Always listen in to Channel 16, the emergency channel

Using a marine radio

A marine radio is one of the most important safety items to have on board your vessel. With a marine radio you can send a signal distress signal, request assistance, communicate with rescue groups, receive weather information, navigation warnings or local condition updates from port and maritime authorities. Even though a cell phone is useful it is no substitute for marine radio, as it is the best way of sending a distress signal because it alerts other vessel's of the emergency at the same time and if nearby they maybe able to come to your assistance immediately.

Marine Radio Certificates and Courses

To use a VHF or HF/MF equipment you must obtain a Marine Radio Operators Certificate of Proficiency  The best way to do this is to attend a marine radio course where you can get practice and guidance from experienced and current Master trainers.

There are three types of  marine radio certificates:

  1. Long Range Operator Certificate of Proficiency (LROCP) - allows the user to operade a VHF and HF/MF marine radio only
  2. Short Range Operator Certificate of Proficiency (SROCP) - allows the user to operate a VHF marine radio only.
  3. Marine Satellite Communications Endorsement (MSCE) - for users operating Inmarsat C and Fleet 77 equipment.

Enquire about our marine radio courses 

CommunicationsIcon  VHF marine radio channels and their use

Channel 16 - for distress and calling. Always change to another channel after calling.
Channel 12/13 - VTS (Vessel Traffic Services) for calling ports authorities and commercial vessels.
Channel 67 - supplementary distress and calling channel. Also used for safety broadcasts.
Channel 73 - mostly used for vessels talking to a Marine Rescue NSW shore station.
Channel 72 and 77 - for ship-to-ship working. Use this to pass messages between vessels.
Channel 21, 22, 80, 81 and 82 - repeaters. Used for passing information about vessel movements and the safety of vessels and persons.

Keep messages as brief as possible (no more than one minute in total) DO NOT use these channels for chatter. Not all channels are available in a given area. Ask your local Marine Rescue or Coastguard Unit for more information.


Marine Radio Procedure words

The key to using your marine radio efficiently is to know the correct radio language. These words, combined with the phonetic alphabet are a form of shorthand designed to clarify messaging, prevent misunderstandings and help to reduce transmission time.


Pronounced SAY-CURE-E -TAY, this signal indicates that the station using it is about to transmit a message concerning an important navigational or weather warning. A safety call can also be made from a vessel for messages such as a warning of a partly submerged object or other navigational hazard.

Securite 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] (spoken three times).
A hazard exists ... [Details of the warning or announcement].

Safety calls can be transmitted on Channel 16 or an appropriate working channel.


The urgency signal - PAN - PAN - PAN

This distress signal indicates that the vessel has a very important message to transmit concerning the safety of the vessel or of a person. Non life-threatening situations such as vessel breakdown, steering loss or medical emergencies. This signal has priority over other communications except, the distress signal which has priority over all other transmissions.

PAN PAN call 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]" (spoken three times)
"My position is ... [Details of the vessel's position]
I require... [Details of assistance required and other information]

Urgency calls can be made on a distress frequency or any other frequency which may attract attention.


The distress signal - MAYDAY -  MAYDAY -  MAYDAY 

A distress call should only be used if the vessel and passengers aboard are threatened by grave and imminent danger such as persons in the water, sinking, on fire or, where life is threatened. It has priority over all other transmissions and may only be transmitted on the authority of the skipper or the person responsible for the safety of the vessel. Unauthorised use of marine radios carries severe penalties.

MayDay call 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 vessel's position]
My vessel is ... [Nature of distress and assistance required is identified]"
"I have ... [Other information -  number of persons on board]

Repeat the distress call as often as necessary until an answer is received. If no answer is received on the distress frequency, repeat the call on other frequencies.

Silent Periods
To increase the chances of a weak distress transmission being received,three minute periods of radio silence are observed on the hour and half hour on distress channels.With the exception of distress traffic, all other transmissions must cease during the silence periods


Out This is the end of my transmission to you. no answer is required or expected.
Over This is the end of my transmission and a response is expected. Go ahead, transmit. (omit when not needed)
Romeo  Your last message has been received and understood and will be complied with.
This is
The transmission is from the station whose name and call sign follows immediately.
Speak slower
Your transmission is difficult to understand. Speak slower.
Say again
Requests the sender to repeat the last question.
Words twice
 It is difficult to understand you. Give each phrase twice.
I spell
I shall spell the next word phonetically. Used when a proper name is important in the message, for example - vessel name "Sea Dog" Sierra, Echo, Alpha, Delta, Oscar, Golf.
Silence (see-lonce)
Spoken by coast guard or emergency services three times to keep routine traffic off an emergency frequency during a MAY DAY situation, and maintained until lifted with " Silence Fini. (see-lonce fee-nee)
I must pause for a few seconds, I will call you back.
You are correct, or what you have transmitted is correct.
Indicates disagreement. Alternatively, say, No.
Indicates that you must pause, but want the other station to continue to listen, followed by "Wait Out" to resume.

Phonetic Alphabet

NOTE: Emphasis should be on the bold.


Phonetic Equivalent
 Alpha Al fah
Brah voh
Char lee
Dell tah
Eck oh
Foks trot
Ho tell
In dee ah
Jew lee et
Key loh
Lee mah
No vem ber
Oss cah
Pah pah
Keh beck
Row me oh
See air rah
Tan go
You nee form
Vik tah
Wiss key
X ray
Ecks ray
Yang key
Zoo loo

JJCircle Training Directors Safety Message

"The potential to save the lives of your crew, passengers, or other boaters is the single most important reason for fitting a VHF marine radio on your vessel. However, they must be used properly, responsibly and according to regulations. When you hear an emergency call, you must know how to respond and when you make an emergency call, it is equally important that your message is clearly understood and others know how to respond. Attending a marine radio course will help to build your confidence in using the equipment and build on your on-water communication skills."

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