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Emergency Channels

A list of the laws referenced on this page can be found at the bottom under Law References.

In Australia there are two CB (Citizen Band) services set aside for the use of the general public. Both of these services require no individual licences or qualifications, however they are governed by Commonwealth law and a class licence. It should be noted that these sets, especially UHF units, are often sold as “licence-free” and may not be advertised as “CB,” however in Australia there are only two bands (other than marine) openly available for the general public to use without the need for high cost licences or technical qualifications.

These CB bands are:

  • 27MHz or HF band – 40 channels between 26.965 MHz and 27.405 MHz; and
  • 477MHz or UHF band – 80 channels between 476.425 MHz and 477.4125 MHz*.
* NOTE: Formerly this was 40 channels between 476.425 and 477.400MHz. These older sets now operate on the first 40 channels of the new 80 channel band.

Both of these bands include channels that are reserved for emergencies only by federal law.

UHF Emergency Channels

The UHF CB band has TWO channels reserved for emergencies only. These apply to both 80 and the older 40 channel sets. They are:

Channel 5

Used as the primary channel and the output for all 5/35 emergency repeaters. Generally this is the channel you would choose and, if a repeater is within range, you would also select DUPLEX or REPEATER mode (sometimes referred to as “range extender” on some hand-held sets.) If no repeater services the area leave these off.

Channel 35

Primarily reserved as the emergency repeater input channel, it is sometimes used as a secondary emergency channel in regions where no repeater is operational. However this use is discouraged due to the risk of interference to any 5/35 emergency repeaters near by. General use of channel 35 can totally block any emergency repeater within range and, under the right atmospheric conditions, any repeater within 100’s of kilometres.

27MHz Emergency Channel

On the HF or 27MHz band channel 9 is reserved for emergencies only. This applies to both 40 channel and the older 23 channel CB sets. If using an old 18 channel CB the emergency channel is 5 (it’s the same frequency – 27.065 MHz – just using a different channel number for 18 channel units.)

The 27MHz emergency channel can be used in AM, USB or LSB mode, however it is most common to find AM for local use and USB for longer distance.

Misuse and penalties

The misuse of the emergency channels breaches federal law. Specifically, it is contrary to the provisions of section 6(a) of the Radiocommunications (Citizen Band Radio Stations) Class Licence 2015 (Cth), which breaches section 132 paragraph (3) of the Radiocommunications Act 1992 (Cth) and as a result, sections 46 and 47 of the Act. On 1 July 2020 the cost of a Commonwealth ‘penalty unit’ increased to $222, so the maximum penalty for a breach of sections 46 or 47 is:

  • $444 on-the-spot fine (for minor cases) [2 penalty units]; or
  • up to 2 years imprisonment (for an individual); or
  • up to $333,000 fine (for all others) [1500 penalty units].

If the misuse interferes with an emergency call these penalties increase under section 194 of the Act to:

  • up to 5 years imprisonment (for an individual); or
  • up to $1,110,000 fine (for all others) [5000 penalty units].

These penalties are set to increase every 3 years from 1 July 2020.

What is an “emergency”?

According to the federal government an “emergency signal” consists of the following (see Schedule 1, Radiocommunications (Interpretation) Determination 2015):

  1. a call for assistance; or
  2. a signal of distress; or
  3. a message that is related to a call for assistance or a signal of distress.

Any transmission, including routine communications even by volunteer emergency services (e.g. fireground or member-to-member communications that does not involve an actual emergency) is therefore prohibited under the CBRS class licence and the Radiocommunications Act.

Excuses could cost lives!

The channels aren’t used

This is an argument often heard from those misusing the channels for their own use. It is true that mobile telephones have largely replaced the one time popular use of CB, however mobile phones still have black spots, rural regions with zero coverage, and in the past have been put out of commission for extended periods by storms, floods and fires. During these times CB (especially UHF) is commonly used to provide a link for people to summon help.

In addition many emergency services use CB, and the emergency channels, to talk with the general public during a response, including RFDS, rescue aircraft, and bush fire services. You never know when the emergency channels will be needed for an emergency, and chances are if you’re busy chatting you will never hear that faint call for help.

We’re an ’emergency service’

Some (usually volunteer) emergency services believe they have a right to use the emergency channels for general operations. This often comes from a belief that they are channels reserved for use by emergency services only. THIS IS NOT TRUE! Paragraph 6(a) of the CBRS class licence states “[a person must not] except in an emergency – operate a CB station on…” Emergency services have to abide by the same laws as all other CB users, including the use of emergency channels for the above mentioned operations only.

We’ll stop if we hear a call

This often goes hand-in-hand with the first excuse. The problem here is:

  1. very weak calls may not be heard if you are busy chatting among yourselves; and
  2. this use is still unlawful under the class licence!

No matter how you put it, using the emergency channels for any reason other than what they are legally designated for is both illegal and potentially life/property endangering. The question you need to ask is – “if it was my family whose life was in danger, would i still use the channel the way i am?”

We’ve used this channel for years

This is not an excuse! Ignorance of the law, any law, is no excuse, the channels have been identified as emergency channels ever since the legalisation of CB in Australia back in 1977. Prior to 1994 all licensing information issued by the Australian Government showed the emergency channels. When the class licence came out in 1994 nothing changed, and over more recent years every user guide supplied with Australian CB equipment must include a channel chart that identifies the emergency channels, so the fact you’ve used the channels illegally for years is no legal excuse.

If the call can’t get through, help may not reach you!

More Info

UHF CB 80 channel plan
Fact Sheet 01 – Emergency Channels

Law References

The following Commonwealth legislation was referenced on this page (where possible a link to the legislation has been provided):