What do I need to own and operate a marine VHF radio legally?
Whether you have a handheld or a fixed mount VHF, you need a Ship Radio Licence and a Short Range Certificate/Authority to Operate.
The Ship Radio Licence is a legal requirement but it also ensures that important information about your boat is readily available to the coastguard and search and rescue organisations if you are unlucky enough to need to transmit a distress call. The licence needs to be renewed annually. It is linked to your vessel by name and Ofcom send you a circular permit to display. When you receive your licence disc, you will also be assigned a call sign (and Maritime Mobile Service Identification (MMSI) number if it is a Digital Selective Calling (DSC) set). The licence is obtained by filling in an application form and sending a cheque to Ofcom (see link below). There is also an online application facility. The licence fee covers any number of fixed, handheld and Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) units registered to the same vessel. Amendments (such as requesting a MMSI number or adding details of an EPIRB) may be made using the relevant form (see links below).
Handheld VHF radios may be licensed independent of any vessel, in which case they are assigned their own T reference instead of a call sign.
The Short Range Certificate/Authority to Operate is obtained by attending a one day training course and passing an exam. Your training centre will then send your cheque to the RYA and you will receive back a paper certificate/licence, issued on behalf of the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA).
From 1st December 2006 the annual Ship Radio Licence will be replaced by a lifetime licence which is free if applied for online or subject to a one-off £20 fee for paper-based applications.
Breaking News: Ship Radio Licensing
Thanks to Mike Martin of Ofcom for his assistance with the compilation of this FAQ.