Our History

Bay of Islands Marine Radio Association Inc. (Russell Radio) has served locals, visitors and offshore vessels since it was started by a small band of local fishermen shortly after the Second World War headed by Ritchie Blomfield. The Russell community and boating fraternity mourned the sad loss of Ritchie in March 2005. Ritchie’s lifelong association with the sea and local knowledge of the Bay of Islands’ climatic intricacies made him a legend. Many vessels owe their safe homecoming to his quick actions and his wealth of local knowledge. A legacy we shall endeavour to maintain for the foreseeable future.

Russell Radio is now based at the end of Russell Wharf on Russell waterfront and has a single part time salaried Radio Operator and a number of hard working volunteer operators, not to mention our dedicated Committee.

By 1979, Russell Radio had become an Incorporated Society and the Committee drew up the Society’s Constitution. The radio service covered the wider Bay area and changed its name to “Bay of Islands Marine Radio Association Inc.” On June 30th 2008, Russell Radio was registered with the Charities Commission #CC32217.

Over the years equipment improved, along with the level of services and expanded to cover SSB for trans-Tasman and trans–Pacific yachts as well as localised VHF channel 63 coverage for the Bay of Islands. Overseas visiting yachts can call on Channel 16 or 63 and directions will be provided for the right course for the ‘Q’ berth and Customs dock in the Opua Marina. Unfortunately due to the new location being in close proximity to several businesses operating heavy duty refrigeration and cooking units, considerable interference made reception of SSB signals almost impossible to hear and with no practical method of improvement, it was decided in 2013 to hand over the SSB operation to Annette at Far North Radio and close down the Russell connection. Our VHF service covers the area from Tutukaka in the South to Knuckle Point at the northern end of Doubtless Bay, including the Cavalli’s and the Poor Knights Islands.

The Station logs boaties going out to sea, where they are planning to spend their day, and what time they expect to return to shore. When they arrive back, they are recorded as being home. If the station does not hear from them, the operators track them down to make sure they are safe, a service that Coastguard does not provide.

A detailed logbook is maintained for every call received from boats (and on occasions the medivac helicopters). These calls mean that Russell Radio has a good idea of the location of boats at any one time. This information is used if a boat gets into difficulties and the assistance of a nearby boat can be called upon. The most experienced skippers in the Bay, on the most seaworthy boats, have agreed to be on a list to be called by Russell Radio in the event of a more serious problem. This allows for timely decisions to be made in the Bay by our most experienced people, to promote boating safety. The most serious safety problems are always dealt with in collaboration with Maritime NZ, the NZ Police and the Search and Rescue agencies.

About 5% of radio calls are general enquiries; from where to get diesel to where to get a doctor. Russell Radio also provides a friendly presence at the end of Russell wharf, above the Information Centre. Station operators field questions from passers-by willing to climb the small staircase; from the weather forecast to where to access the worldwide web. This friendly presence on water and land contributes to a positive experience for visitors who make a significant contribution to the economy of the Bay of Islands. Russell Radio also owns Channel 3 which is used by a small number of commercial operators (who pay a small subscription) and local fishing tournament operators like the Bay of Islands Swordfish Club for fishing tournaments.

You are always welcome to pop in for a chat or give us a call on (09) 403 7218. If you would like to support us and become a member then please go to the ‘Join Us’ page on our website (present subscription is $100 per annum).

If you would like to join our team of volunteer VHF radio operators and want to know more, then pop into the office for a chat.

Keep Russsell Radio informed of your movements on the water and stay safe.