HF/SSB radio services
Cruising this side -
Marine HF/SSB radio
is the principle distress & emergency communication service for
Here is an important reminder from
the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) website:
While satellites and satellite-compatible
distress beacons have significantly improved the
effectiveness of SAR operations, the system is
NOT a substitute for carrying appropriate marine
or aviation radio.
Depending on the circumstances, your initial
distress alert should still be made by radio if
possible. You should activate your distress
beacon only if contact cannot be made by any
other means or when told to do so by a rescue
Whilst there may be other
Governments establishing HF
facilities in the Indian and Pacific
Ocean areas, Australia aims to cover
the Australian Search and Rescue
Region (SRR) to a high level of
probability with its own stations.
Here is an except from
the Rescue Co-ordination Centre New Zealand website:
call the Maritime Operations Centre on VHF ch 16 ...
or SSB 2182, 4125, 6215, 8291 ... "
The official HF/SSB
marine distress frequencies - for search and rescue management
and voice calling - are:
4125 6215 8291 12290 16420
The New Zealand Rescue
Co-ordination Centre provides 24/7 voice monitoring of
these official HF/SSB (high seas)
Marine Distress frequencies for MAYDAY, PAN-PAN and Securite calls. Their Search and Rescue area covers the
eastern Tasman Sea, and Pacific Ocean from as far as the
equator in the north and Antarctica in the south, to half
way to Chile in the east.
The range of Australia's
HF/SSB service for marine emergency communications is
demonstrated to be well beyond the Australian Search and
Rescue Region, reaching north to Taiwan, South to
Antarctica, west to Mauritius, and East to French Polynesia.
MRCC Australia monitors 24/7 for DSC calls.
contacts list for MRCCs in the Pacific Ocean includes MRCC Australia as the
Associated MRCC for American Samoa, Cook Islands, Fiji,
Kiribati, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Papua New
Guinea, Samoa, Solomons, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. Yachts can
reasonably expect that MRCC Australia's HF/SSB range
includes these Pacific island areas.
The same two MRCC
Australia transmission sites - Willuna and Charleville - are
used by the
Australian Bureau of Metereology
to broadcast their high seas forecasts and weather fax
services, night and day, on frequencies from 2 Meg to 16
Meg. Monitor their
broadcast sked in your area
to determine the range of MRCC Australia's HF/SSB service. The
BOM broadcasts use
frequencies similar to the official marine distress
frequencies, so you can expect a similar service area as MRCC Australia's HF/SSB radio communications range.
However, be aware
that MRCC Australia's 24/7 watch for distress calls is a DSC
alert watch only, not a voice watch.
important to understand the very significant difference
between search and rescue services in Europe/UK and North
America, and this side of the world.
In the Pacific and
Indian Oceans and SE Asia, dedicated rescue boats - eg the
UK's RNLI and USA's Coastguard - do not exist. Maritime
search and rescue assets must be seconded, by co-opting
merchant ships, navy vessels, fishing trawlers, commercial
aircraft and recreational vessels; including cruising
In the event of an
incident, MRCC's will use their HF/SSB radio systems - in
particular the DSC system - to alert other vessels,
broadcast advice about the nature of a vessel's problem, and
request nearby vessels to respond to advise their location
and if they can assist. This statement from the
Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) makes it clear:
"Dedicated SAR facilities are limited in Australia. When
necessary, other facilities are diverted from their
primary function by arrangement or request."
If dedicated SAR assets
are limited in Australia's S&R region, you can imagine how difficult they
are to find in the less developed regions of the Pacific and
Indian oceans, and in SE Asia. In these circumstances, you
and your yacht become an important resource to assist yachts
or other mariners in distress.
While it's easy to be mesmerised by the
apparently remarkable capabilities of satellite
marine authorities and rescue co-ordination services continue to specify HF/SSB radio as the
official communications for offshore distress notification and the
subsequent search and rescue
Reasons that marine
HF/SSB radio remains the optimal communications
medium for distress and emergency communications over large
sea areas include:
considerably more practical, efficient
faster than satellite phone communications to manage an
The rescue co-ordination centres
(or their associated Coast Station) can broadcast
simultaneously to all
ships, yachts, planes, helicopters etc involved.
All ships, aircraft
etc can listen
to conversations between the MRCC and the vessel in distress,
or the MRCC and resources assigned to assist.
everyone to know what is happening, what tasks have been assigned
to particular resources, and so all involved can consider how
be able to adapt or
integrate their efforts and resources.
