Marine Radios or Mobile Phones for Safety at Sea?

Going boating? Use a proper marine radio.

From Tas Maritime Radio – the operators of the Tasmanian marine radio network.

7 March 2019

Tas Maritime Radio (TMR) has for many years been concerned about the reliance by some mariners on mobile phones for safety communications – rather than properly installed marine radios. Of course anyone in trouble on the water can (and should) use any means available to them to gain assistance, but if you only take a mobile phone, please consider the following:-

  • The range out to sea and in difficult locations is generally far greater on the marine VHF networks than mobile phone networks. For instance, TMR coverage on VHF extends out to around 200km.
  • A call for help from a mobile phone will not alert anyone in your vicinity to your plight. In fact calling 000 from a phone will just cause delays because in the end a coastal station will probably be alerted to put out a call on your behalf on VHF to alert vessels near you (which you could have done much sooner).
  • In some situations you will not be able to hear voices on your phone due to wind, sea and/or engine noise. Marine radios have very high sound output capability so you can hear no matter what.
  • A properly installed marine radio will operate for several days from a vessel’s battery. It will continue operating long after the battery will not start the engine.
  • Marine radios are designed to withstand the marine environment, will not slip overboard or into the bilge and will not suddenly go flat on you.
  • You will not become aware of warnings about oncoming weather, navigation hazards, sharks and other hazards – nor will you be in a position to know of and assist other mariners who may be in trouble nearby.

We at TMR are aware of actual instances where a life might have been saved if the vessel had been properly equipped with a marine radio rather than a phone. By all means take your mobile phone with you if you wish, but your installed marine radio is by far the best option for safety communications at sea – and they are so cheap these days.