NEWS - ACMA seeks views on use of VHF radio by recreational boaters

NEWS - ACMA seeks views on VHF radio use by recreational boaters

Responding to concerns about declining standards in the use of marine radio and compliance with the requirement to hold an operators’ certificate of proficiency, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has released a discussion paper about regulatory arrangements for VHF marine radios used by recreational boat operators. 

The discussion paper invites comment from marine radio users about safety and the use of VHF radio by recreational boaters and follows concerns expressed by the National Marine Safety Committee and representatives of the maritime community.

“Correct radio use is fundamental to the safety of the maritime community,” said Chris Chapman, chairman of the ACMA. “Our discussion paper outlines a range of ideas aimed at achieving more appropriate VHF radio use amongst recreational boaters and we want the boaties to give us their vital feedback.”

The ACMA is encouraging those with an interest in this issue to contribute to this review, including all relevant government and non-government bodies at the state and territory level and recreational boat operators.

The ACMA is interested in receiving comment on issues such as:
* The mandatory nature of Certificates of Proficiency for operators of VHF marine radio; and,
* The possibility of marine radio use for safety purposes being addressed by other agencies involved in recreational boating regulation.

The discussion paper, VHF Marine Radio Operator Qualification Arrangements – Non-Commercial (Recreational) Vessels, is available on the ACMA website at

Submissions should be sent to email: by December 18, 2009.

Managing the regulation of marine radio use is one part of ACMA’s role in overseeing the regulation, allocation and use of the radiofrequency spectrum. In discrete areas, where regulation requires a great deal of industry specific knowledge, the ACMA encourages delegated stakeholders to adopt greater administrative responsibility.

Since 2002, the ACMA has delegated the responsibility of managing the examination and certification scheme for marine radio use to the Australian Maritime College under a Deed of Agreement. The expiry of this Deed in 2012 is a key reason for the timing of this review. It is timely to review the context for and broad nature of the certificates of proficiency administered by the Australian Maritime College. Review findings will feed into consideration of future marine examination certification arrangements post 2012.

The purpose of this review is to examine alternative arrangements for marine radio operator qualifications with a view to identifying the most appropriate and cost effective ways to address the needs of the sector. The review canvasses reforms to the regulation and administration of marine radio operator qualifications to simplify the process of obtaining marine radio operator qualifications and ensure the appropriateness of those qualifications.

The objectives of this review are:
* To improve the integrity of the radiocommunications spectrum management framework as it applies to the recreational boating community (e.g. through effective spectrum planning, licensing and interference management);
* To examine the needs of the recreational boating community in their use of VHF radio, including for safety purposes and identify how those needs might best be supported in light of the ACMA’s role and responsibilities; and,
* To promote the overall efficiency of the regulatory framework supporting the operation of marine radio by the recreational boating community.

ACMA’s discussion paper outlines existing arrangements for non-commercial marine radio operators, and canvasses some ideas for improving those regulatory arrangements. The discussion paper is focused on the requirement for marine radio operators on recreational vessels to hold appropriate qualifications in order to operate that radio equipment. The paper is focused on recreational boaters’ use of VHF marine radio equipment authorised by the Radiocommunications (Maritime Ship Station 27 MHz and VHF) Class Licence 2001.

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.

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.

Currently, the two grades of qualification are the Marine Radio Operators Certificate of Proficiency (MROCP) or the simpler Marine Radio Operators VHF Certificate of Proficiency (MROVCP).

ACMA said it is not, at this time, considering amendments to the existing device licensing options for non-commercial ship stations, nor is it considering widening the scope of the review to include radio operators on VHF bands in sectors other than the recreation sector.

Any proposals for regulatory change that are developed through the course of this ACMA review will be the subject of further public consultation.