Radio Procedures

SAMSA has taken over certain functions that were performed by ICASA – particularly the examination and issuing of VHF Operators Licences. Refer to the press release from ICASA.

In addition to having the normal ICASA radio licence for the radio installed on a vessel (29Mhz and/or VHF), all skippers who have a VHF radio installed on their vessel must be in possession of a VHF Operators Licence.

The study material may be downloaded and is of a self-study basis and consists of two parts:

Once the candidate is ready to set the exam, details with regards to payment and booking are listed in the self-study material.

The SAMSA contacts for the VHF Operators licence are:

Mr Hilton Jones
Office: +27 (0)31 307 3006

Port Elizabeth
Mr Koos Arnold
Office: +27 (0)41 582 2138

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The cost of the ICASA licence is as follows:

  • Once off application fee R 210.00
  • Annual licence fee R 120.00 per radio set

Prices correct as at 6 November 2012

ICASA Banking Details

Bank Name
Type of Account
Account Number   
Branch Number
Ref No. 

Deposit Account  
1462 002927
14624500    (Corporate Client Services – Pretoria)
00 7000 000

Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa)
ICASA (Spectrum Licensing)

164 Katherine Street
Pin Mill farm, Block A
Private Bag X 10002
Sandton, 2146
Tel : +27 11 321 8200

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Restrictions whilst in port

Vessels in harbour may not use their radio installations at all while alongside a wharf, quay or jetty, except for the purpose of authorised tests or reporting their departure on VHF and when anchored in any bay of the Republic, vessels may use their radio installations to communicate with South African stations only.


Other Restrictions
It is forbidden to:

  • exchange traffic other than distress, urgency and safety traffic on 2182 4125 kHz and channel 16.
  • exchange unnecessary signals of any kind.
  • use radiotelephone installations for conversations other than those necessary for the transmission of authorised messages or radiotelephone calls.
  • to use offensive language.
  • use the radio apparatus whilst the vessel is tied up alongside a wharf, pier or jetty inside any harbour or port or when the vessel is anchored inside port limits.
  • disclose the contents of telegrams, messages and telephone calls.
  • install or be in possession of unlicensed apparatus.
  • interfere or cause interference to other transmissions.

Stations should listen before calling

Except when in DISTRESS, a station wishing to call should listen on the calling frequency for a reasonable period to ensure:

  • that there is no distress traffic in progress and
  • that interference will not be caused to other communications already in progress; and should check the time to ensure that the SILENCE PERIODS are not violated.

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Calling Frequencies (VHF)

Channel 16 is both the calling and the distress frequency for the use of VHF shipstations.

Apart from DISTRESS CALLS, DISTRESS TRAFFIC, URGENCY AND SAFETY SIGNALS and MESSAGES, i.e. distress messages, for which it is obligatory, these frequencies may be used ONLY for calls and answers and NOT for passing messages, etc.

Messages should be transmitted on working frequencies allocated to the stations. The use of channel 16 for the transmission of messages is FORBIDDEN.

Apart from DISTRESS, URGENCY and SAFETY communications calling signals preparatory to the exchange of traffic should not exceed ONE MINUTE when using channel 16.

When a station does not reply to a call sent three times at intervals of two minutes, calling should cease and may be renewed only after an interval of 15 minutes, but if interference will not be caused to other communications, calls may be renewed after a shorter period than 15 minutes, but not less than THREE minutes. Before renewing a call, the calling station should ascertain that the station called is not in communication with another station, e.g. on another frequency. Stations must not radiate a carrier between calls.

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Silence Periods

During 3 minute periods on each hour and each half hour, e.g. 0000-0003 0030-0033, all transmissions on channel 16 should cease except transmissions concerning DISTRESS, URGENCY and SAFETY and a listening watch kept on channel 16, in order to allow any weak signals of any vessel in distress to be heard without interference.

Stations wishing to call on channel 16 should always check the time to ensure that the SILENCE PERIODS are not violated.

The first minute of the silence periods should be reserved for DISTRESS calls, the second minute for MAYDAY RELAYS, if there are Maydays at the time, and the third minute for URGENCY signals and URGENCY messages, if there are no maydays or mayday relays at the time. Navigation warnings may be announced just before the end of the Silence Periods and the messages transmitted just after the Silence Periods, preferably on a working frequency, which should be announced on channel 16.

All stations should avoid causing interference on these transmissions and should listen until they are certain that the transmissions are of no concern to them.

