Do I take a mobile phone instead of a VHF radio on my Tinnie?

For some, this can be one of the most boring subjects of all.


For every Tinnie enthusiast, it’s one you must clearly understand and take notice off. It can save your life and your passengers lives.

We live in an age where a wider range of communication and technology is available to us. We are so much more connected than we ever have been before.

There are so many options and choices – what is the right choice for you. There is no escaping the obvious, Australia is a huge country with over 25,000km of coastline. One of the longest coastlines in the world.

So simply put your mobile phone will not work. If you rely just on your mobile you are taking a huge risk. I could have sugar-coated it and said well if you are just off the coast it will be OK. But that simply is not true. In the case of an emergency, you need to broadcast your location and ensure you can contact emergency services.

There is no substitute for having a VHF radio, and here’s why.

Mobile phone coverage reaches around 95% of Australia. However, this is mainly only concentrated around metropolitan areas depending on your service provider. You can extend your signal using a Digital Yacht 4G Connect Pro Internet Access Unit. But this will only extend the reach so far, but not as far as a VHF.

New mobile technologies like 4G and 5G actually provide shorter service from the Cell Site. Obviously there are a number of other factors involved but as 3G is phased out of service. This also provides more of a challenge when using your mobile offshore.

A vessel-mounted mobile phone with an external antenna will have a greater range. But it is still limited depending on the distance to the Cell site.

Mobile Radio Options:

27MHz CB Radio

The main use of 27MHz AM CB radio is boat to boat. While you don’t need a licence to own or use a 27MHz radio, it’s suitable for short-range communication only (line of sight). Typically 10-50km approx maximum, depending on the length of your antenna and atmospheric conditions.

27MHz is also prone to ‘skip’ where signals may travel many kilometres and is susceptible to ignition and other interference.

High-Frequency SSB Radio

Using frequencies between 2-25MHz, High-Frequency radio can offer reliable communications over thousands of kilometres anywhere in Australia – and at no cost.

HF radio is used in the outback for making contact with the Royal Flying Doctor Service, providing medical treatment if you get into a sticky situation.

UHF Radio

Not to be confused with VHF! As with 27MHz radio, UHF (Ultra High Frequency) radio signals are short-range/ line of sight (range of 10-40km max) and land use only. No licence required.

The radios are generally not waterproof.

Since UHF CB uses FM on 477MHz, as compared with AM & SSB on 27MHz, the quality of the signals is slightly improved, with less noise and interference.

VHF Radio

VHF (Very High Frequency) Radio is much better suited for use out on the water as it is monitored by the coastguard and is fitted to all commercial shipping. VHF radio is a worldwide system of two-way radio transceivers on ships and watercraft used for bidirectional voice communication from ship-to-ship, ship-to-shore (for example with harbormasters), and in certain circumstances ship-to-aircraft.

So in the case of an emergency, who are you going to call?

You have a far greater chance of being heard on a VHF radio!

While you don’t require a licence to own a VHF, you will need a certificate of proficiency to use it. See your local Coastguard to enrol on their next course.

So as you can see, a mobile phone really is no match for a VHF radio when you’re out on an adventure.