My FCC Ship Station License: A Catch-22 Situation

VHF Marine Band radios, protocol, radio communication theory, practical advice; AIS; DSC; MMSI; EPIRB.
jimh
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Location: Michigan, Lower Peninsula
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My FCC Ship Station License: A Catch-22 Situation

Postby jimh » Thu Jun 10, 2021 2:48 pm

For many years one of the major uses of my recreational boat was to visit the Canadian waters of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. That activity caused me to need to acquire an FCC-issued SHIP STATION LICENSE, which I did in 2011 and also wrote about the process. The fee for the license in 2011 was $160, and the license term was for ten years. Accordingly, this boating season my ship staton license was due to expire in August.

The FCC kindly sent me via U.S. Postal Service mail a letter notifying me that the license was approaching expiration, and invited me to consider renewal of the license. The letter also explained the outcome if not renewed. The fee has increased to $220, again for ten years. In the total cost of boating an added cost of $22 per year is trivial, so I opted to renew. (The fee increase was announced in 2018.)

The Catch-22 effect is the current situation with regard to visiting Canadian water via small recreational boat: you can't due to health restrictions on immigration to Canada. Without access to Canadian ports, I really have no need for an FCC ship station license, but being an optimist, I expect that maybe the immigration to Canada by boat will be allowed, perhaps not this year but maybe by 2023.

Generally I don't enter Canada by boat; I trailer the boat in at Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. I am sure if I tried that now I would not be allowed entry, and perhaps would open a further imbroglio even attempting to enter.

[A sidebar discussion on entry to Canada by boat has been moved to TRIPS and RENDEZVOUS for discussion.]

jimh
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Location: Michigan, Lower Peninsula
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Re: My FCC Ship Station License: A Catch-22 Situation

Postby jimh » Fri Jun 11, 2021 10:52 am

Re the FCC Ship Station License renewal, I filed the paperwork on-line and paid the fee on-line about 4 p.m. one afternoon, and 1:23 a.m the next morning there was an email from the FCC announcing my license renewal had been granted. The FCC no longer mails you an official copy of the license. You have to log-in to your ULS account and print a PDF file onto a physical piece of paper; the PDF includes the watermark OFFICIAL COPY.

jimh
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Joined: Fri Oct 09, 2015 12:25 pm
Location: Michigan, Lower Peninsula
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Getting an FCC Ship Station License

Postby jimh » Sun Nov 07, 2021 10:10 am

[This is a re-posting of an article I wrote in 2011 when I applied for my first FCC ship station license. It explains the license application process and gives useful links to the FCC's various web resources.]

After thinking about it for perhaps a decade, I decided to get an FCC SHIP STATION LICENSE for my boat. The process of getting the license is an interesting example of modern governance. The reason for getting the license is also driven by modernity. I explain both.

Getting an FCC SHIP STATION License

To interact with the FCC in any license application matter, you must first create or obtain an FCC REGISTRATION NUMBER or FRN. No FRN, no service with FCC. Fortunately, the FCC has a website to help you get started:

http://wireless.fcc.gov/uls/index.htm?job=about_getting_started

Once you have an FRN, you can use the FCC's Universal Licensing Service, or ULS, which is also accessed by a web interface:

http://wireless.fcc.gov/uls/index.htm?job=home

Armed with your FRN and using the ULS, you can apply for a new FCC SHIP STATION license. This will cost you $160 [UPDATE: As of 2021 the fee has increased to $220]. The license is good for ten years, but it is specific to a particular vessel. If you get a new boat, you will have to modify your license. License modifications may not be free if transferring the license to new boat. Administrative changes like your address are generally not charged.

The ULS website will drive you through a long series of forms and data entry, leading up to the point of actually applying for a license. You have to pre-pay the fees with the application. There is no refund if your application is rejected. Take care to fill out the forms accurately!

When it comes time to pay, the FCC will accept payment in credit card form. You will be transported to another website to enter your credit card information.

If all goes well, the process should not take more than an hour of your time. If your license application is approved and the FCC grants you a station license, you should have an electronic confirmation of it in a day or two. A few days later you will get the printed official authorization in the mail.

