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Consultation feedback report—Maritime high frequency (HF) radiotelephone in Australia

This consultation feedback report is based on submissions to us via an online form and Facebook.

Since 2002, the states and Northern Territory (jurisdictions) have been responsible for providing 24-hour nationwide monitoring service of HF radiotelephone distress, safety and urgency communications in Australia. 

The use of HF radiotelephone as the first and only means of distress, safety and urgency calling has been in steady decline. Nationally, over the four-year period to March 2018, there were only two distress communications initiated by vessels, where HF radiotelephone was the only communications used.

Further, the use of HF radiotelephone for distress, safety and urgency communications has been largely replaced by HF digital selective calling (DSC), VHF radiotelephone (and DSC) services and wider availability of satellite distress communication services (including EPIRBs, Inmarsat and Iridium GMDSS  systems). 

This prompted the jurisdictions and AMSA to review the ongoing requirement for shore station monitoring of HF radiotelephone in Australia. 

In collaboration with the jurisdictions, AMSA released a consultation paper on 1 October 2019 requesting stakeholder views on the cessation.

Submissions

This consultation feedback report is based on submissions to AMSA (via the AMSA web form and AMSA Facebook) and Western Australia. No other jurisdictions reported receiving feedback.

There were 86 submissions across a range of stakeholders:

  • 18 from industry (VMR, yacht clubs, radio operators, trainers, etc.)
  • 14 recreational users.
  • 2 identified as both industry and recreational users.
  • 4 from domestic commercial vessel (DCV) operators.
  • One identified as both DCV and recreational user.
  • 47 were unknown or did not state

Four themes were identified by stakeholders.

Alternative communication systems—26 mentions

The consultation paper noted the alternative communication options available to mariners for distress and safety communications. It also highlighted that, depending on applicable carriage requirements, distance offshore and requirements for receiving maritime safety information (MSI) that the applicable communication systems would vary.

An issue identified by stakeholders was the availability and reliability of the alternative communication systems mentioned in the consultation paper. More information is provided:

VHF radiotelephone or VHF DSC-capable

Jurisdictions or volunteer marine rescue organisations are responsible for providing VHF radiotelephone or VHF DSC-capability across Australia. Within approximately 12 nautical miles of the Australian coastline, and for ship-to-ship communication, a VHF radio (preferably with DSC) is the most practical radiocommunication system available. 

Shore station coverage is not continuous and may not include a DSC capability. Further information on the services available, including watch-keeping and transmission times for local MSI, refer to the relevant State or Northern Territory maritime authority.

HF DSC-capable

For vessels operating in locations where no VHF coverage is provided, the use of HF DSC equipment is recommended. HF DSC frequencies (except 2 187.5 kHz) are monitored by AMSA as part of its GMDSS requirements. AUSCOAST, METAREA X and NAVAREA X MSI are provided via HF.

AMSA will be alerted if a HF DSC distress alert is activated within approximately 200 nautical miles of the Australian coastline (and often beyond) and will commence a search and rescue response. This service is provided 24-hours.

GMDSS satellite systems (Inmarsat and Iridium)

GMDSS satellite systems are a carriage requirement for all SOLAS1 vessels and some DCV, but can be carried by all vessel categories. GMDSS satellite systems are more expensive than other radio options, often with a monthly/yearly subscription. Only AUSCOAST, METAREA X and NAVAREA X MSI are provided via GMDSS satellite systems.

AMSA, via Inmarsat and Iridium, will be alerted if a distress alert is activated, and will commence a search and rescue response. This service is provided 24-hours.

Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB)

Most jurisdictions mandate carriage of a registered EPIRB and specific regulation applies for DCV and SOLAS vessels. It is recommended that EPIRBs be activated if two-way communications cannot be established in a distress situation.

AMSA, via the Cospas-Sarsat system, will be alerted if an EPIRB is activated, and will commence a search and rescue response. This service is provided 24-hours.

Costs of equipment upgrades—21 mentions

The consultation paper noted indicative costs for purchasing the alternative communication systems. Stakeholders noted that costs for replacing their HF radiotelephone with HF DSC might prevent them from upgrading, especially if there are no benefits. 

As noted in this consultation feedback report, there is no change to weather warning and forecasting (www.bom.gov.au/marine/radio-sat/marine-radio-sat.shtml) provided by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) and HF DSC radios are capable of HF radiotelephone ship-to-ship, ship-to-shore and shore-to-ship communication for general or public correspondence (where services are provided).

In addition, AMSA provides a 24-hour HF DSC monitoring service (including navigational warnings) as part of its GMDSS requirements. This service also includes a global network of providers monitoring HF DSC frequencies for distress alerts that is more reliable and ensures mariners are directed to a rescue coordination centre (RCC) sooner.

Stakeholders also noted that if implementing a GMDSS satellite system, there might be ongoing subscription costs. Unfortunately, AMSA has no control over the cost of these systems, but there is increasing competition in this space, with value-added options including data and email, which make them more desirable. Further, long-range and coastal navigation and weather MSI is available from AMSA and BoM free of charge.

Read further detail on MSI available via GMDSS satellite system.

Currently using HF radiotelephone—20 mentions

Stakeholders raised concern over the availability of shore services currently provided by HF marine radio as the consultation paper was not clear on what services would continue. 

As noted in the paper, there will be no changes to:

  • HF weather warning and forecasting provided by BoM.
  • AMSA’s HF DSC service (including navigational warnings).
  • HF radiotelephone ship-to-ship, ship-to-shore and shore-to-ship communication for general or public correspondence (where services are provided).

Read more detail on HF DSC services provided by AMSA.

General safety concerns—15 mentions

The consultation paper noted the steady decline of HF radiotelephone as the first and only means of distress, safety and urgency calling. Further, the use of HF radiotelephone has been largely replaced by HF DSC, VHF radiotelephone (and DSC) services and wider availability of Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) satellite systems (including EPIRBs, Inmarsat and Iridium GMDSS systems). 

Many stakeholders recognised that HF radiotelephone might not be the first (or only) system used during an emergency but appreciated having the system as a backup and for receiving weather information and navigation warnings.

Other issues 

Stakeholders noted the proposed length of phase-out 3 mentions was too short and that in some scenarios, there was a need for updated qualifications and training 2 mentions. 

Dependent on any changes made to a vessel’s radiocommunication equipment , there may be a need for updated marine qualifications to ensure there is a qualified radio operator. 

Read further detail on marine radio qualifications recognised by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA)

More information

For further information on this consultation process and its outcomes, please refer to our background information about the consultation or the relevant State or Northern Territory maritime authority:


1. Is any ship to which the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea 1974 (SOLAS) applies, including Regulated Australian Vessels (RAVs) and foreign vessels.

Last updated: 

Tuesday 14 November 2023