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Author Topic:   Legality of using VHF hand-held by crew overboard
Chuck Tribolet posted 01-10-2011 05:30 PM ET (US)   Profile for Chuck Tribolet   Send Email to Chuck Tribolet  
Does anybody know the legalities of using a marine band
hand-held to call for help after falling overboard.
Technically, you aren't on a boat any more.

The question is provoke by the impending arrival of this: which is a seriously
waterproof (you can take it SCUBA diving) DSC marine-band
hand-held and GPS. It's getting a good deal of attention in
the dive community.


dfmcintyre posted 01-10-2011 06:41 PM ET (US)     Profile for dfmcintyre  Send Email to dfmcintyre     
Chuck -

That triggered some bit of memory from decades ago that said that an emergency situation pretty much trumps legality issues. YMMV if it's used for standard day to day comm.


20dauntless posted 01-10-2011 09:13 PM ET (US)     Profile for 20dauntless    
I keep a portable VHF, GPS, and PLB attached to my life jacket and wear it whenever I'm out of the pilothouse. If I fell in and couldn't get myself back aboard, I wouldn't hesitate to trigger the PLB and contact nearby boaters and the Coast Guard via VHF. I can't imagine anyone minding my use of the VHF in that situation.

I don't know what the law says for use by people in the water. I doubt you'd run into any objections if used in an emergency, but divers may have a problem if they are chatting with other divers, particularly if they aren't on the correct channels.

Chuck Tribolet posted 01-11-2011 08:30 AM ET (US)     Profile for Chuck Tribolet  Send Email to Chuck Tribolet     
The dive community isn't discussing it as a chat device,
but rather a way of being saved when swept away from the
boat. It does happen. It might well have saved one of our
own forum members, had he had one, a few years ago.


David Pendleton posted 01-11-2011 02:07 PM ET (US)     Profile for David Pendleton  Send Email to David Pendleton     
Considering it's legal for me to transmit on amateur frequencies I am not licensed for in the event of an emergency, I would say it's also legal to operate a marine radio while not on a vessel in an emergency.

Here are the rules as they apply to amateur radio.

Sec. 97.405 Station in distress.

(a) No provision of these rules prevents the use by an amateur station in distress of any means at its disposal to attract attention,
make known its condition and location, and obtain assistance.
(b) No provision of these rules prevents the use by a station, in the exceptional circumstances described in paragraph (a) of this section, of any means of radio communications at its disposal to assist a
station in distress.

K Albus posted 01-12-2011 09:57 AM ET (US)     Profile for K Albus  Send Email to K Albus     
I have reviewed the federal regulations relating to marine band VHF radios, and it is apparent that they don’t contemplate the use of a radio such as the one included in the Nautilus Lifeline. The regulations are clearly drafted with two types of marine band VHF radios in mind – those located on vessels and those located on land. They do not appear to address in any significant manner a marine band VHF radio which is adrift at sea with a lost scuba diver.

With that in mind, here’s my take on the application of the regulations to the Nautilus Lifeline:

1. The Nautilus Lifeline does not appear to come within the definition of “ship station” contained in the federal regulations. The regulations define “ship station” as “[a] mobile station in the maritime mobile service located on board a vessel which is not permanently moored, other than a survival craft station. If the Nautilus Lifeline is with a lost scuba diver, it will not be “on board a vessel”, and thus, it does not appear that it would come within the definition of “ship station”. It appears that the Nautilus Lifeline more closely fits the definition of “survival craft station” which is “[a] mobile station in the maritime or aeronautical mobile service intended solely for survival purposes and located on any lifeboat, liferaft or other survival equipment.” The VHF radio included with the Nautilus Lifeline appears to be “located on . . . other survival equipment.” As a result, it appears that the Nautilus Lifeline is a “survival craft station”. The definitions cited here can be found in 47 CFR 80.5:

2. Section 80.13(a) of the regulations provides that all stations in maritime service must be licensed, except as noted in § 80.13(c). Section 80.13(c) provides an exception to the licensing requirement for a “ship station” which is not required by law, and which does not travel to foreign ports or make international communications. (This is the exception which applies to VHF radios on most recreational vessels.) See 47 CFR 80.13: . If the Nautilus Lifeline is with a lost scuba diver, it does not come within the definition of “ship station”. As a result, it does not appear that the licensing exception would be applicable. It does appear, however, that the licensing exception would be applicable as long as the Nautilus Lifeline is onboard a vessel.