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Calling Procedure

Calling Procedure and an example of Call, Reply and Changing to Working Frequencies

The calling and working procedure between two stations, e.g. a ship station Alpha and a coast station Durban Radio, should be as follows:

After ascertaining that it will not interfere with any communications or call in the silence period, the ship station ALPHA calls WALVIS BAY RADIO as follows:

"Hullo DURBAN RADIO, DURBAN RADIO, DURBAN RADIO, this is ALPHA, ALPHA, ALPHA (not more than 3 times). I have a radiotelegram for you. My working frequency is channel 9 over"

DURBAN RADIO replies "Hullo ALPHA (not more than three times) this is DURBAN RADIO (not more than three times), Roger listen for me on channel 9. Your turn is number two. Over"

Alpha acknowledge "Roger. Going up and standing by. Over"

DURBAN RADIO should also acknowledge that they have understood each other. The call and answer should have been on channel l6. Alpha and DURBAN RADIO then change to the arranged frequencies, although DURBAN RADIO may be busy on another frequency so Alpha should standby on channel 16 until DURBAN RADIO calls him. They should both check that they call and listen on the correct frequencies as arranged.

Alpha then replies "Hullo DURBAN RADIO, DURBAN RADIO, DURBAN RADIO this is ALPHA, ALPHA, ALPHA (not more than three times) are you receiving me? Over"

DURBAN RADIO replies "Hullo ALPHA (not more than three times) this is DURBAN RADIO (not more than three times) Receiving you OK. Send your message. Over"

Alpha replies "Hullo DURBAN RADIO this is ALPHA. Radiotelegram begin. From ALPHA (ships name) Number 1 (number of telegram) Number of words ………. Date ……… Time ………(GMT) Service indications/instructions, if any ……… Paid service instructions, if any ………, Name and address of addressee Text (message) …….. Signature (if any) Radiotelegram ends, collation ……… Repetition of all difficult words and code groups etc., each phrase repeated twice at dictation speed. Over"

DURBAN RADIO acknowledges receipt "Hullo ALPHA this is WALVIS BAY RADIO your number one received over"

Alpha replies "Hullo DURBAN RADIO this is ALPHA, I have nothing further to communicate Out"

Walvisbay radio acknowledges "Roger out"

A radiotelegram, or series of telegrams, should not be considered as cleared until the acknowledgement as above has been received and understood. Should atmospheric conditions be bad or reception difficult, DURBAN RADIO may repeat the telegram back to Alpha in full or part for confirmation.

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Phonetic alphabet

Speak SLOWLY and DISTINCTLY at ALL times. In the telephoning of words, the vowel sounds should be given their ordinary value.

The sounds of the consonants should be emphasised. When it is necessary to spell out call signs, unusual words, figures, etc., the following Phonetic Alphabet and Figure Code should be used.

          A : Alfa
          B : Bravo
          C : Charlie
          D : Delta
          E : Echo
          F : Foxtrot
          G : Golf
          H : Hotel
          I : India
          J : Juliet
          K : Kilo
          L : Lima
          M : Mike
          N : November
          0 : Oscar
          P : Papa
          Q : Quebec
          R : Romeo
          S : Sierra
          T : Tango
          U : Uniform
          V : Victor
          W : Whisky
          X : X-ray
          Y : Yankee
          Z : Zulu

          0 : nah-dah-zay-roh
          1 : ooo-hag-one
          2 : bees-soh-two
          3 : tay-rah-three
          4 : kar-tay-four
          5 : pan tah-five
          6 : sok-see-six
          7 : say-tay-seven
          8 : ok-toh-eight
          9 : no-vay-nine

          Thousand : tou-sand
          Decimal : day-see-mal 

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Restrictions during distress communications

Restrictions on other stations during distress communications
The vessel in distress or the station controlling distress traffic may impose silence on ALL other stations or any one station, by transmitting the signal SEELONCE MAYDAY followed by its name or identification on the frequency being used for distress working. No other station may use this expression. Other stations wishing to impose silence may use the expression SEELONCE DISTRESS followed by its name or identification.

Stations not participating in the rescue operations may not transmit on the frequencies being used for distress communications before the controlling station announces SEELONCE FEENEE in which case normal communications may be resumed or SEELONCE PRUDONCE in which case the frequencies being used for distress communications may be used for other communications providing no interference is caused to the distress communications (SEELONCE PRUDONCE is or should be announced when continuous silence is no longer required, when other brief communications are allowed on condition that the operators listen carefully before communicating to avoid interference when the frequencies are required by the stations involved in the rescue operations)

At the end of the distress phase, when no further assistance is required, the controlling station should cancel the silence imposed by the distress signals by broadcasting a message to ALL stations as follows MAYDAY (once) hullo ALL STATIONS (3 times) this is …… name of controlling station, 3 times, time and name of ship that was in distress, SEELONCE FEENEE OUT.

Normal communications may then be resumed but stations should listen carefully and avoid interference to urgency and safety messages which often follow distress operations.

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Distress terminology & procedures

The radiotelephone distress signal consists of the expression MAYDAY. This signal, which indicates that the vessel sending it is threatened by grave and imminent danger and that the vessel requires immediate assistance, is used in the distress call which precedes the distress message and may only be transmitted on the authority of the Master or person responsible for the vessel. The transmission should be made slowly and distinctly, each word clearly pronounced.

