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VHF Radio Basics

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Radio License Basics (US)

If leaving US waters (including Canada and Mexico), you will need several FCC licenses which are no longer required as long as you stay in US territorial waters. Those licenses cover marine radio transmitting equipment onboard your vessel as well the operators of that equipment.  It is easiest to obtain these licenses online at www.fcc.gov.  Expect to spend several hours of time filling out the 45-page plus FORM 605.  Be careful; mistakes can result in denial of the license without return of the fee and the forms and fees are subject to change. 

Despite the promise that they have streamlined the system (and they have), it is still not intuitive. It takes a while to figure out the alphabet soup of names for things you need. You cannot do anything without an FRN number, which you will need anytime you make any changes in the system in the future, so don't lose it. To get the FRN number, you have to register (for free) using your social security number. The FRN number is used afterwards in place of your social security number.

Follow these steps:

1.  Go to www.fcc.gov and obtain an FRN number by registering through the CORES system.  You will receive notification of the number by e-mail and possibly in the mail. Be sure to keep track of this number as you will need it for any additional licenses, renewals and changes of address in the future, and it’s very difficult to get a new number as it is tied to your social security number.

2. Find FORM 605 and consider all the 100 plus entries carefully.  File the completed form for a Ship’s Station License (SSL) with the fees ($150 in 2003). This license assigns a call sign for the vessel and covers VHF, radar, EPIRB, and miscellaneous other radio equipment.  When filing, check off every piece of equipment you have and you are thinking of buying as this will avoid additional fees and paperwork later. It stays with the vessel unless the vessel is sold.  Remember to request your MMSI number for the GMDSS emergency systems now available on VHF radios.

3. Return to FORM 605 to complete it again for the Restricted Radiotelephone Operator’s Permit (RROP) ($50 in 2003).  Yes, you need to file two separate forms for the SSL and RROP.  The RROP stays with the operator (that’s you) and authorizes you to use the equipment covered by the Ship’s Station License, including and especially the SSB.  Use your FRN number, if you have it.  Everyone onboard your vessel should have their own RROP (and consequently their own FRN number). 

Get a VHF radio license, register your EPIRB, PLB, SSB, radar or DSC by clicking on the link below.

If you need a new radio station license (for a vessel visiting international waters including Canada, covering VHF, radar, SSB, HF/MF, DSC, etc) or a restricted radiotelephone operators permit (for the person working the equipment - not required for US waters). All the forms are online and you can file directly using a credit card at http://wireless.fcc.gov/marine/fctsht14.html.  The website is now fairly easy to use, but you should be aware of a glitch.  The forms take a while to fill out but tend to “time out” asking you to go back and “start over” entering your user number (which you must obtain first) and password.  Be aware that starting over doesn’t necessarily mean filling out the form from scratch - although they don’t tell you that.  There’s a page where your unfiled applications are saved, so when it times out, you can find your form there filled out up to where you left off.  Good luck.

If you run out of patience there are several services that can assist you in filing for a fee.  Contact Gary (AA1GJ) Jensen at 941-575-4848 or www.docksideradio.com  (see SSCA Bulletin January 2003, page 32-33) or Suzie West.


Other considerations

If you have a ham radio or your SSB covers ham frequencies, you may listen without a license but you may not transmit without a license except in an emergency situation.  This license is also within the jurisdiction of the FCC but is a bit more complicated to receive.  To transmit on the worldwide bands where the marine nets and free e-mail exist, you will need a General Class Ham License which requires you to pass two written 35 question multiple-choice tests (Technician and General Class) and Morse code at a reduced speed of 5 words per minute.  Although study is required, it’s not that hard if you use Gordon West’s system available at Radio Shack or take classes that get you to the General License through classroom instruction and testing.  Masny local and regional HAM radio clubs offer testing as well. For additional information and testing locations near you, check www.arrl.org.  And yes, you will have to file FCC Form 605 once again, but the fee is only $12 in 2003.  Your call sign will be a recognizable symbol of achievement, will allow you to assist in emergency situations such as hurricane disasters, and will open up a whole new world of cruiser’s services like weather routing, free e-mail and phone patches, and much more.  You’ll even be able to apply for a vanity call sign once you have one.

When you receive your licenses, keep in mind that everyone aboard will use the ship’s station call sign when transmitting on VHF or SSB frequencies.  Only the holder of the ham radio license can use his/her call sign and that must be used only on the ham radio frequencies. 

Before you go offshore, check the Cruising Club of America website (www.cruisingclub.org) under sidebar “Offshore Communications Memorandum” for a 27-page paper on the marine use of SSB and HAM radio, including times and frequencies for weather broadcasts, aircraft frequencies, NAVTEX, e-mail, and a listing of SSB and Ham nets (see also SSCA Bulletin January 2003, page 19).

 

 


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