About Marine Handheld VHF

Handheld VHF Marine Radios offer flexibility in communications for mariners looking for options beyond fixed-mounted marine radios, be it onboard various vessels or operating on shore in a marina. These radios can offer greater range for communications beyond reach of area cell towers and can be a great asset in emergency situations.

Because modern handheld VHF radios are often DSC-capable, they are able to be programmed with an MMSI number. A marine radio’s DSC capability is not able to be used without programming an MMSI into the radio prior to use. By utilizing the properly formatted VHF Handheld MMSI, 81M2I3D4X5X6X7X8X9, approved by the ITU, marine emergency responders will be aware of your unit’s limited power and range capabilities. In GPS equipped DSC radios, this also enables Search and Rescue (SAR) teams to live track the location of mariners in distress. These elements are critical to SAR efforts.

There are two licensing options for Marine VHF Handheld Radios:

Handheld Vessel VHF

  • This license type is intended for use on multiple vessels
  • Licensing falls under the SA Radio Service and Portable license type
  • FCC Forms 605 and 605 Schedule B

Coast Station Handheld VHF

  • This license type is for use primarily on land by Coast Stations. When utilized on the water, operations must comply with rules governing ship radios.
  • Licensing falls under the MC Radio Service and FCU1 Station Class
  • FCC Forms 601 and 601 Schedule G

Please see these tabs for further information about operation of these stations as well as MMSI assignment instructions.

Handheld Vessel VHF

Handheld VHF Marine Radios intended for use on multiple vessels will be licensed as a portable (SA-Portable) ship station license. A portable ship station is defined as a single transmitter intended for use on two or more ships (§80.5). As standard with Marine VHF Ship Radios, communications are prohibited when on land except when used within the bounds identified in FCC Public Notice 16-119.

In order to apply for a Handheld VHF Marine Radio license with a properly formatted MMSI (81M2I3D4X5X6X7X8X9), you must file an FCC Form 605 along with the required Schedule B, and an attachment specifically requesting a VHF Handheld-Formatted MMSI. Without an attachment, a standard Vessel-Formatted MMSI will be issued in its place.

Coast Station Handheld VHF

Marine Utility Stations are defined as a maritime mobile service consisting of one or more handheld radiotelephone units licensed under a single authorization. Each unit is capable of operation while being hand-carried by an individual. The station operates under the rules applicable to ship stations when the unit is aboard a vessel, and under the rules applicable to private coast stations when the unit is on land (§80.507(c)).

In order to apply for a Handheld VHF Marine Radio license with a properly formatted MMSI (81M2I3D4X5X6X7X8X9), you must file an FCC Form 601 as well as an attachment specifically requesting a VHF Handheld-Formatted MMSI. You must demonstrate a need to communicate using hand-held portable equipment from both a ship and from coast locations. Each unit must be capable of operation while being hand-carried by an individual. Without an attachment, no MMSI will be issued.

Bureau/Office: 

Updated: 
Tuesday, October 4, 2022