Announcing a new FCC.gov. Tell us what you think and help shape the future
Federal Communications Commission Logo - Click here to go to the FCC home page

Ship Radio Stations

 

Licensing


Who Needs a Ship Station License

You do not need a license to operate a marine VHF radio, radar, or EPIRBs aboard voluntary ships operating domestically. The term "voluntary ships" refers to ships that are not required by law to carry a radio. Generally, this term applies to recreation or pleasure craft. The term "voluntary ships" does not apply to the following:
  1. Cargo ships over 300 gross tons navigating in the open sea;
  2. Ships certified by the U.S. Coast Guard to carry more than 6 passengers for hire in the open sea or tidewaters of the U.S.;
  3. Power driven ships over 20 meters in length on navigable waterways;
  4. Ships of more than 100 gross tons certified by the U.S. Coast Guard to carry at least one passenger on navigable waterways;
  5. Tow boats of more than 7.8 meters in length on navigable waterways; and,
  6. Uninspected commercial fishing industry vessels required to carry a VHF radio.
  7. Ships required to carry an Automatic Identification System (AIS) transceiver by the U.S. Coast Guard regulations enacted pursuant to the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2000.
Ships are considered as operating domestically when they do not travel to foreign ports or do not transmit radio communications to foreign stations. Sailing in international waters is permitted, so long as the previous conditions are met. If you travel to a foreign port (e.g., Canada, Mexico, Bahamas, British Virgin Islands), a license is required. Additionally, if you travel to a foreign port, you are required to have an operator permit.
 

Radio Equipment You May Use

You do not need a license to use marine VHF radios, any type of EPIRB, any type of radar, GPS or LORAN receivers, depth finders, CB radio, or amateur radio (an amateur license is required). Ships that use MF/HF single side-band radio, satellite communications, or telegraphy must continue to be licensed by the FCC.
Radios with Digital Selective Calling (DSC) Capability
If you have a marine radio with DSC capability, you must obtain a nine-digit maritime mobile service identity (MMSI) number and have it programmed into the unit before you transmit. Each vessel needs only one MMSI number. Prior to obtaining an MMSI number, you will be asked to provide certain information about your ship. It is important that you obtain an MMSI number because the U.S. Coast Guard uses this information to help speed search and rescue operations.
If your vessel requires licensing by the FCC you will obtain an MMSI number during the application/licensing process when you file FCC Forms 159 and 605 with the FCC.
If your vessel does not require a license you may obtain an MMSI by contacting either BoatUS, Sea Tow Service International, Inc., Shine Micro, or United States Power Squadrons. The contact information is contained in the Public Notice (pdf) announcing agreements with and the procedures for private entities to apply to issue MMSIs.
If your vessel requires licensing by the FCC after you have obtained an MMSI number from BoatUS, Sea Tow Service, Shine Micro, Inc., or United States Power Squadrons, that MMSI number cannot be used during the application/licensing process when you file FCC Forms 159 and 605 with the FCC. MMSI numbers issued by other authorized entities are valid only for ship stations that do not have FCC-issued licenses. Since the ULS will not accept the MMSI that was issued by another entity, you should not enter anything on FCC Form 605, Schedule B. Leave the field blank and the FCC will issue you a new MMSI number.
 

Obtaining a License

File FCC Forms 159 and 605 with the FCC, preferably through electronic filing in ULS. The FCC will mail the license to you. The license is valid for a term of ten years. Don't forget to sign and date your application and include any applicable fees; otherwise it will be dismissed.
Licensing a Fleet of Ships
Under certain conditions, two or more ships having a common owner or operator may be issued a fleet license for operation of all ship radio stations aboard the ships in the fleet. This allows an applicant to file a single FCC Form 605 for multiple ships. The total fee due for the fleet license, however, is the fee due for a single license multiplied by the total number of ships in the fleet. You must retain a copy of the fleet license with the station records on each ship. Fleet licensing is not available for any vessel required to have its own MMSI number; such vessels must be licensed individually.
 

Obtaining a Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit

File FCC Forms 159 and 605 with the FCC. You do not need to take a test to obtain this permit. The FCC will mail the permit to you and it will be valid for your lifetime. Don't forget to sign and date your application and include any applicable fees; otherwise it will be dismissed.
 

Operating a Marine Radio While Your Applications are Being Processed

You may operate your marine radio after you have mailed your application(s) to the FCC so long as you fill out, detach, and retain the temporary operating authority attached to the application form. The temporary operating authority is valid for 90 days after you mail your application to the FCC and should be kept with your station records until you receive your license/permit through the mail.
 

Making Changes During Your License Term

If you change your mailing address, legal name, or ship name, you must complete FCC Form 605 for Administrative Update. There is no fee required. No action is required when you add or replace a transmitter that operates in the same frequency band.
Send your completed form to:
Federal Communications Commission
1270 Fairfield Road
Gettysburg, PA 17325-7245
To change your ship official number or state registration number, you must submit a request by letter to:
Federal Communications Commission
1270 Fairfield Road
Gettysburg, PA 17325-7245
IMPORTANT NOTE: The procedures described above for making changes to your license DO NOT apply if you are selling your vessel. In those circumstances, see the information described below under “What to Do If Selling Your Ship."
 

License Renewals

If you operate a marine VHF radio, radar, or EPIRBs aboard a voluntary ship operating domestically, you are not required to renew your current license. Although a license is no longer required for these ships, you may still renew your license and retain your call sign.
The FCC will send you a Renewal Reminder Notice approximately 120 days prior to the expiration date of your license. You must submit FCC Form 605 along with the proper payment to renew your license.
If you send an application for renewal before your current license expires, you may continue to operate until the FCC acts on your application. You do not need a temporary permit but you should keep a copy of the renewal application you send the FCC.
You must stop transmitting as soon as your license expires, unless you have already sent your renewal application to the FCC.
 

License Expiration

If your station license has expired, you must complete FCC Forms 159 and 605 for a NEW station license. There is NO grace period. You may use the temporary operating authority (schedule F on FCC Form 605) to operate your marine radio while your application is being processed.
 

Lost Licenses or Permits

If you lose your license, you must request a duplicate.
For a duplicate SHIP STATION LICENSE, you must complete FCC Forms 159 and 605.
For a duplicate RESTRICTED RADIOTELEPHONE OPERATOR PERMIT there are two possibilities. If you need to replace a lost restricted radiotelephone operator permit that is not recorded in the FCC’s ULS database, you must apply for a new one using FCC Forms 159 and 605. If the restricted radiotelephone operator permit is already recorded in the FCC’s ULS database, you may obtain a duplicate by completing FCC Forms 159 and 605. There are fees required for requesting a duplicate license or a new permit. For additional information, see Public Notice DA 01-1157 (pdf).
 

What to Do If Selling Your Ship

If you sell your ship, you must file FCC Form 605 requesting cancellation to:
Federal Communications Commission
1270 Fairfield Road
Gettysburg, PA 17325-7245
You cannot transfer your SHIP STATION LICENSE to another person or ship. The new owner cannot modify your license, but must apply for a NEW license.
If you have a RESTRICTED RADIOTELEPHONE OPERATOR PERMIT, you should retain it for future use since it is authorized for your lifetime.
 


Universal Licensing System
 Databases
 Daily Transaction Files
 Online Filing
 License Search
 Application Search
Radio Service Codes
SA - Ship Recreational or Voluntarily Equipped
SB - Ship Compulsory Equipped
Return to Top Arrow Return To Top
Last reviewed/updated on
10/10/2008