Marine Radio Equipment Types

The maritime mobile and maritime mobile satellite radio equipment listed below may be used aboard a ship. If your ship must be licensed, all equipment is authorized under a single ship radio station license.

  • VHF Radiotelephone (156-162 MHz) - Used for voice communications with other ships and coast stations over short distances. Units may be Fixed Mounted VHF or Handheld VHF.

  • Digital Selective Calling (DSC) - Used with VHF, MF, and HF radio systems to establish communications with (call) ships or coast stations or to receive calls from other ships or coast stations. Uses two tone digital signaling protocol to selectively call a particular station or to call a group of stations, all stations in a particular geographic area, or to call all stations.

  • Radar - Used for navigating, direction-finding, locating positions, and ship traffic control.

  • EPIRB - Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons, or EPIRBs, are used when a ship is in distress, to emit a radio signal marking the ship's location. Extreme care must be taken to prevent inadvertent activation and batteries should be replaced prior to expiration date.

  • Single sideband Radiotelephone (2-27.5 MHz) - Used to communicate over medium and long distances (hundreds, sometime thousands of nautical miles).

  • Satellite Terminal - Used to communicate by means of voice, data or direct printing via satellites.

  • Radiotelegraph - Used to communicate by means of Morse code, facsimile, or narrow-band direct-printing, any technique for coding and decoding printed text over radio.

  • Survival Craft Radio - Used only for communications during distress incidents between ship and rescue vessels/aircraft or between lifeboats and rafts.

  • On Board Radio - These are low-powered radios used for internal voice communications on board a ship or for authorized short range communications directly associated with ship operations.

  • Search and Rescue Transponder (SART) - Used for emergency use in marine environments. May be a radar-based SART or GPS-based AIS SART.

  • Navigational Text Messages (NAVTEX) - Used for short range text-based automated marine safety messages and alerts.

In addition, ships may use GPS or LORAN receivers, depth finders, citizens band (CB) radios, or amateur radios (an amateur license from the FCC is required).

Acceptable VHF Radios

The power output of your ship station radio must not be more than 25 watts when operating in the 156-162 MHz band. Portable transmitters are excepted from this restriction. You must also be able to lower the power of your radio to one watt or less. Your radio must be able to transmit on 156.8 MHz (Channel 16), 156.3 MHz (Channel 6) and at least one other channel. Your radio must be type accepted or certified by the FCC. You can tell an acceptable radio by the FCC ID label on the radio. You may look at a list of acceptable radios at any FCC field office, FCC headquarters, or the FCC Office of Engineering and Technology.

You may install your radio in your ship by yourself. All internal repairs or adjustments to your radio must be made by or under the supervision of an FCC-licensed technician holding at least a General Radiotelephone Operator License. It is recommended that the radio be inspected by the service person when installed.  It is also crucial for radios with Digital Select Calling (DSC) to be connected to or equipped with GPS or other navigational equipment to enable a distress call with location to search and rescue authorities.  DSC radios should also be licensed/registered and updated to contain the MMSI number to inform search and rescue authorities of the party in distress.

Radio Equipment You May Use

You do not need a ship station license to use marine VHF radios, any type of EPIRB, any type of radar, GPS or LORAN receivers, depth finders, or CB radio. 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

DSC is an important technology that provides your identity, location and other important information to the U.S. Coast Guard and other rescue organizations around the world with the push of a distress button to support search and rescue operations. Accordingly, if you have a marine radio with DSC capability, you must register the radio and obtain a nine-digit maritime mobile service identity (MMSI) number and have it programmed into the unit before you transmit.  Similarly, if you sell a vessel or radio or it changes ownership, it is important that you update your registration or reprogram a new MMSI number into the radio to aid the U.S. Coast Guard in their rescue operations. Each vessel needs only one MMSI number. Prior to obtaining an MMSI number, you will be asked to provide certain information about your ship.

If your vessel requires licensing by the FCC you will obtain an MMSI number during the application/licensing process when you file online with the FCC.  After the FCC grants a new, modified, or administratively updated ship station license, it reports the MMSI and certain other data to the International Telecommunication Union's Maritime mobile Access and Retrieval System (MARS) so that other countries' search and rescue authorities also have access to the information.  Licensees may check the MARS database to confirm that their information is listed and up to date.

If your vessel does not require a license you may obtain an MMSI by contacting either BoatUS, Shine Micro, or United States Power Squadrons. 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 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 leave the field blank and the FCC will issue you a new MMSI number.  Information on how to update the radio to reflect the new MMSI number can be obtained from the radio manufacturer. 

Bureau/Office: 

Updated: 
Tuesday, October 4, 2022