Operate, check and test marine radios

The possibility that a marine radio may save a life is the best reason to install one in your boat - it is specifically designed for the marine environment. You can use your marine radio to:

  • monitor distress frequencies
  • contact other vessels if you need help
  • contact shore-based stations that can co-ordinate a rescue
  • keep you up-to-date with weather information and navigational safety warnings.

In a boating emergency you must know how to call for help or recognise when another boat is calling for help. You should be familiar with standard radio procedures that are used by vessels of all nationalities, including distress frequencies and calls. Make sure you have appropriate licences from the Australian Maritime College.

Type of radioMarine radio licenceOperator's certificate
27 Mhz No No
VHF No Yes
MF/HF Yes Yes

Commercial vessels are required to carry a copy of the Marine Radio Operator's Handbook on their boat at all times. It is recommended you do so. It is available for a small charge from the Australian Maritime College. Basic marine radio operating etiquette includes:

  • using standard radio procedures
  • always identifying yourself on air
  • being familiar with your radio equipment
  • being brief and mindful of your language
  • listening before you talk
  • always monitoring relevant distress frequencies.

Operating HF marine radio


Operating HF marine radio requires:

The HF marine radio equipment and the service it provides is under the authority of the master or skipper, or the person responsible for the safety of the vessel.

Transmissions should be kept brief and consistent with the requirements under which a station is licensed. Non-essential remarks, offensive language and unnecessary conversations should be avoided.

It is an offence to use a transmitter in a manner that is likely to cause a reasonable person to be seriously alarmed or affronted, or for the purpose of harassing others.

Using an HF marine radio

HF radio operators should:

  • listen before transmitting to ensure a frequency is not already in use
  • use the minimum transmitting power necessary for reliable communications
  • strictly observe the purpose for which a frequency is assigned
  • keep test signals to a minimum.

When reception is doubtful or conditions difficult spell out words and figures using the International Phonetic Alphabet (218.6 KB PDF) and figure code when transmitting a message.

Each transmission should end with the word 'over' to indicate you are expecting the other station to reply.

Always end the exchange of communications with the word 'out'.

Checking marine radio

Use the normal call and reply procedures for radio checks and follow these steps until you make a successful test radio transmission to Coast Radio Services.

1. Before transmitting, listen

Before transmitting, listen for a period long enough to be satisfied that harmful interference will not be caused to communications already in progress.

2. When establishing communication

When establishing communication, calls should be made like this:

  • speak the name, call sign or other identification of the station no more than three times
  • use the words - 'This is …' to identify yourself
  • for a second time - speak the name, call sign or other identification of the station no more than three times
  • say 'This call…' immediately followed with the purpose of the call, and the word "over" (this is the invitation for the Coast Radio station to respond).

For example:
'Coast Radio Adelaide Coast Radio Adelaide Coast Radio Adelaide. This is spindrift vlw1234 spindrift vlw1234 spindrift vlw1234.
Radio check requesting acknowledgement on frequency [say frequency].'

3. If the coast radio station does not respond

If the coast radio station being called does not respond:

  • wait one minute
  • check that your transmission will not interfere with any other communication
  • providing the frequency is clear - repeat the test transmission twice.

4. If the coast station still does not reply

If the coast station still does not reply (to a call sent three times in the space of two minutes) stop calling and try again after an interval of three minutes.

5. Still no response

If there is still no response try another frequency.

6. No response be received - check

Should no response be received - check:

  • radio and tuning settings
  • radio and antenna connections
  • then attempt the test transmission again
  • repeat these steps process until you are successful.

If you are not successful, you'll need to identify and fix the problem prior to departing on your trip.

Testing marine radio transmissions

When you need to transmit marine radio signals for testing or technical adjustments:

  • undertake a marine radio check procedure
  • make sure that it will not interfere with any communications traffic
  • keep test signals to a minimum, particularly on frequencies used for distress, emergency and safety purposes. You can make brief transmissions to confirm that equipment is operating properly before starting a sea trip.

Coast Radio Adelaide monitors test transmissions seven days a week and will provide advice about quality of the transmission according to the standard readability.

1 Unreadable
2 Readable now and then
3 Readable but with difficulties
4 Readable
5 Perfectly readable

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Page last updated 20 May 2022

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