Marine Communications explained.

by Henry Jacobs of the Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol

Communication plays a very important role in marine safety. It enables us to keep abreast of what is going on around us. We can get weather forecasts and updates on weather from Coast stations along our coastlines. Most importantly we can call other vessels and stations should we need assistance in the event of a mechanical breakdown, sickness, injury in an accident, fire and so on.

Some people even run out of fuel.

Radio is listed as mandatory on the safety equipment list to be carried on all vessels over six metres going 2 nautical miles or more offshore. But, if you are only 1 mile offshore and break down, you could end up several miles out with an offshore wind and current. What then?

There are so many occasions a radio can be useful, too numerous to list here. Mobile phones seem to be the "in thing" these days. No doubt they have their uses, but they do not replace the marine radio. Any incident that comes into the safety aspect of boating still comes down finally to voice contact whether you are a few hundred metres or several nautical miles from assistance.

Marine radios come into three categories: 27 Megs, VHF, HF.

27 Meg
27 Megs (megahertz) is a cheaper version of the radio spectrum, still OK, rather limited in range and clarity, say 20-30 miles or so depending on atmospheric conditions and position. No licence is required to operate 27 Megs but the set has to be licensed with Australian Communications, formally SMA and Dept of Communications.

Cost is around $150-$200. Aerials cost around $60-$100 depending on place of purchase.

VHF (Very High Frequency)
VHF is far superior to 27 Megs, both in range and clarity. Not a lot more expensive considering what you get for your dollar these days. They are used by most vessels and all Coast stations. Commercial shipping uses LHF around our coastline. Range can be up to several hundred miles if repeater links are installed and used by Coast stations. These repeaters are installed on high ground, mountain areas etc, normal range around 40-60 nautical miles.

Both 27 Megs and VHF operate and send their radio waves in line of sight, so any land mass such as mountain ranges or such like can distort or even block out a transmission from the transmitter to the receiver. This can occur even if these two points are only a few nautical miles apart. VHF has to be licensed with Australian Communications and a licence is required to operate these sets. Prices range from around $280-$300 without Autoseaphone, $450-$550 or so with Autoseaphone. Aerials: $70-90.

Prices once again depend on place of purchase. Hand-held are also available.

HF (High frequency)
HF is the long range of radios. They can cover great distances - several hundreds of miles. Clarity is a little different at times, but still readable once you get used to the voice propagation. Once again they have to be licensed and a licence to operate cost comes in at $2000-$3000 depending on make, type and place of purchase. With this cost factor they are outside the limits of a lot of recreational boaties, and quite frankly, not necessary around out coastline, unless going great and vast distances offshore.

Coast Stations
The Royal Volunteer coastal Patrol has approximately 55 limited Coast stations along the eastern seaboard of Australia, with an overlap from station to station so that you can travel from Northern Queensland to Southern Tasmania, including all of Bass Strait, and maintain unbroken radio contact on LHF, but still better than nothing. Some people carry UHF, but this is not a marine band radio and is not considered, nor is it recognised as a substitute for marine radio.

The licence required to operate these three radios is called Restricted Radio Operators Certificate of Proficiency - a bit of a mouthful - but RROCP of Marine Radio Operators Certificate will do. Courses for these licences are run by the coastal Patrol Divisions around the country. An examination is done at the end of the course and a small fee is charged to cover coast of exam (charged by Aust Com) and material. This is a permanent licence. If you have any enquires or any communication of marine nature, contact a Royal Volunteer coastal Patrol Division in your local area and we can put you on the right track.

Remember, communication by radio is important to make boating safety most important. Remember too, laws are in now. If you are inspected by police or marine inspectors and your licences and safety equipment do not meet the standards required, you can be charged with relative offences against the Act and penalties can be quite severe. It is in your own, your family and friends and other boat operators interests that you carry the correct safety equipment. After all, what price a human life?

Boating is quite a pleasant pastime, so let's all do it right - carry all the correct equipment, be courteous and helpful to other users of our waterways so that we can all enjoy ourselves on the water and live up to the challenge of "Safety of Life at Sea'. Henty Jacobs Tamar Division RVCP Enq: 6394 4398

Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol Marine Radio Service is provided by volunteers from their own homes in some locations. Telephone the station in your boating area for more information.

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