VHF Radiotelephone Operating Procedures: Callsign

VHF Marine Band radios, protocol, radio communication theory, practical advice; AIS; DSC; MMSI; EPIRB.
jimh
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VHF Radiotelephone Operating Procedures: Callsign

Postby jimh » Tue May 29, 2018 11:44 am

The FCC rules covering ship stations in the Maritime Service are given in Part 80. The procedures for radiotelephone station identification are given in 47 CFR 80.102 - Radiotelephone station identification.

Stations are identified by their callsign. If a ship has an FCC-issued ship station license, it will have a callsign, typically in the form Wnnxxxx, where nn are two additional letters and xxxx is a four digit number, for example, WAB1234. The regulations require:

(a)Except as provided in paragraphs (d) and (e) of this section, stations must give the call sign in English. Identification must be made:
    (1) At the beginning and end of each communication with any other station.

    (2) At 15 minute intervals when transmission is sustained for more than 15 minutes. When public correspondence is being exchanged with a ship or aircraft station, the identification may be deferred until the completion of the communications.
...(c) Ship stations transmitting on any authorized VHF bridge-to-bridge channel may be identified by the name of the ship in lieu of the call sign.

(d) Ship stations operating in a vessel traffic service system or on a waterway under the control of a U.S. Government agency or a foreign authority, when communicating with such an agency or authority may be identified by the name of the ship in lieu of the call sign, or as directed by the agency or foreign authority.

(e)...For terrestrial systems using DSC to establish radiotelephone communications, the identification is made at the beginning of the call. In these cases, both parties must identify themselves by ship name, call sign or MMSI at least once every 15 minutes during radiotelephone communications.


When applying for an FCC ship station license, the application form has a field for ship name. The directions note:

Other Required Information
...Item 7 Enter the name of the ship, if it has one. If it does not, it is suggested that you name your ship for identification purposes and your own safety. If your ship is not named, and you have not provided a State Registration number in item 5, your application will be returned.


It is thus assumed if your ship has a formal FCC-issued ship station license, then your ship also has a name, and if not name then it has a state registration number. This is the logician's conclusion from the instructions, because if your ship lacks BOTH a name and a state registration number, then you cannot get an FCC ship station license.

In some circumstances of radio communication described above in the Part 80 regulations, you can use the ship name in lieu of the callsign. The mention of "any authorized VHF bridge-to-bridge channel" seems to refer to only two channels: Channel 13 (everywhere) or Channel 67 (only on lower Misssippi River).

Many recreational boats do not have an FCC-issued ship station licensed because they fall under the category licensed-by-rule:

47 CFR 80.13 - Station license required
...(c) A ship station is licensed by rule and does not need an individual license issued by 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. A ship station licensed by rule is authorized to transmit radio signals using a marine radio operating in the 156-162 MHz band....Even though an individual license is not required, a ship station licensed by rule must be operated in accordance with all applicable operating requirements, procedures, and technical specifications found in this part.


Because a voluntarily-equipped recreational vessel licensed-by-rule does not have an FCC-issued callsign, the method for that station to identify is not exactly specified by the FCC in Part 80, at least not as I can find. The USCG does have advice on their website section Radio Information for Boaters. While not explicitly defining a callsign for a licensed-by-rule station, the USCG does mention that the MMSI of the vessel or the vessel name or the state registration number of the vessel should be used in certain radio exchanges:

  • In "Procedure for VHF Channel 16 MAYDAY" the USCG says to "[give the] Name of vessel in distress (spoken three times) and call sign or boat registration number, spoken once." This suggests that the boat registration number is the equivalent of an FCC-issued callsign.
  • In "Procedure for Calling a Ship by Radio" the USCG gives this example: Blue Duck: "Mary Jane, this is Blue Duck" (the name of the vessel or MMSI being called may be said 2 or 3 times if conditions warrant)." This suggests that the boat name or its MMSI is the equivalent of an FCC-issued callsign.

Wikipedia opines about maritime callsigns: "Leisure craft with VHF radios may not be assigned call signs, in which case the name of the vessel is used instead." No source of authority is cited. This is mentioned again in another article: "Leisure craft boats with VHF radios do not have to be assigned call signs, in which case the name of the vessel is used instead."

It is a very common--indeed just about universal--practice for recreational vessels to use only their vessel name as an identification in VHF Marine Band radiotelephone communication, but I am interested in finding if this practice is codified anywhere in the FCC or USCG regulations. So far I have not found it. Any suggestions where it could be found will be welcomed.

jimh
Posts: 11862
Joined: Fri Oct 09, 2015 12:25 pm
Location: Michigan, Lower Peninsula
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Re: VHF Radiotelephone Operating Procedures: Callsign

Postby jimh » Tue May 29, 2018 12:35 pm

I think I have found an official reference that describes how to provide ship station identification. From the FCC website on ship radio stations, under the tab for Operations, under the heading Procedures:

Station identification. Identify, in English, your station by your FCC call sign, ship name, the state registration number or official number at the beginning and end of each message.


So there we have it. Four methods to identify a ship station when transmitting via radiotelephone in the VHF Marine Band:
  1. FCC call sign,
  2. ship name,
  3. the state registration number, or
  4. official number