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Communications equipment

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
  • 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.

    Boaties need to be aware that there are some changes being made to a number of maritime channels on 1 October 2016. There will be no change to emergency distress Maritime Channel 16. You can use your existing radio, but you may need to change the channel you use to listen to the weather or use some local repeaters.

    Please visit for more information.

    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

Marine radios


Email: with your details to request any of the following:

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.