MRCCs - or yachts on
passage, or race or rally organisers - do not need to
constantly update a record of which yachts, fishing
trawlers, tugs, barges, ships, aircraft etc are in their
region, their present location, and the individual satellite phone number for each
vessel, aircraft etc, in order to call them individually
in a distress situation. MRCCs - or yachts - just
send a DSC alert to trigger radios into alarm state,
then voice broadcast the
details of a distress situation. All vessels monitoring
24/7 for DSC alarms will hear the distress message and
can advise the MRCC - or vessel in distress - if they
Low satellite phone
credit, or lack of credit card credit, or a changed
credit card number, will not create life-threatening
consequences in a distress situation.
via HF/SSB radio has no call time charge, so people involved in a
distress situation - whether the people in need or those
providing assistance - do not need to make potentially life and
death decisions because of the cost of satellite phone
communication is not suited to maritime distress and emergency
situation management because:
For the MRCC to
separately call each individual
yacht, ship, aircraft etc via satellite phone to ask them to
assist in an incident, or to assign tasks would be
very time consuming.
And they would need to already know the identity of all
the vessels nearby to the vessel in distress, and their satellite
phone numbers, and their location; no point spending
time and money phoning vessels that are not in the
To separately call each vessel, helicopter etc to
advise them what all
the others are doing, and how to integrate, would be frustratingly slow and risk
errors in communication.
Potentially important resources - like a nearby
yacht or fishing vessel - might not be able to advise the MRCC they can help, because they don't have the financial
capacity to make numerous satellite phone calls, or their
call credit or credit card has expired.
Communications using the official Marine Emergency HF/SSB frequencies
and DSC alarm is designed to:
Quickly notify all vessels in the vicinity of a vessel
in distress that they are having difficulty and they may
to everyone immediately and simultaneously, and to speed the co-ordination and
rescue task assignment process.
Take advantage of the
availability of any other vessels in the vicinity
to hear their call for help, and to be able to
communicate to arrange assistance. It could be you and your yacht
which can help others and save lives.
listening is informed simultaneously. Imagine trying
to use your satellite phone to call ten to one hundred different
vessels (assuming you knew they were there and you
satellite phone numbers), or shore stations to advise you are close to
the people in distress and you will go to help them.
worth remembering that:
Despite the apparently amazing capabilities of some mobile phone and
satellite phone systems to handle voice and data, and the
requirement for all commercial vessels over 300 tonnes to have
high-power satellite communications capability, marine authorities
still require these larger ocean-going vessels to also carry a
functional HF/SSB radio and to monitor for DSC
24/7. So they can receive distress signals from other
vessels (eg: you) and so
large ships, small-craft, search aircraft/vessels and MRCCs can
all talk to
each other in search and rescue situations.
Marine authorities, yacht racing regulations and maritime
safety organisations continue to repeat that small-craft must have a working marine radio -
VHF or HF/SSB, depending upon their operating area - not a
mobile phone or satellite phone, as the principle
communication devise on-board.
the other vessels in your sailing region, and the MRCCs, do
not know your satellite or mobile phone number. Nor do they
necessarily know you are in their vicinity and could help
another mariner in distress. But that does not matter if you
take the trouble to maintain a watch for distress calls on
the marine radio distress frequencies.
Most Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centres (MRCCs) around the world still use HF/SSB communications to
manage emergencies offshore. And they still maintain a 24/7
watch on HF/SSB radio frequencies (most for DSC alerts) for
5. Recreational small-craft are still afforded an amazing
freedom from regulations and an incredible latitude to make
their own decisions, plot their own future and explore in a
way that is no longer possible in many other lifestyles.
This freedom to go down to the sea in small boats has been
so far recognised as a right by most governments and maritime authorities, many
of whom must endure the stress, strain and expense of
providing rescue services etc for those people in the
recreational small-craft community who make bad decisions,
or simply get caught in a small boat in a bad situation.
the crews of big ships, trawlers, navy and rescue service
vessels and aircraft make personal sacrifices and put their
lives at risk to assist small-craft - including private
yachts - in distress.
retain this considerable freedom in today's culture of
dramatic TV news, ambulance chasing lawyers and
butt-covering bureaucrats, it's
smart not to over-strain that relationship and to act
prudently, so the existing freedoms are not lost as a result
of incidents. Taking
responsible precautions - such as having the right
communications and safety equipment - is part of acting
prudently, playing a responsible role within the maritime
community and protecting the present freedoms for future
recreational boating participants.
that responsible role is contributing to the maritime
safety net, by equipping your vessel with a marine HF/SSB
radio - with DSC - so you can reciprocate, by making yourself and your
vessel contactable and available to assist other mariners in
distress. The same mariners who are obliged (by maritime
regulations) to install a DSC HF/SSB radio and to maintain a
24/7 watch for alarms, and to go to your assistance, and to put their
life and welfare at risk to do so.
yacht is not too small to render assistance to others. Most
maritime distress situations do not involve horrendous
weather conditions; the Titanic sank in calm seas. Falling
overboard, galley fires, broken steering gear, hitting a
semi-submerged shipping container, a damaged skin fitting or
a broken mast can all occur in light to moderate seas when
a recreational vessel could be an ideal platform to pull
people from the water, provide a spare bilge-pump or give
other assistance to crew on vessels big or small.
