FCC Modifies Regulations to Permit Handheld Radios to be Used On Shore

VHF Marine Band radios, protocol, radio communication theory, practical advice; AIS; DSC; MMSI; EPIRB.
jimh
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FCC Modifies Regulations to Permit Handheld Radios to be Used On Shore

Postby jimh » Thu Jun 22, 2017 1:21 pm

The Federal Communications Commission recently amended its regulations to permit use of VHF Marine Band handheld radios on shore without the need for a shore station license. The notice that announced this change is long and filled with footnotes. I reproduce a portion of the notice that affects use of handheld radios below, with all footnotes omitted:

The Announcement (Dated September 1, 2016)

...In this Report and Order, we amend our rules to...permit limited use of portable marine VHF radio transmitters by persons on shore in areas adjacent to the water for communications relating to the operational and business needs of the associated vessel to provide flexibility in the use of marine radio equipment in a manner that furthers maritime safety....

The commission went on to further note:

G. Portable Marine VHF Radios on Shore

25. Section 80.115(a)(2) of the Commission’s Rules prohibits the use on shore of a portable marine VHF radio associated with a vessel. The GMDSS Task Force proposed that the rule be amended to allow persons on shore within three miles of the water to use portable marine VHF radios to communicate with the vessel that is subject to the ship station authorization. The Commission, however, noted that limitations on the use of maritime frequencies are intended to minimize interference to maritime communications (particularly distress and safety messages), and tentatively concluded that permitting the use of portable marine VHF radio transmitters on shore would not further the public interest. We questioned the practical enforceability of a three-mile rule, and asked whether shore parties’ communications needs could be met by commercial mobile radio service (CMRS) or PRS options. The Commission also asked commenters supporting the proposal to discuss what limitations would be appropriate to minimize the impact on maritime communications.

26. The GMDSS Task Force acknowledges that CMRS options likely will be preferred in areas with reliable coverage, and asserts that this makes it unlikely that use of low-powered portable marine VHF radio radios on land will interfere with maritime communications. It also argues that permitting such use will further the public interest by encouraging more boaters to a carry a VHF radio, which has safety benefits not available from CMRS or PRS options because marine VHF channels can be used to contact the Coast Guard and other nearby vessels in a distress situation, for bridge-to-bridge communications, and to receive maritime safety information broadcasts.

27. We agree with commenters that the public interest will be served by allowing the use of portable VHF radios ashore, so long as it is limited to enhancing the usefulness of marine VHF radios without negatively affecting maritime communications. Such limited onshore use will promote flexibility in the use of marine radio equipment in a manner that furthers maritime safety by encouraging more boaters to a carry a VHF radio. Specifically, as suggested by ACR, we will permit use of portable marine VHF radios only in areas adjacent to the water, such as docks and beaches. In addition, as suggested by RTCM, and consistent with our requirements for offshore use, onshore communications using such radios must relate to the operational and business needs of the associated vessel, and must be limited to the minimum practicable transmission time. We amend Section 80.115 accordingly. We caution operators that the Commission’s Enforcement Bureau will continue to investigate complaints against operators who improperly use marine VHF radios, particularly any violation that concerns unauthorized transmissions on 156.800 MHz (VHF Channel 16).


The FCC announcement does not cite the actual changed regulations. The announcement simply says, "We amend Section 80.115 accordingly." Below I faithfully reproduce that section of the regulations as I found them:

The Actual Amended Regulations (Dated December 15, 2016, three and a half months after announcement)

§ 80.115 Operational conditions for use of associated ship units.

(a) Associated ship units may be operated under a ship station authorization. Use of an associated ship unit is restricted as follows;

(1) It must only be operated on the safety and calling frequency 156.800 MHz or 156.525 MHz or on commercial or noncommercial VHF intership frequencies appropriate to the class of ship station with which it is associated.

(2) Except for safety purposes, it must only be used to communicate with the ship station with which it is associated or with associated ship units of the same ship station. Such associated ship units may be used from shore only adjacent to the waterway (such as on a dock or beach) where the ship is located. Communications from shore must relate to the operational and business needs of the ship including the transmission of safety information, and must be limited to the minimum practicable transmission time.

(3) It must be equipped to transmit on the frequency 156.800 MHz or 156.525 MHz and at least one appropriate intership frequency.

(4) Calling must occur on the frequency 156.800 MHz or 156.525 MHz unless calling and working on an intership frequency has been prearranged.

(5) Power is limited to one watt.

(6) The station must be identified by the call sign of the ship station with which it is associated and an appropriate unit designator.

(b) State or local government vehicles used to tow vessels involved in search and rescue operations are authorized to operate on maritime mobile frequencies as associated ship units. Such operations must be in accordance with paragraph (a) of this section, except that the associated ship unit: May be operated from shore; may use Distress, Safety and Calling, Intership Safety, Liaison, U.S. Coast Guard, or Maritime Control VHF intership frequencies; and may have a transmitter power of 25 watts.

