Essential Boating Communications

Nov 10, 2020

If we can't hear you, we can't rescue you - it's as simple as that

Research has revealed that 59% of recreational boating fatalities involve inadequate communications. Despite extensive efforts by various bodies around 50% of boaties report having two ways of calling for help every time they go out on the water. Carrying two forms of comms is one of the five rules of the Boating Safety Code (the others being; wearing lifejackets, checking the weather, avoiding alcohol and being a responsible skipper).

In coastal waters a marine VHF radio is usually boaties’ best first choice, with a distress beacon as a back-up – that could be a specialised, marine “EPIRB” beacon or a smaller, waterproof, personal locator beacon (known as a PLB). 
Carrying two forms of communication gives you more options and is a good way to ensure if you’re in trouble on the water, someone will be there to help you.

So whether you're heading out on your boat, yacht, or kayak, here are the key things to do to stay in touch and call for help if you need it.


Before you head out
After you’ve checked the weather and made sure you’ve got the right equipment the next thing you should do is tell someone on shore where you are going and when you intend to return. You should also let them know when they should raise the alarm if they haven’t heard from you.

It’s always a good idea to log a Trip Report (TR). A TR can be logged with Coastguard Radio from your VHF radio or mobile. You can now log a trip report on the Coastguard app (get it from the App store or Google Play).  When lodging a TR you’ll be asked for your boat’s name and call sign, where you plan to go, the number of people on board, and when you plan to arrive or return.

It’s important to remember to close your TR when you have arrived at your destination. While failing to close a TR will NOT initiate a search, it will help rescue teams like Coastguard know where to start looking and plan the search. 

Calling for help
Calling for help can be done by VHF radio, mobile phone, EPIRB, distress flares, or other means. Taking your mobile with you on the boat is a good idea, but make sure to keep it in a water proof bag. Remember there is no guarantee that you will be within cellular range, so another form of communication, such as a VHF radio, is vital. It’s also important to remember that a mobile call only goes to one other ‘party’ whereas a VHF radio call can be heard by everyone in range. It might be that help is just around the corner – you wouldn’t have alerted potential helpers nearby if you just used your phone.

A boating course such as Day Skipper, Boatmaster or Sea Survival will teach you what to do in an emergency, and how to call for help. A VHF Course will teach you how to operate a VHF radio correctly, how to radio for assistance, and what to do should you hear a distress call from another boat. You can find out more about these courses at


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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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