Am I required to have a radio on board?

In the United States, for radio communications purposes, the FCC breaks down radio station requirements into (2) classes of vessels: "Compulsory Equipped" and "Voluntary Equipped." The first order of business is to determine which class your vessel falls within. Once that is done we can then figure out if that radio station must be licensed.

So what are compulsory equipped and voluntary equipped vessels? Actually, this is pretty easy to figure out: If you are required by law to have a radio station on board, you are compulsory equipped. If you are not required by law to have a radio station onboard, but choose to do so anyway you are a voluntary equipped vessel.


Most recreational boaters in the U.S. have voluntary equipped vessels. This means they are not required by law to have a licensed marine radio station onboard. There are however certain circumstances where even voluntary equipped vessels are required to have a FCC licensed radio station.

Here is a simple table to illustrate who is required by law have a radio station on board:

Marine Radio Stations

At any point in this table you answer YES, you are required to have a licensed radio 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 radio station on board. You are a voluntary equipped vessel and are not required by law to have a licensed radio station on board. Unless . . .
-END- Down Arrow
  Your vessel is sailing foreign or communicating with foreign radio stations.
  -AND / OR-
  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 radio station on board.
  -END-
   

So... Do You Need a Station License?

Now that you have checked the table above and have determined whether you are a compulsory or voluntary vessel who must have a licensed radio station on your boat, how do you do that?

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?


^ Scroll to Top