New emergency radio service improving boater safety

New emergency radio service improving boater safety

Victoria’s emergency radio service assisted dozens of stricken boaters and paddlers during its first year of operation, and is ready for another busy season.

Publicly launched in September 2017, Marine Radio Victoria (MRV) covers the Victorian coastline, up to 20 nautical miles from the coast on the VHF emergency channels.

Operated by communications company Kordia, the MRV network monitors and records radio traffic on VHF and HF emergency radio channels 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. The service replaced Coast Radio Melbourne, the previous monitoring service that predominantly covered Port Phillip and Western Port bays.

MRV’s service also provides radio checks and broadcasts weather forecasts and warnings for four zones in Bass Strait as well as Port Phillip, Western Port and Gippsland Lakes.

Maritime Safety Victoria (MSV), a branch of state regulator Transport Safety Victoria, helped deliver the extensive project behind MRV, which now gives boaters and paddlers a more reliable radio service across the Victoria coastline should they need to call for help.

“Preparation is key when heading out on the water, and we recommend wearing a lifejacket at all times on board and carrying several means of raising the alarm,” said Rachel Gualano, Director MSV.

MRV handled 48 distress, urgency and safety incidents from July 2017 – June 2018. The service also assisted waterway users with 1,382 test calls – or ‘radio checks’ – during the year.

If an incident requires a response to be launched, MRV alerts Victoria Police, who may then task volunteer marine search and rescue agencies to assist.

MRV is able to maintain communications with the person calling for help and all parties involved, as well as relay messages if they are unable to talk to each other directly.

MRV is also able to track and contact ships in the area, to request assistance or alert them to a safety issue.

Victoria’s Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said MRV played an important role in allowing emergency management agencies to communicate effectively and keep people safe on the water.

“This has been a great service and has helped many members of the boating community. Not only is it an avenue for people to call when they need help, it’s also a tool people can utilise to receive important information about any changes in the weather while on the water.

“Being attuned to the conditions and keeping informed will mean a safer boating community.”

One keen group of fishers told MSV about an MRV-assisted rescue during summer, when their boat’s engine cut out. Stranded, VHF radio was their only functional means of calling for help after they failed to signal passing boaters.

The fishers were relieved to be able to maintain constant communication with MRV and to receive regular updates from the Portland Coast Guard who were tasked to the incident. The Coast Guard picked up the group and towed their vessel to shore.

“MRV is a fantastic service,” said Russell Lemke, President of Port Fairy Marine Rescue. “Knowing that there is someone at the end of the line 24/7, and broadcasting weather updates and warnings, is a humungous improvement to safety at sea.”

The trend in growing use of the service, and spikes in activity during peak fishing months, reflects an increasing awareness which is likely to continue and contribute to the safety of Victorian boaters.

MSV recommends that all boaters, including paddlers and kayak fishers, on the bays and along the coast have a VHF radio to take advantage of the benefits of MRV.