel's position]"
"I require... [Details of assistance required and other information]"

Securite safety calls

The Securite (Saycure-e-tay) safety call is used to broadcast important navigational warnings. A safety call is more likely to be made by a coast station or sea rescue group and may include important strong weather warnings.

Safety call procedure

"Saycure-e-tay, Saycure-e-tay, Saycure-e-tay"
"Hello all stations, Hello all stations, Hello all stations."
"This is ... [vessel name and/or call sign if you have one]" (said 3 times)
"A hazard exists ... [Details of the warning or announcement]"

Safety calls can be announced on a distress frequency like VHF 16.

However, change to channel 67 or an appropriate working frequency to broadcast the actual safety message.

Silence periods

To increase the chances of a weak distress transmission being received, 3 minute periods of radio silence are observed on the hour and half hour on distress channels.

All transmissions must stop during silence periods except distress calls.

Page last updated: Thu Nov 9 2023 2:10:44 PM