NEWS – Think before you speak VHF, warns ACMA

NEWS - Think before you speak VHF, warns ACMA

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is calling on boat owners and users to double check that they hold a certificate of proficiency to operate their VHF marine radio.

VHF marine radios provide a valuable means of keeping in contact with other vessels and coast stations, particularly at times when the weather changes or when assistance is needed.

ACMA said the number of vessels on Australian waterways is increasing. The proportion of boats that are fitted with marine radios is also increasing as more competitively priced equipment has led to an increase in the use of radios on boats and other craft.

“The stark warning is simply this — many boat owners who do not hold an operator’s certificate may not realise they are breaking the law when they operate their VHF marine radios,” said Chris Chapman, ACMA chairman.

“Very high frequency (VHF) International Maritime Mobile (IMM) channels are internationally harmonised and are used for gaining assistance during emergency situations and for general working purposes,” he said.

Channel 16 is designated, internationally, as the emergency and calling channel for ships and small craft. A vessel’s crew may use channel 16 to call other vessels and coast stations but once communication has been established, the operators must change to a working channel to continue the conversation. This ensures channel 16 remains available for emergency situations and other calls.

“Operators who hold an appropriate operator’s certificate of proficiency know about calling protocols and how the channels are used. Unfortunately, there are operators who are not qualified and not familiar with correct operating procedures and, as a result, are disrupting communications. That simple behaviour further threatens safety of life,” said Chapman.

Operation of radio transceivers, on the VHF IMM channels, is governed by conditions set by ACMA. These conditions specify that operators must be qualified and hold an appropriate certificate. This certificate must be either the Marine Radio Operators VHF Certificate of Proficiency (MROVCP) or the more comprehensive Marine Radio Operators Certificate of Proficiency (MROCP).

Information about how to obtain an operator’s certificate and other requirements is available on ACMA’s website (visit under Marine Radio - Choices and Changes and Maritime Ship Station - 27 MHz and VHF.

ACMA said it has received complaints about the standard of procedures used by operators of VHF marine radios and particularly that this is impacting on access to channel 16 for emergency situations. In addition, some operators who get into difficulties are not using the internationally accepted procedures that were developed to ensure that calls for assistance convey essential information for a rapid response.

The Radiocommunications (Maritime Ship Station - 27 MHz and VHF) Class Licence 2001 contains the licence conditions, operating requirements and technical parameters associated with the operation of marine 27 MHz and VHF radiocommunications and navigation equipment on board small vessels. If the radio equipment and operators do not comply with the conditions in the Class Licence, the station is not licensed.

The Maritime Ship Station class licence was issued in 2001. Boat owners do not have to apply for or renew an individual licence to cover their radio apparatus but they do have to be qualified to operate it.

Operators of marine VHF radiocommunications equipment must be qualified in accordance with the requirements of the Maritime Ship Station Class Licence (section 7). Two grades of qualification are relevant. Either the Marine Radio Operators Certificate of Proficiency (MROCP) or the simpler Marine Radio Operators VHF Certificate of Proficiency (MROVCP) is to be held.

Maritime Ship Station operators must comply with all conditions in the class licence. Section 132(3) of the Radiocommunications Act 1992 (the Act) provides that: 'operation of a radiocommunications device is not authorised by a class licence if it is not in accordance with the conditions of the licence.' If any condition of a licence is breached (for example, the person is not a qualified operator as mentioned in the class licence) the operation of the station is no longer authorised under the class licence. In this instance, the operator is not using it in accordance with a licence and is liable for prosecution under S46 of the Act.