The distress call and distress message should be preceded by the ALARM SIGNAL which consists of two alternative audio frequency tones, one a high note of 2200 cycles per second and the other a low note of l300 cycles per second, making a distinctive warbling sound which should be transmitted for approximately 30-60 seconds time permitting.

The purpose of the ALARM SIGNAL is to attract attention and to announce

  2. urgent cyclone warnings, by authorised coast stations
  3. the loss of a person overboard when assistance by other ships is required and cannot be satisfactorily obtained by the use of the URGENCY SIGNAL only. The distress signal MAYDAY should be sent before each call and before each message concerning distress.

The DISTRESS CALL consists of the Distress Signal MAYDAY transmitted three times, followed by the words THIS IS and the name and call sign of the vessel in distress, repeated three times.

The Distress Message consists of the Distress Signal MAYDAY followed by the name and call sign of the vessel in distress, its position, either in latitude or longitude and/or whenever possible by its bearing and distance in nautical miles from a known geographical point, the nature of the distress, the kind of assistance required, and any other information of use to rescue vessels.

The Distress Call has ABSOLUTE PRIORITY over all other transmissions. All stations helping it must immediately suspend all transmissions likely to interfere with the distress call and distress traffic and listen on the frequency on which the distress call has been made.

Example of Distress Call and Message
The ALARM SIGNAL transmitted for 30 – 60 seconds, followed by the spoken words MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY, this is …….. (name and/or call sign of vessel in distress, repeated three times) MAYDAY, name of vessel …….. position 10 miles Southwest of Walvis Bay, struck unidentified object, and sinking, require immediate assistance, will fire off distress rockets at intervals (and any other information that may be of assistance to rescue operations) ….. OVER.

Acknowledgement of Receipt of a Distress Message

Vessels in the vicinity should acknowledge receipt immediately but when in the vicinity of a coast station time should be allowed for the coast station to reply without interference.

Vessels not in the immediate vicinity should allow a short interval to elapse before acknowledging, to allow stations near the vessel in distress and in a better position to render assistance to acknowledge receipt without interference from stations not in the vicinity.

Distress messages should be acknowledged as follows
Name of vessel or coast station that transmitted the distress message, repeated three times THIS IS ……. (name of vessel or coast station acknowledging receipt, repeated three times) RECEIVED MAYDAY OVER.

Every vessel acknowledging receipt of a distress message should, upon the order of the Master or person responsible for the vessel, supply its name, position, speed at which it is proceeding to the distress scene, and the time it will take to reach the distress scene.

When not in a position to render assistance, a station hearing a distress message which has not be acknowledged should take all possible steps to attract attention of other stations who may be in a position to render assistance. The ALARM SIGNAL and the MAYDAY RELAY signal should be used to attract attention.

The SILENCE PERIODS may be used for repeating/relaying distress messages and the distress messages may also be repeated/relayed on any other frequency if further assistance is required. The frequency of channel 16 are recommended and the distress message may be repeated/relayed on all of these frequencies if no attention is obtained on the others.

Mayday Relay
A shipstation or coast station learning of a mobile station in distress should relay a distress message in the following cases

  1. when the station in distress cannot transmit a distress message itself.
  2. when the master or person responsible for the station considers that further help is necessary.
  3. when it has heard a distress call that has not been acknowledged and is not in a position to render assistance itself.

The distress message should be announced and relayed as follows:

MAYDAY RELAY three times, THIS IS …….. name of station relaying the distress message, repeated three times, distress message as received.

When relaying a distress message it is important to use the words MAYDAY RELAY so that D.F. bearings are not taken on the wrong station.

The distress signal may be used only when immediate assistance is required, i.e. only when the safety of life or a vessel is in imminent danger. Except in the case of distress, the use of the distress signal is forbidden.

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Weather Bulletins, Navigation Warnings and Traffic Lists

S.A. coast stations broadcast weather forecasts, weather reports, navigation warnings and traffic lists at fixed times as follows

  • Cape Town Radio ZSC on 1765 and 4143,6 kHz and channel 24/26 at 0948 1333 and 1748 GMT
  • Durban Radio ZSD on 1765 4376 and 8740,6 kHz and channel 26 at 0918 1303 and 1703 GMT
  • East London Radio ZSA on 1700 kHz and channel 26 at 0933 1340 and l720 GMT
  • Luderitz Radio ZSL on 2607 kHz at 0933 l333 and 1633 GMT
  • Port Elizabeth Radio ZSQ on 1765 kHz and channel 26 at 0933 1340 and 1720 GMT
  • Walvis Bay Radio ZSV on l765 4357,4 kHz and channel 26 at 0933 1333 and 1633 GMT

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