If we can’t hear you we can’t rescue you - it’s as simple as that!

Let someone know before you go!

Jan 8, 2024

Don't risk your safety on the water - make sure you can be heard when you need help. Research shows that many boating accidents occur because of communication issues and not being able to call for help. Despite efforts to educate boaters, only about half of them carry more than one communication method and this is usually in the form of a mobile phone. To stay safe, remember the five rules of the Boating Safety Code: wear life jackets, check the weather, avoid alcohol, be a responsible skipper, and carry two forms of communication.

In coastal waters, a marine VHF radio is the best choice for boaters, with a distress beacon as a backup. This could be a specialised marine "EPIRB" beacon or a smaller, waterproof personal locator beacon (PLB). Having multiple communication options increases your chances of getting help when you're in trouble on the water.

Whether you're heading out on a boat, yacht, PWC, SUP or kayak, here are some important steps to follow to stay connected and call for help if needed:

Let someone know, before you go!

Before you go, let someone on shore know your plans and when you'll be back. It's also a good idea to log a Trip Report using Coastguard Radio or the Coastguard app. Provide information about your boat, destination, number of people on board, and expected arrival or return time.

Close your Trip Report once you've arrived at your destination. This helps rescue teams like Coastguard know where to start looking if you don't check back in.

Have the tools to call for help.

There are many ways you can call for help when you are in danger on the water. You can use a VHF radio, a mobile phone, an EPIRB, distress flares, or other means. Depending on what type of emergency you are having may depend on the distress call you put out. 


A distress call is called a MAYDAY and is used when you are in imminent or life threatening danger and require immediate assistance. This call should be made on a VHF on channel 16 as it will be heard by people that are close to you and can hopefully come and help.


A PAN PAN call is where a very urgent problem exists about the safety or operational capability of a vessel or about a person in difficulty. Medical emergencies are normally designated as Pan Pan messages.

Note:  This does not include a simple breakdown!


A SECURITE call indicates that the coastal station or vessel is about to transmit a message containing important navigational or meteorological warnings. These are usually broadcast by Maritime Radio stations.

Whenever you hear any Distress or Urgency signal inform your crew to be quiet and listen as you may be nearby and able to help. 

Be practical.

We all have a mobile phone and we all think they are invincible but mobile phones do not work very well when they are wet or dropped accidentally in the water. That’s why it’s important to have two forms of communications on board and to keep your mobile phone in a waterproof bag/case. It’s also important to remember that your phone may not have service in some of the islands or if you are offshore. 

A VHF radio is essential for communicating with others in range and it increases your chances of getting help from nearby boats and vessels. Modern handheld VHF radios are affordable and are not only waterproof but can also float and flash when dropped in the water making them easy to retrieve.

Be educated so you know how to ask for help.

Taking a boating course like Day Skipper, Boatmaster, or Sea Survival to learn what to do in an emergency and how to call for help is a great start. A VHF Course will also teach you how to operate a VHF radio correctly and respond to distress calls from other boats. If you have a VHF onboard then it is a legal requirement to hold an appropriate operator’s certificate (please note that this does not apply if you are just sending a Distress call). 

Don’t take chances.

Don't take chances with your safety on the water. Stay connected and prepared for emergencies by following these guidelines. To learn more about boating courses, visit www.boatingeducation.org.nz.

Here’s a quick Do’s and Don’ts Guide to using a radio.


use VHF channel 16 or the SSB frequency appropriate for your location for Distress, Safety and calling. On cell phones, call 111 if there is an emergency and you are close to shore.


replace your handset correctly when not in use (open microphones are the main cause of serious interference on VHF channels).


listen before transmitting, to avoid causing interference to others.


use your vessel’s name and radio callsign.


use accepted operating procedures and correct procedural words (known as ‘prowords’). Remember that the other station may not use English as its first language.


be brief, because marine radio is for shipping business only. If you want to chat, use Citizen Band radio or a cellphone.


speak clearly and courteously.


wait for a reply to calls before transmitting again, or before changing channels or frequencies.


make long transmissions. Remember that you are blocking the frequency or channel for other users.


transmit false or misleading messages. The transmission of a false distress message is an offence under the Maritime Transport Act.


operate your marine radio in a way that endangers or interferes with other people or vessels.

Operating your marine radio


keep a listening watch on VHF channel 16. The next life saved could be yours.

If we can’t hear you we can’t rescue you - it’s as simple as that!

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New Member Day Skipper Course $100 discount:
To use your National Coastguard NZ new member discount for $100 off a Day Skipper course, please in put your membership number in the Discount Code field below (e.g. 123456). This discount code may not be used in conjunction with any other offer, and can only be redeemed once. 

10% Membership discount:
To use your National Coastguard NZ 10% membership discount on other selected Home Study courses, input "CGM" and your Coastguard membership number (e.g. CGM78091) into the  "Discount Code" field below. This discount code may not be used in conjunction with any other offer. The courses included in this discount offer are: Day Skipper (Not to be used in conjunction with $100 discount), Boatmaster, Maritime VHF Radio Operator Certificate, Inboard Engine Maintenance, Outboard Engine Maintenance and GPS Operator.

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