Marine Radio Regulations

What are the Legal Requirements for Marine Radio?

Each flag state (country) manages radio use both in its territory and on board its ships. By international agreement most countries (and in particular all of Europe) have agreed to common standards.

Here in the UK, marine radio is the joint responsibility of the MCA and Ofcom. The MCA in turn have delegated their responsibility for training and examining seafarers for GMDSS to the RYA and AMERC.

There are 3 radio regulatory frameworks that apply on board a vessel

  1. Mandatory fitting of “type approved” radio communication equipment.
  2. Ship’s radio licence.
  3. Radio operator’s certificate of competence.

Mandatory fitting of radio Communication Equipment

In the UK all ships (including yachts and pleasure craft) are covered by the Merchant Shipping Act (MSA).

  • Vessels under 13.7m (45 feet) need only comply with SOLAS V, however common sense and best practice, says carrying an appropriate marine radio is sensible. Vessels use commercially must additionally comply with the relevant Code of Practice (coding) which will also dictate minimum carriage requirements.
  • Vessels over 13.7m must comply with the carriage requirements of the MSA
  • Ships over 300 GRT must be GMDSS compliant.

Ships Radio Licence

It is an internationally agreed legal requirement to have a ship’s radio licence. On the ship’s radio licence you will find the ship’s international callsign and,  its 9 digit MMSI number (MMSI is only provided if the vessel carries DSC equipment).

Callsigns and MMSI numbers are internationally allocated. If you know a vessel’s name, callsign or MMSI number you can look up the vessel particulars on the MARS database which is managed by the the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) . USA ships are recorded by the FCC.

  • Click here for ITU ship database

A ships radio license can be compared to a vehicle registration. It is independent from the operator’s license (see below).


Radio Operator’s Certificate of Competence

The person (or people)  responsible for operating the radio should hold a marine radio operator’s Certificate of Competence before using transmitting equipment on marine allocated frequencies or channels.

Here in Europe the types of certificates and the syllabus are set by CEPT. There are 4 levels of GMDSS Certificate of Competence available here in the UK, these are:

  1. Short Range Certificate, for non-SOLAS ships operating a marine VHF radio.
  2. Long Range Certificate, for non-SOLAS ships operating a marine MF/HF (SSB), VHF and Inmarsat equipment.
  3. Restricted Operator Certificate for SOLAS ships operating a marine VHF equipment.
  4. General Operator Certificate for SOLAS ships operating a marine MF/HF (SSB), VHF and Inmarsat equipment.

To identify which level of GMDSS Certificate of Competence you require visit GMDSS Courses.

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