Communications equipment is an essential part of safe boating – because if you can’t contact someone to say you’re in trouble, nobody can rescue you.
Different types of communications equipment work in different areas, so you need to make sure the types of communications equipment will work in the areas you are boating in. You should carry at least two of the following at all times, so you can get help in the event of an emergency:
- distress beacons – distress beacons, PLBs (personal locator beacons) or EPIRBs (emergency position-indicating radio beacons) are for maritime use and are designed to float in water. For more info about distress beacons, visit our distress beacons page, and the beacons website at www.beacons.org.nz
- hand-held VHF radio (Channel 16) – a hand-held waterproof radio will allow you to speak to anyone in the area who could help (as well as to rescue authorities) – hand-held VHF radios are recommended, because in the event of a capsize, a radio attached to the boat will not be accessible. Please note that VHF coverage is not available in some areas. For more on VHF radio visit our VHF safety feature page
- cellphone (call 111) – remember keep it on you and keep it dry! The problem with a cellphone (compared with a VHF radio) is that you can only ring one person at a time, and they will only work when dry. Cellphones only get coverage in certain areas – make sure you have comms equipment that will work where you're going.
- hand-held flares – pyrotechnic devices that come in three types – parachute flare, handheld flares, and smoke flares. More on flares.
In addition, don’t forget some low-tech ways to help get attention:
- sound signals – use a horn or anything that makes noise
- torch – move or flash on and off or even signal SOS
- red flag
- arms – raising and lowering your arms is a recognised international distress signal.
More information and free resources
EPIRBs (distress beacons) [MNZ's Boatsafetyinnz YouTube channel]
Radios, flares, phones and signals
Email: email@example.com with your details to request any of the following:
- a cellphone bag – a ziplock bag to keep your cellphone dry
- Radio Handbook – all about VHF and SSB radios
- Safe Boating: an essential guide – booklet covering how to be safe on the water (seas, rivers or lakes)
- Safe Boating in New Zealand DVD – choose the topics you want to view – includes information on communications equipment (2 hours long)
- Tips about boating safety – a sticker with a quick summary of safe boating tips.
Download the Tips about safe boating checklist
Safety bulletin – Issue 20: Dangerous use of mobile phones while a vessel is underway
Read online | Download [PDF: 40Kb, 2 pages]
To learn more about safe boating, check out the courses on the Coastguard Boating Education website, including information about their marine VHF radio course.