359 emergency VHF radio calls from boaties

The Maritime Operations Centre has already this year received 359 emergency VHF radio calls from recreational boaties.

Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) Manager, Mike Hill said this highlights that communications equipment is an essential part of safe recreational boating.

“If you can’t contact someone to say you’re in trouble, nobody can rescue you,” Mr Hill said.

The emergency calls were for:

Distress calls (person or vessel in grave and imminent danger – immediate assistance) 69
Urgency calls (lower level of threat – help is needed) 43
Diving incidents 7
Medical incidents 28
Breakdown and request for tow 175
Monitor progress (person or vessel in difficulty and radio contact maintained until safely ashore) 37

Examples of calls include:

  • 12 year old child with severe head injuries – ambulance arranged to meet the boat on shore
  • a vessel with five people on board, one with a broken leg, taking on water – a rescue helicopter carried out the rescue
  • a kayak, with one person on board, sinking – the Coastguard carried out the rescue
  • severe asthma attack – rescue helicopter and ambulance arranged

Mr Hill stressed that boaties should take at least two types of communications equipment that work when wet. If one is lost or fails, you have a backup.

The first choice is waterproof VHF radio on channel 16, which is the international channel for maritime distress calls monitored 24/7 by the Maritime Operations Centre. Waterproof, hand-held VHF is encouraged in case of capsize when the base set on the boat will not be accessible.

It is important to note there is no VHF coverage on many of New Zealand’s inland waterways. The maritime radio service consists of 30 coastal VHF stations, with 28 providing coverage around the coastal waters of New Zealand and two on the Chatham Islands.

Other forms of boaties’ emergency communication include cellphones, which must be in waterproof bags, distress beacons, and flares.

Purpose-made waterproof cellphone bags can be bought at boating shops. Also, the Safer Boating Forum* had 10,000 waterproof cellphone bags made for distribution by Coastguard Boating Education to people completing boat safety courses, and by other members of the Forum at boat ramps and water safety events.

EPIRBs (emergency position-indicating radio beacons) are for maritime use and are designed to float in water. When activated, the beacon sends out a signal that is picked up by a satellite and relayed to RCCNZ. You must register your beacon so the signal can be identified as yours or your boat’s.

Flares are also a means of communicating distress if the trip goes badly wrong. Any flare is only useful if it can be seen by someone who can give help or alert others.