[ 51 FR 31213, Sept. 2, 1986, as amended at 81 FR 90746, Dec. 15, 2016]


Giving these regulations a careful reading, I find the important aspects for recreational boaters are as follows:

--the handheld radio is referred to as an "associated ship unit;"

--the radio must be used from shore only adjacent to the waterway (such as on a dock or beach) where the ship is located;

--the communications must must relate to the operational and business needs of the ship including the transmission of safety information, and must be limited to the minimum practicable transmission time;

-the frequencies that are required are: 156.800 (Channel 16) or 156.525. (Channel 70--the digital selective calling non-voice channel), and one other appropriate intership frequency;

--calling must be on Channel 16 or by DSC unless a working channel has been prearranged;

--power is limited to 1-Watt;

--the shore station is to be identified with the callsign of ship station.

For recreational boaters, an appropriate intership channel varies with geographic location. For help in identifying appropriate channels for intership radio contact, see the VHF Marine Band band plan at the USCG website:

https://www.navcen.uscg.gov/?pageName=mtVhf

As I read the band plan, appropriate intership channels for recreational boats are: 06 (Safety related), 68, 69, 71 72,

For recreational boats in the Great Lakes, appropriate intership channels would also include 1079 (formerly 79A, Great Lakes only), 1080 (formerly 80A, Great Lakes only).

To summarize: you can use your handheld radio ashore to call your associated ship with 1-Watt using Channel 16 or using DSC, then switch to either 06, 68, 69, 71, or 72, unless in the Great Lakes where 1079 and 1080 can also be used. Only communicate about matter related to the operation of the ship. Keep transmission to a minimum.

jimh
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Re: FCC Modifies Regulations to Permit Handheld Radios to be Used On Shore

Postby jimh » Thu Jun 22, 2017 2:30 pm

As the FCC mentions, recreeational boaters can still make use of the Personal Radio Services (PRS) to enhance their capabilities for ship-to-shore communication with handheld radios. Regarding the Personal Radio Services, that is a general category name for the following radio services:

--Citizens Band Radio Service (CB)
--Family Radio Service (FRS)
--General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) (requires an FCC license to operate)
--Low-Power Radio Service (LPRS), and
--Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS).

A previous article describes some useful radio equipment for the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) and Family Radio Service (FRS). See

GMRS Radios for Boat-to-shore
viewtopic.php?f=9&t=106&p=595

Many boaters already own handheld radios that operate in the FRS band and the VHF Marine Band. I am not aware of any fixed mount radios that offer such a dual band operation.

jimh
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Re: FCC Modifies Regulations to Permit Handheld Radios to be Used On Shore

Postby jimh » Sat Jun 24, 2017 9:25 am

I just noticed a possible glitch in the new rules for recreational boaters. Note this element in the regulations:

Associated ship units may be operated under a ship station authorization.


Most recreational boats do not have an FCC ship station license. They operate their VHF Marine Band radios under the concept of being licensed by rule. One could infer that recreational boaters do not possess a ship station license. However, the regulations do not say "license", they just say "authorization." Since recreational boaters are authorized to transmit from their ships (by virtue of being licensed by rule), then I guess they are covered by this rule change and can use "associated ship units" on shore in the limited manner provided by the new regulations.

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Don McIntyre - MI
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Re: FCC Modifies Regulations to Permit Handheld Radios to be Used On Shore

Postby Don McIntyre - MI » Sun Jul 30, 2017 1:40 pm

And it does not say "must..."

jimh
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Re: FCC Modifies Regulations to Permit Handheld Radios to be Used On Shore

Postby jimh » Thu Aug 03, 2017 9:42 pm

Don--re the wording "may" instead of "must": If you don't operate your handheld VHF Marine Band radio from shore under the authorization of the ship station license, then you would have to get a SHORE STATION LICENSE. That was the situation in effect BEFORE this change. So your comment seems to be suggesting that the wording "may" is to be read as allowing boaters the option of getting a shore station license to operate from shore. They already had that option--it was the only option before the rule change. Now the Commission informs boaters they "may" operate from shore under the authorization of their ship transmitter, either from an individually licensed ship station or from a licensed by rule situation (if the boat qualifies for that category). A licensee that already has a shore station license can continue to operate on shore with his handheld radio under that shore station license.

The revised regulation allows operation from shore using the "authorization" you already have to operate from your vessel, which for commercial vessels and for some recreational vessels will be their FCC-issued SHIP STATION LICENSE. But, as I noted, the regulations refer only to the "authorization" to operate from your vessel, which suggests that since most recreational vessels do not have their own ship station license but instead are licensed by rule, they can also operate a handheld radio on shore under that "ship authorization."