Are you a boater who uses a VHF marine radio in Australian Territorial Waters (within 12 nautical miles of the coast)? You’ll soon be able to apply for a more appropriate marine radio qualification—the Australian Waters Qualification (AWQ).
All marine radio users (except those operating 27 MHz maritime radio stations) must be qualified, and boaters have to obtain a Certificate of Proficiency or an equivalent overseas qualification. But soon it is expected that the AWQ will give a more streamlined option to relevant boaters. Once the AWQ is included in the Maritime Class Licence this new qualification will give boaters a better choice of appropriate marine radio qualifications. It is expected that this change to the law will occur by 30 July 2015.
Why do I need a qualification at all?
A marine radio can save lives. So it’s important that:
you know the correct channels to use and when to use them
you know distress and safety procedures, including how to access search and rescue facilities
you know how to respond to an emergency call
your messages are understood and others know how to respond
you know about digital selective calling and the benefits of connecting a GPS to your radio
you know when and how to operate an EPIRB in a distress situation.
In an emergency, knowledge of distress and safety procedures helps everyone involved in the rescue.
Marine radiocommunications can also provide a variety of services to small vessels, including weather and navigational information.
So, the more you know about how to operate a marine radio, the more benefit you’ll get from yours.
Anyone operating a VHF marine radio without an appropriate qualification, or not under the supervision of an appropriately qualified person, may be breaching the Radiocommunications Act 1992. Significant penalties apply. So get qualified!
Note: in a distress situation an exception applies. A person may operate a VHF marine radio station while unqualified for the purposes of attracting attention and obtaining help.
How will I obtain the AWQ?
The AWQ is a unit of competency (MARC019) included in the Maritime Training Package, which was approved by the Department of Industry on 27 February 2015.
A copy of the syllabus is available at http://training.gov.au/Training/Details/MARC019.
The AWQ will be available from any registered training organisation (RTO) that is delivering the training. Most volunteer marine rescue groups are either an RTO in their own right or have a relationship with an RTO, so they can test boaters for the AWQ and issue a statement of attainment. A list of RTOs that will be delivering the training is available at http://training.gov.au.
What will sitting for the AWQ involve?
It should take no more than two to three hours to obtain the AWQ. Once the RTO has assessed that you know how to operate a VHF marine radio, what channels to operate on and how to access search and rescue facilities, you will be issued with a Statement of Attainment for the AWQ. The assessment will include both a theory (for example, questions about frequencies and protocols) and practical component (actual use of a radio). Costs for the assessment are determined by each individual RTO.
Help! Is there any training available before I attempt the AWQ?
To help you easily learn about correct VHF marine radio procedures and protocols, an online training package is being developed—this series of lessons teaches you the right information in your own time and at your own pace. The package assesses what you’ve learned and advises when you’re ready to sit the actual exam.
A computer-based VHF marine radio simulator will also be included, so you can learn and test your marine radio skills in a simulated hands-on environment. The training package should also be available by 30 July 2015.
What happens to my existing certificate?
The ACMA’s internationally recognised marine radio qualifications—the Marine Radio Operator Certificate of Proficiency (MROCP) and Marine Radio Operator VHF Certificate of Proficiency (MROVCP) have had a name change.
Now known as the Long-Range Operator Certificate of Proficiency (formerly MROCP) and Short-Range Operator Certificate of Proficiency (formerly MROVCP), these certificates remain unchanged and are issued for life. So, if you already have one of these qualifications, you don’t need to do anything. However, if you’re looking to get qualified and you operate a VHF marine radio only within 12 nautical miles of the coast, the AWQ qualification may be easier, cheaper and quicker to obtain.
If you want one of the internationally recognised qualifications, then check out the Australian Maritime College website for more information about obtaining either the short- or long-range operator’s certificate of proficiency.