Licensing electronics on board your boat
There are a number of electronic appliances that are extremely useful onboard your boat. From navigation and radio equipment to televisions, the list of equipment you can utilise is long. However, one thing that you may not have been aware of, is the fact that all of these pieces of electronic equipment must be covered by the appropriate licences. This includes all transmitting equipment that you use onboard your boat.
So, we thought we would sit down and outline the different licenses that you may require for all of your electronic equipment. The different items and their licensing that we will be covering include:
- VHF licensing
- Ship radio licensing
- Ship portable radio licensing
- Call signs and MMSI
- TV licensing
- Maritime Radio Operator’s Certificate (SRC/LRC)
As you are most probably already aware, the main reason you would have a VHF radio on your boat is to ensure your safety and the safety of others on your vessel as well as the safety of the vessel itself whilst at sea.
In order to prevent any unnecessary interference when you are on board, the radio spectrum is governed, worldwide, by the international Radio Regulations. If you are a UK citizen or you’re registered in the UK then your maritime radio equipment must adhere to a number of rules and regulations.
This means that your radio equipment must be:
- Compliant with the national requirements
- Covered by a Ship Radio Licence
- Operated by (or under direct supervision of) an individual who holds a maritime radio operator’s certificate
If you want access to the full details of each of these individual requirements, then you should take a look at the Ofcom booklet “Ship Radio Information” Of19a. Ofcom also provides the license requirements for marine radio (other than ships). Which means that all of the details of these licences can be found on their website.
On an additional note, here at BoatShop24.com, we have also written a guide to using a VHF radio, so if you need to brush up your knowledge of this specific piece of equipment, click here now and take a look.
Ship Radio Licence
A Ship Radio Licence is required as soon as any radio equipment is carried onto your vessel. It is, however, not appropriate if you are licensing a portable, handheld VHF radio for use on more than one vessel. If this is the case, then you are required to have a Ship Portable Radio Licence (see below).
Anyway, back to the Ship Radio Licence. This is required for the following equipment, however, this list is not exhaustive:
- Fixed or portable VHF or VHF/DSC Radio
- Satellite Communications / SES equipment
- EPIRB or PLB
- MF / HF Radio equipment
- AIS transponder
- Active Radar Target Enhancer
When you receive your Ship Radio Licence, it will contain details of what equipment is covered. You should, at all times, update the document whenever changes are made to the equipment you have onboard. If you have an ATIS capable VHF onboard your boat then you should request a variation to your Ship Radio License.
Ship Portable Radio Licence
As mentioned above, if you wish to use a handheld VHF radio on more than one vessel, you will be required to obtain a Ship Portable Radio Licence. This only applies to use on UK waters, and the T-numbered call sign that is issued with this licence is not internationally recognised.
The licence doesn’t prohibits use on the high seas, however, the usage could conflict with international requirements, especially if you’re in proximity of territorial waters that belong to other 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
Right, Ofcom is now able, thanks to a draft standard (the UK Interface Requirement), to authorise the use of handheld VHF DSC radios in the UK. This now means that you are able to individually licence handheld VHF DSC sets with a UK Ship Portable Radio Licence, so long as they conform with the UK Interface Requirement.
However, again the licensing is not allowed to extend to authorised use outside of the UK’s territorial waters. This may be the case at present, however, Ofcom has made a submission to the European Commission in order to allow other Member States to comment.
Ofcom does recognise the fact that handheld VHF DSC radios are an important aid to safety. This is particularly the case with those individuals onboard smaller boats. And due to this, it is now authorising the use of qualifying sets in UK waters.
For the full details of which sets are available to be licenced, as well as other information on how the sets can be used under the Ship Portable Radio Licence, head to the Ofcom Ship Radio VHF FAQs page.
EPIRB / PLB
EPIRBs are radio transmitters and they are therefore required to be licensed through the Ship Radio Licence. However, this is not the only requirement as they should also be registered with the MCA Beacon Registry in order to ensure that the Rescue Co-ordination Centres (MRCC) have the information that they will require to carry out a search and rescue. The UK does not require MMSI numbers to be issued to EPIRBs.
Call signs and MMSI
When you first make an application for your vessel for a Ship Radio Licence you will be allocated a vessel call sign. This will remain with your vessel forever, meaning it will not change if the ownership changes hands, or if its name changes. The only way the call sign will end is of the boat ceases to be a UK vessel, if the boat is destroyed, or if the boat becomes unlicenced for a period of two or more years.
MMSI numbers, or Maritime Mobile Service Identity numbers, are only issued when Digital Selective Calling (DSC) or Ship Earth Station (SES) equipment is fitted on your vessel. This will occur when you apply for a new Ship Radio Licence or you amend the equipment that is registered onboard your vessel with an existing licence.
It is unlawful to use a handheld DSC programmed with an MMSI, other than one that begins with 2359xxxxx. This is not covered by the Ship Radio Licence and should be avoided. A handheld VHF with DSC should always be licensed on a Ship Portable Radio Licence and then 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.
Television licensing onboard your boat
So long as you are not living aboard your boat - meaning it isn’t your main place of residence - your television onboard is covered by the TV Licence that you have for your main residence. In fact, your current TV Licence will cover any device that is solely powered by its own internal batteries, and isn’t connected to an aerial.
This means that you are covered for the use of televisions on boats, in touring caravans or any other vehicles you may travel in. You are even covered under your TV Licence for the use of televisions in static caravans, mobile homes or moveable chalets, provided you aren't watching TV in both homes at the same time. If you do wish to watch the television in both places at the same time, you may be required to fill in a declaration form.
Maritime Radio Operator's Certificate
If you do not have a maritime radio operator’s certificate then you are not allowed to use a VHF radio for general transmissions. You are, however, able to use it for safety purposes or to summon assistance in a distress situation.
If you wish to make a general transmission, then you must be a licensed operator or be under the direct supervision of a licensed operator.
There are two types of certificate that you can obtain, the Short Range Certificate or the Long Range Certificate. The most common operator’s certificate is the short range version, which allows the use of VHF and VHF/DSC equipment. This certificate is available through training centres that are recognised by the Royal Yachting Association.
The Long Range Certificate is required if you wish to use MF, HF or satellite communications equipment. This certificate is administered by the Association of Marine Electronic and Radio Colleges (AMERC) Tel 01539 440218 .