Am I Required by Law to Have a Radio Onboard?

In the United States, for radio communications purposes in the marine mobile bands, the FCC and the USCG breaks down radio station requirements by class of vessel. Currently there are (2) classes: "Compulsory Equipped" and "Voluntary Equipped."

So what are Compulsory Equipped and Voluntary Equipped vessels? Actually, this is pretty easy to figure out: There are (7) instances that would require you by law to carry a marine radio onboard making you a Compulsory Equipped vessel and requiring you to have a licensed radio station.

If none of these (7) items are pertinent to your vessel, you are not required by law to carry a radio onboard.


NOTE:
The correct and formal term for a shipboard radio station is -"Ship Station."”

If you are not required to carry a radio, but choose to do so anyway you are a "Voluntary Equipped" vessel. Most recreational boaters in the U.S. have voluntary equipped vessels. This simply means they are not required by law to carry a radio onboard, but carry one nonetheless.

Here is a simple table to illustrate who is required by law have a Licensed Ship Station onboard:

Licensed Marine Ship Stations

At any point in this table you answer "YES," you are required by law to have a licensed ship station.
Is your vessel any one of the following?
  1. A cargo ship over 300 gross tons navigating in the open sea;
  2. Certified by the U.S. Coast Guard to carry more than 6 passengers for hire in the open sea or tidewaters of the U.S.;
  3. A power driven vessel over 20 meters in length on navigable waterways;
  4. More than 100 gross tons certified by the U.S. Coast Guard to carry at least one passenger on navigable waterways;
  5. A tow boat of more than 7.8 meters in length on navigable waterways;
  6. An uninspected commercial fishing industry vessel required to carry a VHF radio;
  7. Required to carry an Automatic Identification System (AIS) transceiver by U.S. Coast Guard regulation?
If You Answered YES to any of the above - If You Answered NO to all of the above -
Down Arrow Down Arrow
You are a Compulsory Equipped vessel and are required by law to have a licensed ship station onboard. You are a voluntary equipped vessel and are not required by law to have a licensed ship station onboard. Unless . . .
-END- Down Arrow
  1. Your vessel is sailing foreign or communicating with foreign radio stations.
  ~ AND / OR / EITHER ~
  2. You use MF/HF single sideband radio, sat comm, or telegraphy.
  Down Arrow
  If you answered YES to either statement above -
  Down Arrow
  You are voluntary equipped, but still required to have a licensed ship station onboard.
  -END-

So... Do You Need a Station License?

Alright, by now you have checked the table above and have determined what class (Compulsory or Voluntary) your vessel falls into. For Voluntary Equipped vessels, you will also know whether you must have a licensed ship station. The last decision you now need to make is what does the future hold? Will someday you decide to sail beyond the horizon? If so, maybe you should consider licensing your ship station ahead of time.

How to Apply

To get you on the right track to get your "Ship Station License" (the formal term), you can visit our FCC Licensing Page.

The Next Question?

Are you required to have a radio operator’s license to operate the radios aboard your vessel?

NEXT - Marine Radio - Radio Operator Licensing

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