Getting Your Marine VHF Radio Licence

One of the most popular questions customers ask us is how you get a marine radio VHF licence. We have answered this in various ways on our website but never as definitive article. So here we take you through the steps to get one, why you need one and a few other important factors to consider in the process.

Do I Need A Marine VHF Licence?

Getting Your Marine VHF Radio Licence

Anyone who uses a Marine VHF Radio needs a licence. If you are a sailor, powerboater, kayaker, angler or even a paddleboarder, you will most certainly need a marine radio. It is one of the most important safety tools you can take to the sea and will help to keep you safe allowing you to contact other boat users, marinas and the Coastguard. If you need a radio, you may need both a radio licence and an operator's licence. This depends on the type of radio you have and how you use it.

Once installed in a vessel, a marine VHF radio requires a ship's radio licence. This can be obtained via the OFCOM (Office of Communications) website. In the UK, the ship’s radio licence has been issued free of charge for the lifetime of the vessel since 2006. It will be checked for correct details every ten years. If you sell the boat or radio you can now transfer the new owner's details over to the MMSI (Maritime Mobile Service Identity) number in the radio (other way round – transfer the MMSI number). A few years ago you had to return the radio to the manufacturer to get the MMSI number removed and the new owner would have to apply for a new one to program into the set. Ofcom would write to the previous owner to confirm the transfer and revoke the previous owners licence.

Once an MMSI is registered with Ofcom, the ITU and the MCA are informed so if searched on the ITU (International Telecommunications Union) MARS database (Maritime Access & retrieval system) your MMSI number will appear. You would need to input the ship’s name and country and search for the owner’s details. The ITU and MCA are informed to assist with SAR (Search and Rescue Operations).

The Ship's Radio Licence

Ship's (VHF) licence:
In the majority of cases the licence required will be a Ship's (VHF) Licence which 'authorises the use of two-way communications with other vessels, aircraft, shore stations and marinas using specific frequencies within the International Maritime Band'.

Ship portable radio licence:
Handheld VHF/DSC radios require a special Licence. This licence enables the operator to use any handheld marine VHF/DSC radio which is not permanently fitted to a vessel. The Licence number will be prefixed with the letter 'T' (Transportable) and will be subject to checks for correct details every ten years. As no ship call-sign can be allocated to portable VHF, operators must identify themselves by the name or type of the vessel they are onboard and the licence does not extend outside of UK territorial waters.

The Operator's Licence:
As well as the Ship’s Radio Licence you will need an operator's licence. There are several different certificates of competence available depending upon the type of equipment fitted and it’s application. These courses can be undertaken at an RYA or MCA training centre.

The Short Range Certificate (SRC):
This is the licence required to operate VHF equipment, including all VHF DSC equipment on commercial or pleasure craft. This is obtained by sitting/passing an exam and signing a confidentiality agreement with your application document which is sent to the RYA who issue the certificate. Note: If you have an old restricted licence taken on non-DSC equipment you need to apply again to take the Short Range Certificate at an RYA Training centre in order to use DSC radio equipment ( but you won't need to sit the online exam). You can still use your old certification to use a non-DSC radio.

The Long Range Certificate (LRC):
This is the licence required to operate the MF/HF/VHF equipment on any vessel that may be required to fit GMDSS (Global Maritime Distress and Safety System) equipment beyond sea area A1 (typically, 30 to 40 nautical miles from a coastal radio station) under the SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) agreement. These are administered by AMERC.

Other Considerations

Once you have your radio and operator licence, there are other things that you may wish to consider. If you intend to travel on inland waterways in various countries in mainland Europe, you will be to have your radio upgraded to make it ATIS (Automatic Terminal Information Service) compatible. At the end of every transmission the radio sends out a unique FFSK (Fast Frequency Shift Keying) data signal, which contains the ship's unique ATIS call sign. This identifies you to marine coast stations, inland stations and locks. All Icom radios can be programmed with this feature.

Your Next Steps

Getting Your Marine VHF Radio Licence

So in summary, if you have bought a new boat or radio, register your ship's radio with Ofcom and get your ships licence online via Ofcom. This is free of charge online, or you can do this via post, but there is a charge.

You should keep your ship radio licence onboard your vessel for inspection if required. If a valid ships licence cannot be produced on demand, then (especially outside the UK), foreign authorities may confiscate the equipment, take action against the skipper or even detain the vessel.

Apply for your SRC operators certificate via a recognised RYA training centre. There is an exam fee paid to the RYA in addition to the cost of your training course. Both certificates should be kept on board your vessel for inspection if required. RYA training centres can advise you about applying if you are still unsure about anything.

There we have it. We have prepared more articles that go deeper into other subjects related to marine radios and we have put links throughout this article…..they are very much worth reading. Good luck with getting your licences and happy boating.

Our thanks to Aboard Boat Coaching for their help with this article.

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