FCC Licensing for the Maritime Radio Service for Recreational Boaters

VHF Marine Band radios, protocol, radio communication theory, practical advice; AIS; DSC; MMSI; EPIRB.
jimh
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FCC Licensing for the Maritime Radio Service for Recreational Boaters

Postby jimh » Mon Sep 04, 2023 8:11 am

For the VHF Marine Band, as a recreational boater you are NOT required to equip your boat with a VHF Marine Band radio. If you do install a radio, your status will be as voluntarily-equipped.

With regard to licensing, the FCC provides two types of licenses:
  • a STATION license, and
  • an OPERATOR license.

An FCC-issued SHIP STATION LICENSE comes with an FCC CALLSIGN. The callsign is the official identifier of the radio station, and (technically) should be used to identify the station when transmitting. An FCC ship station callsign will be in the format of WDH1234 or similar combination of letters and numbers. The "W" is a radio callsign prefix assigned to the United States.

The FCC regulations allow boats that voluntarily-equip with a VHF Marine Band radio--again that means there is no regulation that requires them to install a radio--to have an exemption and to NOT need an FCC-issued ship station license. Radio transmission by boats without a formal callsign are then identified by the boat's name or by the state registration number.

In general, ANY radio transmitter requires the operator to have an appropriate OPERATOR'S LICENSE, but in the case of voluntarily-equipped boats, an operator license is not mandatory, as long as certain conditions are met. (More below.)

The term for omission of mandatory station license and operator license is "licensed by rule." Note that being licensed by rule does not exempt the owner or operator from complying with all rules regulating the radio service. You need to know the rules and obey them.

The RULES for the MARITIME SERVICE are given in CFR Title 47 Part 80. You can read the rules on-line at:

https://www.ecfr.gov/current/title-47/c ... t-80?toc=1

The rule requiring a station license is stated in paragraph 80.13. Subpart (c) creates the exemption. It says:

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, any type of AIS, any type of EPIRB, and any type of radar installation. All other transmissions must be authorized under a ship station license. 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.


If you are not exempted by the above paragraph, then you need to acquire a STATION LICENSE from the FCC.

You do not "buy" a license. You are "granted" a license by the FCC. The FCC assess a fee based on two elements:
  • a fee for use of the radio spectrum; the fee to use the VHF Marine Band spectrum is not particularly steep;
  • an administrative fee for processing the application, creating the license grant, and handling all the paperwork involved.

The grant of a ship station license is for a certain TERM, usually ten years. The license expires at the end of the term of the license grant, unless renewed.

Regarding fees, the last time I renewed the SHIP STATION LICENSE for my boat I believe the fee was about $230. Some boaters react to this with upset, but I look at the $230 over ten years as a $23-per-year cost associated with boating.

Regarding Operator's Licensing, you do not need an operator's license when operating "domestically" on a boat with a voluntarily-equipped radio. Certain circumstances will require an operator's license:
  • operating a radio on a boat required to have a radio
  • operating in foreign waters, or
  • making international radio contacts.
If any of those circumstances apply, an operator's license is needed.

The MINIMUM category of authorization needed to operate a VHF Marine Band radio is the RESTRICTED RADIOTELEPHONE OPERATOR PERMIT. This is the LOWEST level of operator category needed. If you already hold a higher class FCC operator's license, you do not need to apply for a RESTRICTED RADIOTELEPHONE OPERATOR PERMIT. There are about a dozen other classes of radio operator's license issued by the FCC which are superior to the RESTRICTED RADIOTELEPHONE OPERATOR PERMIT. When someone says, "you NEED a RESTRICTED RADIOTELEPHONE OPERATOR PERMIT, that is not quite correct. The permit is the lowest level authorization with the most limited allowed usage of a radiotelephone.

Note that an Amateur Radio Operator License is not valid for the Maritime Service. See 47-CFR-80.151 Operator Requirements for details.

https://www.ecfr.gov/current/title-47/c ... -D/part-80

Unlike the other categories of operator licensing which required passing exams, no examination is needed to obtain the RESTRICTED RADIOTELEPHONE OPERATOR PERMIT. The applicant just avows he has read the rules, understands, the rules, and will comply with the rules. And the permit is good for the lifetime of the applicant. I believe the cost is about $60

For a very good, comprehensive summary of ship station and operator licenses, visit the the FCC.GOV website and read at this page:

https://www.fcc.gov/wireless/bureau-div ... o-stations

The best source of information about government regulations that regulate an activity is generally from the government's own publications, and with the advent of the internet, the entire Code of Federal Regulations is available on-line, and with regard to radio licensing, the FCC has created very good information on their website.