Marine Radio Licensing Questions & Answers

 

This information has been compiled by The Offshore Store as a guideline to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations for operating a marine radio. For further information, visit http://wireless.fcc.gov/services/index.htm?job=licensing&id=ship_stations.

ASSUMPTIONS
We've made the following assumptions in preparing these answers:

  • You operate your vessel and radio as an individual (not a business)
  • Your vessel is used for pleasure
  • Yours is a sailing vessel or, if a power boat, does not exceed 20m/65 ft.-6 in. in length

Additional regulations may apply if any of the above assumptions is not true of your situation.


Is a marine radio required?

Is a license required to operate a VHF marine radio or AIS transceiver?

Must VHF Channel 16 be monitored?

Is a license required to operate an MF/HF (SSB) marine radio?

Must MF/HF (SSB) Distress Channels be monitored?

What radio licenses are required for travelling to, and/or communicating with, foreign stations?

How do I obtain the radio licenses?

How long are the radio licenses valid?

Can I transfer my licenses when I sell/buy a boat?


Is a marine radio required?

No. However, most boaters wisely choose to equip their vessel with a VHF marine radio for general and emergency communications.

Is a license required to operate a VHF marine radio or AIS transceiver?

Not if operating domestically. However, if the vessel travels to a foreign port or communicates with a foreign station (including Canada, Mexico, Bahamas, BVI), then a license is required. Source: FCC 47 CFR 80.13(c), FCC 47 CFR 80.177(5)

Must VHF Channel 16 be monitored?

If equipped with a VHF marine radio, then Channel 16 must be monitored any time the vessel is underway and the radio is not being used to communicate. However, this is not required (though still recommended) if the radio is automatically monitoring DSC Channel 70. Source: FCC 47 CFR 80.310, http://www.navcen.uscg.gov/marcomms/watch.htm

Is a license required to operate an MF/HF (SSB) marine radio?

Yes, a license is required for any non-emergency marine single-side band (SSB) transmission. The vessel must have a Ship Voluntarily Equipped (SA) license, and at least one person aboard the vessel must have a Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit (RR) or higher commercial license. The licensed operator may permit a non-licensed person to operate the radio equipment. Note to Hams: While an amateur radio operator (ham) license is required for operation on amateur frequencies (including MF/HF bands), it does not permit transmission on marine frequencies. Furthermore, a Technician Class ham license grants no transmission privileges at or below 30 MHz, where marine SSB radios function. For this reason, a ham wishing to use a marine SSB radio on amateur frequencies should have a General Class or Amateur Extra Class license. Source: FCC 47 CFR 80.13, FCC 47 CFR 80.156, FCC Modifies Amateur Radio Rules

Must MF/HF (SSB) Distress Channels be monitored?

If equipped with an MF/HF (SSB) marine radio with DSC capability, then one of the radiotelephone or DSC distress channels must be monitored any time the vessel is underway and the radio is not being used to communicate. Source: FCC 47 CFR 80.310

What radio licenses are required for travelling to, and/or communicating with, foreign stations?

The vessel must have a Ship Voluntarily Equipped (SA) license, and at least one person aboard the vessel must have a Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit (RR) or higher commercial license. The licensed operator may permit a non-licensed person to operate the radio equipment. Source: FCC 47 CFR 80.13, FCC 47 CFR 80.156, FCC ULS RR

How do I obtain the radio licenses?

We've prepared step-by-step Directions for Obtaining FCC Licenses to Operate a Marine Radio to make the process of obtaining the licenses easy.

How long are the radio licenses valid?

A Ship Voluntarily Equipped (SA) license is valid for ten years while the licensee retains ownership of the vessel. A Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit (RR) is valid for the life of the licensee. Source: FCC "Obtaining a License", FCC "Obtaining a Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit"

Can I transfer licenses when I sell/buy a boat?

A Ship Voluntarily Equipped (SA) license cannot be transferred, and expires upon the sale of the vessel. The licensee must cancel the license with the FCC, and the vessel will not be licensed unless a new license is obtained by the buyer. A Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit (RR) cannot be transferred, but stays with the licensee. Source: FCC "What to do if selling your ship"
 


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