The primary function of maritime radio is to ensure safety of life and vessels at sea. To prevent unnecessary interference, the radio spectrum worldwide is governed by the international Radio Regulations. For a vessel owned by a UK citizen or registered in the UK this means that all maritime radio equipment must be:
- compliant with national requirements
- covered by a Ship Radio Licence
- operated by (or under the direct supervision of) a holder of a maritime radio operator’s certificate
Full details of each of these requirements can be found in Ofcom booklet “Ship Radio Information” Of19a.
Ofcom also licences requirements for marine radio (other than ships). Details of the licences available can be found on the Ofcom web-site and the RYA also provides guidance on the regulations for the benifit of clubs.
Ship Radio Licence
A Ship Radio Licence is appropriate, unless you are licensing a portable, hand-held VHF (or DSC VHF) for use on more than one vessel (which requires aÂ Ship Portable Radio Licence). A Ship Radio Licence is required as soon as any radio equipment is carried on board a vessel.
This could include any of the following (and this list is not exhaustive):
- Fixed or portable VHF or VHF/DSC Radio
- MF / HF Radio equipment
- AIS transponder
- EPIRB or PLB
- Satellite Communications / SES equipment
Your Ship Radio Licence document details what equipment is covered by the licence and should be updated whenever changes are made to the equipment onboard. You must request a variation to your Ship Radio Licence if you have an Active Radar Target Enhancer and / or an ATIS capable VHF on board your boat as they are not available to select on the list of licensable equipment.
Ship Portable Radio Licence
A Ship Portable Radio Licence is appropriate if you wish to use a hand held VHF on more than one vessel in UK territorial waters. The T-numbered call sign, issued with a Ship Portable Radio Licence is not internationally recognised (nor recognised by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)) and hence it only licences use in UK territorial waters.
Use on the high seas is not prohibited by the terms of the licence, however such use may conflict with international requirements, particularly in proximity of territorial waters of other administrations. Radio use in the territorial waters of other administrations is subject to the regulations and authorisations of those administrations. therefore a Ship Radio Licence and an international call sign are required even if the vessel in question is only carrying a handheld VHF.
Handheld VHF with DSC
A draft standard (the UK Interface Requirement) has been developed to allow Ofcom to authorise the use of hand held VHF DSC in UK territorial waters. It is therefore now possible for Hand held VHF DSC sets, which conform with the UK Interface Requirement, to be individually licenced with a UK Ship Portable radio licence.
Licensing can at present not be extended to authorising use outside UK territorial waters, however Ofcom has made a submission to the European Commission so that other Member States can comment. In the mean time as Ofcom views hand held VHF DSC as an important aid to safety particularly for those in small boats, it is pressing ahead and authorising the use of qualifying sets in UK territorial waters.
Full details of how to identify sets which can be licenced and information on how the set can be used under the Ship Portable Radio Licence are available in the Ofcom Ship Radio VHF FAQs.
Call signs and MMSI
Vessel callsigns are allocated when the first application for that vessel is made for a Ship Radio Licence. This callsign remains with the vessel regardless of changes of ownership or vessel name, unless it ceases to be a UK vessel, is destroyed or is unlicensed for a period of two or more years.
Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) numbers are only issued when DSC (Digital Selective Calling) and or Ship Earth Station (SES) equipment is fitted on a vessel. This will happen when either an application for a new Ship Radio Licence or an amendment to the equipment on board a vessel with an existing licence is made.
A hand held DSC set should not be programmed with the MMSI allocated on the Ship Radio Licence as using a hand held DSC programmed with an MMSI, other than one that starts 2359xxxxx, is not authorised by the Ship Radio (or Ship Portable Radio) Licence and is therefore unlawful.
A hand held VHF with DSC should be licensed on a Ship Portable Radio licence and programmed with the allocated MMSI 2359xxxxx.
Ofcom is required to collect details of the vessels it licences and their equipment which is contained within the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Maritime Mobile Access and Retrieval System (MARS) database.
EPIRB / PLB
As they are radio transmitters, EPIRBs must be licensed through the Ship Radio Licence, however they should also be registered with the MCA EPIRB Registry to ensure that the Rescue Co-ordination Centres (MRCC) have the information they require for search and rescue, in the event that an EPIRB is activated. In the UK MMSI numbers are not issued to EPIRBs.
Maritime Radio Operator’s Certificate
Without a maritime radio operator’s certificate, a VHF radio may be monitored for safety purposes or used to summon assistance in a distress situation, but it may not be used for general transmissions.
General transmissions can only be made by a licensed operator or by someone under the direct supervision of a licensed operator.
The Short Range Certificate is the most common operator’s certificate which covers the use of VHF and VHF/DSC equipment. The SRC is available through RYA recognised training centres.
The Long Range Certificate is required for MF, HF and satellite communications equipment. The LRC is administered by the Association of Marine Electronic and Radio Colleges (AMERC) Tel 01539 440218.