Using your marine radio

Secondary Working Channels

To reduce congestion on VHF working channels, Marine Rescue NSW have allocated different working channels for adjacent radio bases. Marine Rescue Port Stephens radio base at Nelson Head is now using VHF Channel 71 as its main secondary working channel, with Channel 19 as an alternate.

Some VHF sets can be switched between International and USA. Vessel owners need to ensure their radio is set to “International”, not “USA”, to satisfactorily converse with our radio base on Ch 19 if sent to this Channel from Channel 16. A setup guide is shown below.



Always keep your marine radio on the ‘Distress, Safety and Calling’ channel.

On VHF sets this is Ch 16 and on 27MHz radios, it is Ch 88. Because of prevailing conditions you may be the only ship station that picks up an emergency call from another boat.

Many radios allow you to set up a dual watch or scan mode to also monitor other channels, such as a local repeater, or a ship-to-ship channel.

If you need information or assistance while you’re out on the water, use the appropriate ‘Distress, Safety and Calling’ channel to call your local Marine Rescue radio base.  You will then be asked to go to a “Working” channel.  The Duty Operator will advise which channel to change to.

Be sure to listen for any other radio traffic before making your call, otherwise you might not be heard or you could interrupt another user’s transmission.  Speak slowly and clearly.

When making an initial call, state the call sign of the Marine Rescue radio base you are calling three times and your own call sign three times.  This is to help ensure the coast station knows you are calling them and who you are. For example, if you make a call on VHF Ch16:

You:  “Marine Rescue Port Stephens, Marine Rescue Port Stephens, Marine Rescue Port Stephens.  This is (name of your boat) Firecracker, Firecracker, Firecracker.”

The Marine Rescue shore station will respond and ask you to go to a "Working’’ channel.

MR Port Stephens:    “Firecracker, Firecracker, Firecracker.  This is Marine Rescue Port Stephens.  Please go to channel seven one (71).”

You:     “Marine Rescue Port Stephens, this is Firecracker. Going to seven one.”

Now change your radio channel to 71 and call the shore station again.

You:     “Marine Rescue Port Stephens, this is Firecracker.”

When the Marine Rescue shore station replies, seek the information you want or advise your plans.  When your communications are complete, advise the shore station that you’re returning to the calling channel:

You:     “Thanks Marine Rescue Port Stephens. Much appreciated.  This is Firecracker returning to 16.”

The shore station will respond:

MR Port Stephens:    “This is Marine Rescue Port Stephens.  Out.”

Now switch your marine radio back to VHF Ch16, or channel 88 on a 27mHz radio, leave the radio on and get back to enjoying your day out.

Remember, calls on marine radios are not private conversations so courtesy, good manners and appropriate language are essential.

This open communication is a major advantage if you’re in trouble as other boaters are likely to hear you and can come to your assistance if they are nearby on the water.  This is why you should always use your marine radio first to call for help in an emergency.

In an emergency, use your mobile phone to call 000 as well as radioing for help.

But don’t bet your life on your mobile as your only means of communication.  Only you and the person you’re calling can hear you and in an urgent situation this could cost precious time reaching someone who is ready to help.

Log On and Log Off


Boaters should Log On and Log Off with their nearest Marine Rescue unit whenever they head out on the water.  This is a simple process that lets us know when you’re leaving, where you’re heading and when you expect to return.

This way, someone responsible knows that you’re out on your boat and that you’ve returned safely at the end of your trip.

If you don’t Log Off, we can take steps to try to find you.

To Log On, call your local Marine Rescue radio base on your marine radio.  If it’s your first time, let us know and we will take you through the process.

It’s even better if you visit a base or ring us beforehand so we can quickly get you sounding like an old hand. When you call, the operator needs to obtain certain information from you.

These are the details we’ll need to help find you in the event of an emergency.  You need to have the following information ready:

  • Your vessel name
  • Vessel registration number
  • Communications gear on board: (VHF, 27MHz, MF/HF)
  • Mobile telephone number
  • Vessel type and length
  • Hull and topsides colour
  • Where the vessel is usually kept/launched
  • Shore contact name
  • Shore contact number
  • Time and place of departure
  • Log on location
  • Number of people of board
  • Destination & purpose of trip
  • Expected time of return

When to Log On:

Marine Rescue NSW urges boaters to log on every time they go out on their boats. If you’re simply out for a day, you’ll know you’ve told someone responsible when you’re due to return and we will check and take the appropriate action if you haven’t called in by then. If you change your planned time of return, call the radio base again and advise us of your change in plans.

When to Log Off:

Log Off by using your marine radio to tell us when you return. If we don’t know you’re back safely, we’ll take action to find you.

If you are sailing up or down the coast, you should establish a voyage plan with Marine Rescue and an Offshore Tracking Schedule to check in (a ‘sked’) with other Marine Rescue radio bases along the way. We’ll keep track of your progress until you safely arrive at your destination in NSW or hand over to the marine rescue volunteers in the next State