(The Ship's Radio License)
Whether you are American or Canadian, installing and using a
marine VHF radio involves obtaining a marine radio license or station license and an MMSI number.
boats operating a marine VHF radio within Canadian territorial waters
are not required to have a station license.
If a Canadian-registered vessel will be operating in the territorial waters of the United States, a station license is required. The license is obtained from Industry Canada (form IC3020). It is an application only; there is no exam. It is valid for one year and renewed annually.
A US-registered vessel operating a marine VHF radio solely within the territorial waters of the United States is not required to have a station license.
If a US-registered vessel communicates with a foreign-flagged vessel or visits a foreign port, it is required to have a station license. The license can be obtained from the FCC using Forms 159 and 605. It is an application only and is valid for 10 years.
Let me make a general observation about station licenses. I have never heard of authorities asking to see a station license let alone taking enforcement action. However, in the case of a tragedy, could failure to obtain one indicate that you're willing to flout laws? In an accident or worse, could your ignoring this legal requirement affect your insurance? To me, the answer is very straight-forward. If you plan to fully explore the Great Lakes, you will sail in both Canadian and American waters. Therefore, get the station license. Be compliant. Its not expensive or onerous and its one less thing to worry about.
MMSI stands for Marine Mobile Service Identity. This number is a key component of the DSC service on your radio. Once you have the number, it is entered (automatically in Canada; optionally in the US) in the International Telecommunications Union database. The ITU database is used by Coast Guard and Search and Rescue services world-wide in responding to distress calls.
In Canada, you can obtain an MMSI number free of charge from Industry Canada. Once you obtain it, program it into your VHF-DSC radio using instructions from the manual.
In the United States, when you apply to the FCC for a station license, you automatically receive an MMSI number. Program it into your VHF-DSC radio using instructions from the manual. The FCC will automatically forward your number to the ITU. However, there are also some private organizations in the US that are authorized to issue MMSI numbers. These are NOT registered with the ITU. They are registered only with the USCG.
This is something to consider if you think maybe you might head south to explore the Caribbean waters of over 3 dozen other countries. Personally, I would want as many people as possible to be able to identify my vessel in an emergency.
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