Marine Radio Communications

Rules for General Radio Use
VHF Channels
Calling procedures
Radio Distress Calling
Call Sign Registration


Rules for General Radio Use

  • Listen before transmitting
  • Don’t make unnecessary calls and keep all calls as brief as possible
  • Don’t allow children to play with the radio
  • Always identify yourself using your call sign and boat name
  • Always ensure your microphone is correctly stowed to avoid accidental transmissions which will lock up the channel
  • Use Channel 16 for making your initial call, then move to an agreed working channel for emergencies
  • Stay on Channel 16 unless you are directed to another channel by MSA Maritime Radio or Coastguard
  • Return to Channel 16 when you have completed a call
  • Make sure you obtain an operator’s qualification and call sign

Nationwide, Maritime Radio keeps a 24-hour listening watch on Channel 16. There are also many volunteer Coastal and Coastguard stations keeping a listening watch on Channel 16 and other channels locally. Coastguard Northern Region operates a 24-hour service.


VHF Channels

For details on Coastguard Radio, Nowcasting and ship-to-ship channels across New Zealand, please click here

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Maritime radio channels will be changing on 1 October 2016. 

For more information on these changes, please click here or visit the Radio Spectrum Management website at



Calling Procedures

Name of station you are calling
“Coastguard Radio, Coastguard Radio, Coastguard Radio,”

Your vessel name and call sign
“This is Rescue Alpha, ZMR 6666; Rescue Alpha, ZMR 6666; Rescue Alpha, ZMR 6666”

Called station will respond
“Rescue Alpha, this is Coastguard Radio, go ahead please”

If you are calling another vessel, at this point the called station will nominate a ship to ship channel, to which both parties will move, and re-establish communication.

Radio Distress Calling - Use only if in grave or imminent danger

Make an emergency announcement using SSB 2182, 4125, 6215, 8291 or VHF Ch 16

  • “THIS IS (vessel name)” 3 TIMES, (vessel call sign) 1 TIME
  • “MAYDAY (vessel name)" "(vessel call sign)”

Detail specific information about your position and situation

  • Give vessel’s latitude and longitude, geographical position or distance relative to a well-known geographical feature
  • Explain the nature of distress & assistance required
  • Provide any other information which may assist rescuers – numbers of persons on board, description of vessel, life-raft, EPIRB

Call Sign Registration

Because all radio transmissions are required to be "individually identifiable", a call sign acts like a registration plate for your boat, tying together your personal and vessel details. Countries throughout the world have adopted the marine VHF call sign system as being the best option available. Marine VHF call signs are held on a national database and are used solely for Search and Rescue purposes.

Update existing call sign

Should any of your personal details change or if you change vessels you must advise Coastguard Boating Education. When you sell your vessel you have two options:

  1. You can keep the call sign - in which case you must inform the new owner that you are keeping the call sign and that he/she must obtain a NEW call sign; or
  2. You can let the call sign stay with the vessel.

Either way you must update your call sign details with Coastguard Boating Education.

Click here to update your details online, or to download an update form.

New call sign application
New call signs incur a one-off charge of $50. Click here to apply online, or to download a form to send in.

Important message to all owners and users of VHF radios
All users of Marine VHF are required to hold a minimum of a Marine VHF Operators Qualification (an exception is made for radio use only in emergency or distress situations). To find out how to obtain this simple qualification, contact Coastguard Boating Education on 0800 40 80 90.

Ship Licences - commercial vessels

Requirements for radio operators on commercial vessels will vary depending on the radio equipment installed, number of passengers and requirements of current safety legislation. Owners should approach their Safe Ship Management Company or  Maritime New Zealand (Ph: 0508 22 55 22) for further advice.

Vessels travelling overseas
In most cases a standard GURL (General Users Radio Licence) or ships' call sign is all that is required for vessels travelling overseas. In some cases when engaged in international voyaging a vessel owner may have difficulty in convincing a foreign port authority that the Radiocommunications Regulations (General User Radio Licence for Maritime purposes) Notice 2007 and a callsign record in SMART constitutes a valid radio licence, hence vessel owners may choose to maintain an individual licence for their vessel (and pay an annual fee) so that they can present a copy of the radio licence to officials in foreign ports. To obtain an application form, contact Coastguard Boating Education.