MMSI: Where and How to Get One
The Federal Communications Commission of the USA (FCC) recently issued a clarification on how boaters in the USA should obtain a maritime mobile service identity or MMSI. Unlike many federal documents, this one is quite clearly written. It explains the situation rather well. I will reproduce several sections of it verbatim:
Obtaining an MMSI. Vessel owners must obtain an MMSI prior to using a DSC radio, shipborne universal AIS transponder, or INMARSAT ship earth station. All equipment on the vessel, including handheld VHF-DSC radios, must use the same MMSI. How a vessel owner obtains an MMSI depends on whether the ship station requires a license from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) or is instead licensed by rule.
It should be noted that this is not only a regulatory requirement, it is also a practical requirement. Digital selective calling (DSC) radios of the modern, Class-D category won't operate as DSC radios until you have initialized their DSC system with an MMSI, and they will nag you to program them with the MMSI until you do enter it into the equipment.
Next, the FCC defines the two categories of ship station license: licensed-by-rule and licensed individually by the FCC. The FCC explains how these categories apply.
A ship station is licensed by rule and does not need a separate license from the FCC if:
--the ship station is not subject to the radio equipment carriage requirements of any statute, treaty, or agreement to which the United States is signatory;
--the ship station does not travel to foreign ports; and,
--the ship station does not make international communications.
Note that you have to meet all three of these conditions to be eligible to be licensed by rule.
A ship station licensed by rule is authorized to transmit radio signals using a marine radio operating in the 156-162 MHz band, any type of AIS, any type of emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB), and any type of radar installation. Operators of vessels that are licensed by rule can obtain MMSIs from these designated private registration agents:
--Sea Tow International, Inc.,
--Shine Micro, Inc., and
--United States Power Squadrons, Inc.
For most recreational boaters that are not boating in border regions, their boat transmitter will be licensed-by-rule and they will get an MMSI from a private registration agent, one of the four listed above. If you are a boater in a border region and anticipate going into foreign water and communicating with foreign shore stations, for example, boating to Canada and calling a Canadian marina on the radio, your boat transmitter cannot be licensed by rule. You must get an individual license from the FCC.
Ship stations that are not licensed by rule must be licensed by the FCC. The FCC assigns MMSIs to vessels with individual licenses through the ship station licensing process. An MMSI is assigned as part of the grant of an application for a new license.
Now comes the confusing part. If you already had an MMSI from a private issuing agent, and you decide to get an FCC license, what should you do? The FCC says:
Presently, licensed-by-rule vessels with an MMSI that later are licensed individually cannot use the previously issued MMSI in the FCC licensing process.... Instead, when the new license is granted the FCC will assign the ship station a new MMSI. This MMSI must then be programmed into the vessel's equipment in place of the previous MMSI. In addition, the licensee must have its private registration agent cancel the privately-issued MMSI.
In 2007 a boating industry group, the National GMDSS Implementation Task Force, petitioned the FCC to change this rule and process, and asked the FCC to permit the MMSI from a private issuing agent to be carried with the boat if the boater obtained an FCC ship station license. The petition pointed out the burden on the boater of having to reprogram all DSC devices with a new MMSI. Hundred of public comments were filed that supported the request for change. The FCC agreed that the petition had merit, but in 2009 it denied the request. The FCC cited the burden of the cost to alter their licensing system to make only this single change, and said that in the future, when considering modification to their licensing system, they would also consider adding this change. (See http://www.navcen.uscg.gov/pdf/gmdss/ta ... fcc-21.pdf for details.)
Seven years later in 2016, the FCC still has not changed its licensing system, and boaters are still stuck with having to change their boat's MMSI number when moving to an FCC issued MMSI from a privately issued MMSI. The FCC also explains:
On the other hand, a licensee that cancels a ship station license or allows it to expire (because the vessel no longer requires an individual license) generally may retain the FCC-issued MMSI and use it to register the vessel with a private registration agent. The vessel must then be registered with a private registration agent because its emergency contact information will be purged from the FCC's licensing database.
What is described here is a situation in which the licensing process of the private issuing agents is apparently more sophisticated than the licensing process of the FCC. The private agents can accept a new registration from a boater who has an FCC-issued MMSI and let the boat retain that MMSI number, but the FCC cannot accept the MMSI from the private agents. I guess this is a case of smaller agencies being more nimble than large agencies.
The FCC also makes an important distinction about the programming of emergency beacon device as distinct from other DSC devices that use an MMSI:
The vessel MMSI should not be programmed into a 406 MHz EPIRB. FCC rules require that 406 MHz EPIRBs on United States vessels be encoded and registered with the hexadecimal identification code assigned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Users should ensure that the coding marked on the EPIRB is correct and matches data registered with NOAA, and that contact information registered with NOAA is accurate and current.
For the entire public announcement in the most easily read form, obtain a copy from
http://transition.fcc.gov/Daily_Release ... 1989A1.pdf
There are other on-line versions of this document, but their presentation is not very clear. The PDF document linked above it much easier to read. It is also fully annotated with several footnotes and cites many references, which I have omitted in my quoted material above.