3. No operator license is required to operate a survival craft station. See 47 CFR 177(a)(2): (Section 177(a)(5) provides the exception that allows most recreational vessels on domestic voyages to operate a VHF radio without an operator license.)

4. In the real world, it is very unlikely that you would ever be cited for possessing or using the Nautilus Lifeline for its intended purpose. If you are a lost scuba diver and you use the Nautilus Lifeline to signal for help, there is virtually no chance the FCC, the Coast Guard, or any other agency will take any enforcement action against you for not having a license. However, if you use the Nautilus Lifeline to send false distress signals, either from land or from somewhere on the water (but not in a vessel), you can probably expect to be fined for not having a proper license, on top of the fines you will receive for sending the false distress signal. If I was diving in a remote location in the United States, I would have no qualms about taking a Nautilus Lifeline with me.

Please note that the above is just “my take” on what I believe to be the applicable regulations. This is not a legal opinion. There is no intention on my part to form an attorney-client relationship with anybody reading this thread, nor is there any intention on my part to provide a legal opinion to anybody regarding the use of the Nautilus Lifeline.

K Albus posted 01-12-2011 09:59 AM ET (US)     Profile for K Albus  Send Email to K Albus     
Chuck, you should send an email to Nautilus Lifeline and ask them for their take on the licensing requirements. Their website is curiously devoid of any information whatsoever relating to licensing.
conch posted 01-12-2011 12:11 PM ET (US)     Profile for conch  Send Email to conch     
Interesting product. Their website says certification anticipated March 2011. Listing an address in Richmond,British Columbia, Canada.
Menemsha69 posted 01-14-2011 03:38 PM ET (US)     Profile for Menemsha69  Send Email to Menemsha69     
Chuck- If I were swept overboard or left in the water by a dive boat, I think I'd be begging for someone to come arrest me!-k
Phil T posted 01-14-2011 04:21 PM ET (US)     Profile for Phil T  Send Email to Phil T     

Since I boat alone, 90% of the time, I purchased a Standard Horizon HX-850S (with dsc and GPS) handheld and wear it on my PFD in case I fall overboard or get ejected form the boat.

I hope to god I never use it.


jimh posted 01-17-2011 11:29 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
For recreational vessels the FCC regulations permit operation of VHF Marine Band radios without a station license or an operator's license. I am not aware of any special regulations affecting use of hand-held VHF Marine Band radios when at sea aboard recreational vessels.

If the FCC allows manufacture and sale of the particular radio in question, and the radio is clearly intended for use by people in the water, it seems reasonable to infer that the FCC is endorsing such use.

K Albus posted 01-17-2011 12:48 PM ET (US)     Profile for K Albus  Send Email to K Albus     
Jim, your inference is probably not reasonable. First, the product's website indicates that it has not yet been certified. Second, as set forth in my post above, the product does not seem to fit into the existing regulations when used by a person who is adrift in the water.

Assuming the product is eventually certified, there should be no legal problem using the product while on a vessel without a station license or an operator license. The legality of using the product for its intended purpose, i.e., while adrift apart from a vessel, remains unclear. The reality of the situation is that using the product for its intended purpose in a real emergency is unlikely to result in any criminal sanctions. However, I don't think you can fairly say that the FCC endorses the use of this product.

jimh posted 01-17-2011 02:11 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
My comments are preceded by an introductory qualifying phrase:

"If the FCC allows manufacture..."

The use of the verb "endorse" is perhaps questionable. The FCC generally does not endorse equipment, but merely certifies it meets regulations.

The FCC is probably too busy with more important matters of spectrum allocation to investigate too deeply into these murky waters.

andygere posted 01-18-2011 01:07 PM ET (US)     Profile for andygere  Send Email to andygere     
If you are floating out in the ocean, using your BC or PFD for flotation, are you not really the same thing as any other undocumented human powered craft such as a canoe or kayak?

The device itself looks pretty slick, and I'm surprised the manufacturers are not also marketing it as a safety device for recreational and commercial boaters.

Landlocked posted 01-25-2011 06:16 PM ET (US)     Profile for Landlocked  Send Email to Landlocked     
I'd look at the same way as I do the pistol under my seat or in my tackel box on long trips. If I don't need it, no one will ever know I have it. If I need it, I don't care who knows. Better to be alive and in trouble than dead and in compliance.


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