Kingsborough Chronicle
4-5 December 2010
It all began at Margate


Original Margate base station
The original Coast Radio Hobart (then Tasmar Radio) base station at Margate in 1976. Pictured are Les Collis (deceased), Barry McCann and Len Bonnitcha.

Back in the 70s when Barry McCann and some mates were fishing on the outside of Bruny Island, their outboard motor decided to be troublesome as they attempted to return home. With no hope of getting back and no means of calling for help, they spent the night on One Tree Point, having rowed for more than an hour to get ashore. Next morning they attracted the attention of a passing boat and were towed home. This experience reinforced the need for some means of communication between a shore base and pleasure boats.

In 1975, Barry McCann and Les Collis established the Tasmanian Smallcraft Marine Radio Group, the sole purpose of which was to enhance the safety of life and property at sea. A base station was set up at Len Bonnitcha's home on the Esplanade at Margate and operated there for nine years. When Len retired, the base was moved to South Arm and became known as Tasmar Radio. In 1987, a remotely controlled station was constructed at Snug Tiers and this facility is still an integral part of the Australia wide HF Coast Radio Network. In 2002, because of Tasmar Radio's commitment to becoming a major coast station, it became Coast Radio Hobart. The name change to Coast Radio Hobart has no bearing on the self-funded and voluntary nature of this network.

The Tasmanian coastal terrain presents enormous difficulties in getting radio waves into some of the anchorages nestled between steep hills along out coastline. It requires a complex infrastructure strategically placed around the coast. Since those early days, the extent of both VHF and HF coverage has improved with remotely controlled transmitters and receivers on Bruny Island, Snug Tiers, Maria Island, Falmouth and Maatsuyker Island, with the next one planned for Flinders Island. From the base station, located since 2004 in Hobart Radio's old building on the Domain, all of the remote stations are monitored and controlled. As a backup, two fully equipped control stations are located in the homes of two of our operators, and a fully equipped 'roadie's box' is available as a mobile unit.

The VHF service now covers from Babel Island in the northeast, right down the East coast and around to Port Davey on the Southwest coast. The HF service extends out to the Pacific Islands, to North Queensland, across to the West Australian coast and down into the Southern Ocean. The infrastructure is unique in Australia and with no other volunteer coast station able to provide anywhere near the same level of service.

Weather information is broadcast four times daily with a special 'sked' twice a day for Maatsuyker Island area, Marine Safety Information for Bass Strait once a day, and notices to mariners from MAST and wind warnings as they come to hand. All communications are recorded and a data-base of all vessels registered with Coast Radio Hobart is maintained, containing details of the owner, boat and safety equipment carried. A unique Radio Callsign is allocated to our subscribers that enables quick and clear recognition when a call for assistance is received. Many of our professional fishers support th service and we have been able to call on their generosity at times to offer assistance to a boat in difficulties.

Over the years, Coast Radio Hobart has provided vital radio communications and has performed a pivotal role in arranging help in many rescues, some serious, others rather minor, but important nonetheless. The airlifting of a stroke victim from a fishing boat off Scouten Island; the assistance arranged for a little girl suffering burns on a yacht down the Channel; the relaying of messages between a French warship to Taupo Radio New Zealand about a stricken yacht with a family on board who were safely taken off and their yacht scuttled by the warship; the constant radio contact with Trident III from Hobart with rigging damage and fuel problems as they returned from a cruise to New Zealand and many occasions when fuel or motor troubles have caused a 'boatie' to require assistance.

In these lesser cases, Coast Radio Hobart would put out a call to any boat nearby, able to render assistance, or call a nominated contact on shore to assist. If life is in danger, the Water Police are immediately notified. If the locatino and seriousness of the call is beyond the scope of Tasmania Police, then they call the Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC Australia).

Tracking Sheets are set up for cruising yachts and their positions logged until they pass into another area such as Taupo Maritime Radio in New Zealand.

Any boat out for a day can call Coast Radio Hobart and log their intentions and destination. In this way the operators have a knowledge of their whereabouts.

As any other volunteer organisation, we rely on our supporters. For an annual fee of only $30, you can be oart of, and support, this very valuable safety network. Without this support, Tasmania would be left without a reliable 24/7 radio safety-net for boats plying our waters. New member evenings are run at regular intervals.

We need more volunteer radio operators. Coast Radio Hobart is also seeking your assistance at the Domain. Broadcasting weather skeds, warnings and taking calls from boats is interesting and satisfying, as you are performing a very essential service.

Call Coast Radio Hobart on 6231 2276 for more information.