Equipping a yacht
solely with satellite
phone communications - without an effective HF/SSB
system - is like saying "I plan to call an MRCC on my
satellite phone to get help.
I expect other mariners to maintain a watch on their HF/SSB
radios 24/7 to receive distress alerts from the MRCC, and I
expect them to come to my assistance if I need it. But I'm
not willing to contribute to the same marine safety network.
I will not monitor for HF/SSB distress alerts related to
other vessels, and I will not make myself and my vessel
available to help
the same people I expect to help me".
radio creates safety and distress situation communication possibilities
that are not available with mobile phone or satellite services. These
capabilities are especially important to help small craft operate safely and efficiently, and to
manage safety and distress related incidents.
radio voice communication between vessels, and communication
between MRCCs and vessels is free of charge. So communication to manage a distress situation and
help fellow mariners, does not
depend on money.
3. Many safety related services - designed to help mariners
avoid problems - are available free via HF/SSB
radio, including voice broadcast weather forecasts and MSI
warnings, weatherfax, NAVTEX, and free information available
via HF/SSB radio email (SailMail), including METAREA and
coastal forecasts, Tropical Storm warnings and GRIB weather
4. A HF/SSB radio - especially when equipped with DSC - allows you to call for
help, and to be called to help others. The maritime
tradition is that all who go to sea in small-craft become
part of a vast network of vessels and people available to assist
fellow mariners. MRCCs depend on these resources - already
in place in the area of the distressed vessel - to
facilitate and speed rescue efforts. This
tradition/obligation is embodied in the regulations that
apply to large ships, and in the international yacht racing
rules. It is especially important on this side of the
world, where distances are great and RNLI lifeboats and
Coast Guard Cutters don't exist.
Don't ruin the
future for other yacht owners and crew by adopting a myopic attitude;
reciprocate. Play your part in the marine safety network by
installing a functional HF/SSB radio - with DSC - and by monitoring
distress calls, so you can help others as they are willing -
or obliged - to help you.
Hopefully, you'll never need the help of a fellow yacht
owner, commercial tanker, fishing vessel, navy ship, ferry,
tug, helicopter or MRCC in your cruising activities
on this side of the world, but if it
does happen, you'll be very pleased all the people involved:
their functional marine HF/SSB radio with DSC on-board
Maintain a watch on their HF/SSB radio for distress calls
or DSC alarms from yachts, other vessels and MRCCs.
use their HF/SSB to respond to your distress call - and/or the MRCC
to advise they are nearby and they can assist you.
willing to interrupt their passage or commercial activity,
and risk their property, income
and well-being to go to your assistance.
5. Did not take a satellite phone as their vessel's sole
communication device; so they are un-contactable by MRCCs or vessels in distress.
Without an effective HF/SSB radio and standby capability:
cannot participate in the marine safety
communications network and you cannot make your
contribution to the traditional obligation to help others at sea
who are in distress.
might be the closest resource to save lives at sea or in
the adjacent anchorage, but
you sail or motor straight past, or continue enjoying
your subdowners, while the calamity unfolds nearby. How will you feel when you get the news in
the next port?
play your part, be sure your cruising budget for this side
of the world includes:
dependable HF/SSB Marine radio - with DSC
capability - so you can call for assistance if needed,
and also to make yourself contactable by vessels
and MRCCs so you can help others.
Sufficient electricity generation and storage capacity so your HF/SSB radio
can be on or DSC watch to receive distress alarms
from other small-craft; including your cruising friends.
training course so you know how to play your part in the
maritime safety network, and how to operate your HF/SSB
radio and its DSC functions.
you are buying a new or replacement HF/SSB radio for your
yacht or other small-craft:
a reliable marine radio with DSC and email capability.
For example, the ICOM M802(DSC) or ICOM M801E.
In the long-run, it is cheaper, one-off, insurance, that will save you
lots of money compared to alternative - eg: satellite
based - cruising/boating communications. And it
links you into the Maritime Safety Network communications
system, with all it's advantages for you and your fellow
aware that Yachting Australia's Special Regulations -
developed for racing and cruising yachts on this bigger,
emptier side of the world - specifies a HF/SSB radio
with DSC for new or replacement installations.
Use this link to
see/download a copy of the latest YA Special Regulations
Use the same purchase philosophy
most of us would normally apply to
buying a new PC or notebook; get the latest technology
so it stays relevant and functional for as long as
possible, and gives efficient access to the best
available modern services. Therefore, buy the type
approved marine radio with DSC.
10 April 2013
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