Why Get a SHIP STATION License

For most recreational boat operators who do not make international voyages, there is no particular need to get an FCC SHIP STATION license for their small boat. However, if you make international voyages in your boat, and operate in foreign water, you may find that the countries you visit can require you to have a station license from your home country. I believe this is the case with Canada. Since we do a great deal of boating in Canadian water, I thought it was time to get an official FCC SHIP STATION license for my small boat.

We have been boating in Canadian water since 1986. In our sailing days, the sailboat had a station license. However, I recall that back in those days the license fee was much lower, about $20 or so. The recent increase in FCC fees has been a disincentive for us to get a license. Also, in 25-years of boating in Canada, no one in any sort of authority has ever raised any question about the status of our boat's radio license. It seems to be a regulation that is ignored entirely in actual practice.

I finally rationalized that an FCC license was only going to be a $16-per-year expense, when amortized over the full ten-year term of the authorization. Of course, that depended on maintaining the same boat for the next ten years, too. I think we have come to a realization that we probably are not going to change boats in the next few years, we like our present boat, and there is a reasonably good chance we might still have it ten years from now. So, on that basis, we ignored the cost of the license. And, we could afford the $160.

Thus, having an FCC SHIP STATION license will make our boating in Canada compliant with their radio regulations. As I said, it is unlikely we will ever find ourselves in a situation where the regulations might be enforced, but if we do we are ready.

There is another advantage to having an FCC SHIP STATION license: you will get a marine mobile service identity (MMSI) that will be registered with the FCC and shared with other nations. It is possible to get an MMSI at no cost from the BoatUS registration system, but those MMSI numbers are said to not be shared with other countries. They are known only to the United States. Again, since, we do so much boating in Canada, it seemed stupid to have a digital selective calling radio (DSC radio) with an EMERGENCY transmit system that was going to send out an MMSI that would not be in any database except in the USA. If we are going to be in an emergency situation, for us it will be more likely to be in Canadian water than in U.S. water. So, perhaps in a bit of rationalization, I decided it would be advantageous to get an official FCC MMSI for our boat. This comes with the SHIP STATION LICENSE (but I think you have to check a box on the form to get an MMSI). If I ever actually have to send an EMERGENCY transmission via DSC, my radio will send an MMSI that will give the responders the proper information, no matter if in the U.S.A or in Canada. I hope I am not going too much on good faith in modern government information systems.

[Update 2021] An AIS transmitter is transmitting in the VHF Marine Band, and in the USA you can operate an AIS transmitter without having an FCC SHIP STATION LICENSE if you meet the licensed-by-rule criteria for "operating domestically" and being "voluntarily equipped" with a radio. However, I infer that operating an AIS transmitter in a foreign country would be the same as operating a VHF Marine Band voice radio transmitter in a foreign country, and thus a SHIP STATION LICENSE would be necessary. So on that basis, if you have an AIS transmitter, and you are going to operate in foreign waters, you most likely should have an FCC SHIP STATION license, and thus you would also have an FCC-issued MMSI for the AIS transmitter.

Finally, an official FCC MMSI will permit the proper rescue authorities in foreign countries (like Canada) to identify the boat via broadcast of the MMSI by an automatic identification system (AIS) Class-B transponder and your DSC radio when sending a DISTRESS ALERT message. I don't actually plan to immediately get a Class-B AIS transponder, but, if the price of these devices drops any lower, I may have to get one just to have one. In any event, I am prepared if I do want to get one with a proper FCC-issued MMSI.

ASIDE: In the United States, a Class-B AIS transponder cannot be configured by the owner for the MMSI data. The manufacturer or the selling agent must configure the transponder with the MMSI data. This requirement is specific to the U.S. and required by the FCC. So you cannot even buy an AIS Class-B transponder unless you have a valid MMSI to be programmed.

A few weeks after I received my FCC SHIP STATION LICENSE and the FCC-issued MMSI number, I checked to see if that data was available to public inquiry at the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Ship Station Search website.

https://www.itu.int/mmsapp/ShipStation/list

I checked it a few times to see if my newly issued license was found; it was not. A check with the FCC in Gettysburg found that the FCC sends data to the ITU on the 15th of each month. About six weeks after my FCC MMSI was issued, my data showed up on the ITU Ship List. This is a good indicator that the MMSI information has been shared with the global rescue coordination centers.