The top of the South Island has some of the most beautiful, but also some of the most dangerous waters in the country, particularly French Pass, Tory Channel, and Cook Strait.
This was recognised very early on by a number of local commercial and recreational boaties, who were often engaged in various search and rescue missions. In the early 1950s, the Picton Small Marine Craft Radio Association formed to help boaties navigate in this area more safely, and in the same era the Havelock Small Marine Craft Radio Association evolved for similar reasons. In the Nelson area Nelson Fishermen’s Radio operated a double side band radio service with May Hope being the original radio operator.
Tony and Betty Baker were instrumental in raising awareness of the service in the Queen Charlotte Sound / Picton side from the late 1960s; similarly the Havelock operation grew as a result of the dedication of Alan and Val Johnson. The Picton and Havelock Associations eventually amalgamated to become Marlborough Marine Radio Association Inc.
In May 1987 Nelson Fishermen’s Radio and Mt Campbell VHF Marine Radio Users Association (Motueka) amalgamated, becoming Mt Campbell – Nelson Marine Radio Association operating VHF and SSB schedules daily, and later became the Nelson Marine Radio Association.
On 1 July 2018 the Marlborough Marine and Nelson Marine Radio Associations amalgamated to form Marlborough-Nelson Marine Radio Association providing members with operator monitored channels from Clarence north around to Kahurangi Lighthouse on the West Coast, and northwards towards the Taranaki Bight and to Cape Palliser in the east.
VHF radio coverage in the Sounds increased over the years by the installation of various repeaters. In 1983 channel 63 was installed on Mt Kahikatea, and around the same time channel 60 was put above Motueka on Mt Campbell. In 1989 channel 65 was erected at Paradise Reserve, above Kaiuma, and in 1991 channels 01 and 66 were installed on Mt Stokes. Late in 2003 channel 60 was relocated to Mt Burnett above Collingwood and linked to the newly installed channel 28 repeater on Drumduan, north east of Nelson. Also in 2003 channel 05 was installed on Saddle Hill and was permanently linked to channel 65 in 2010.
In 2018 after the amalgamation of the Nelson and Marlborough Associations, channel 05 was removed from Saddle Hill and it is expected in 2020 to be relocated to Weld Cone to the east of Ward extending the Association’s coverage down as far as Clarence. At the same time, channel 28 was re-engineered to channel 04 due to RSM requirements.