Radio Usage - Rules and Common Sense

Most countries regulate radio communications very strictly; requiring training and licensing for operating any type of radio including maritime communications.

In the past the U.S. required such licensing for radio operators as well as station licensing for the vessel. In 1996 the U.S. (FCC) did away with operator and station licensing for most recreational boaters when using some types of marine radios. While this action reduced the cost and "PITA" factor for most recreational boaters which was a good thing, it is arguable as to whether or not this change was in the best long term interests of the boating community.

Let’s be clear, I am not an advocate of governmental "Big Brother Laws" (i.e. let me take care of you since you are obviously too dumb to take care of yourself.) In fact, just the opposite. The less the government tries to regulate every aspect of my life the happier I am. However, if some members of the recreational boating community continue to operate their vessels and their radios without regard to the rules or simply applying some modicum of common sense, the radio licensing issue will once again be raised. Just as a license to operate a boat is now the norm and not the exception, laws requiring the licensing for radio stations and operators for U.S. recreational boaters may once again come to pass.

What You Should Know

All radio operators and radio stations, licensed or not, are required to be familiar with and adhere to the rules and regulations of the Federal Communications Commission governing the use of their radio.

Here is what the FCC Says:
47 CFR 80.13(c) Station license required.
. . ."Even though an individual license is not required, a ship station licensed by rule must be operated in accordance with all applicable operating requirements, procedures, and technical specifications found in this part."

This one rule could be considered as the "#1 Gotcha!" It makes you responsible for all the rules and regulations regarding the use of your radio whether licensed or not. Will you ever know all the rules found within these regulations? Probably not, but a little common sense regarding the use of your radio will get you pretty far down this road.

Remember, your marine radio is not a toy! It’s not Citizens Band (CB) or Family Radio Service (FRS), so you may want to keep the children away from it. Improper or misuse of your radio can lead to fines, imprisonment, and recovery of all costs associated with that misuse.

Common Violations

What are some of the most common mistakes made that can lead to FCC enforcement action?

Fake or Hoax distress calls (Not sure how this could be classified as a mistake since it appears to me this would be a deliberate action.)
Improper frequency usage
Language (Profanity)
False identification of your station

If you think "How will they be able to catch me?" You may want to think again. All radios have a unique electronic signature. There is also the equipment out there to take human "voice prints" of transmissions. More importantly, depending on the severity of the violation, the FCC working with the USCG will go to almost any length in an effort to prosecute those that violate the laws when using their radio.

And while we are on the subject of language, allow me to reiterate: "the marine radio is most definitely not a CB." Nothing says "IDIOT" to the rest of the listening world, like "Hey Good Buddy, Ya Got your Ears On?"

The Frustration Factor

We all know what it is like trying to communicate with another station especially on a nice weekend during boating season. Now throw in a major holiday like Memorial Day or the 4th of July and Good Luck! You might have better luck learning semaphore or flashing light. Frustrating doesn't even come close in describing the chaos!

People talking over each other.
Carrying on conversations on the hailing and distress frequencies.
Conversations that go on forever not allowing others to use the frequency.
Hoax distress calls.
and the list goes on. . .

10 Minutes after turning on your radio and listening to this, you are usually asking yourselves just where the FCC is when you need them. Will it ever stop? Probably not. When you have children, whether aged 4 or 40, using the radio, I’m afraid it is going to continue.

Can it be changed? Yes, but it will not happen overnight. Probably the only way to influence this behavior is by everyone else using proper radio procedure when we communicate. A good way to get a feel for how it is done is to tune up VHF channel 13 (156.650 MHz) in a busy port or Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) on VHF channel 12 (156.600 MHz) or channel 05A (156.250 MHz) in most U.S. major ports and just listen! These are for the most part professional mariners and while not every transmission is text book correct, you will quickly realize virtually every communication is short and on point. This is exactly what the recreational boating community needs on the already crowded hailing and non-commercial frequencies.

So you may want to think about some of these things the next time you call your buddy John on the radio to tell him how Aunt Tilly got hammered and fell into the fire pit at last Sunday’s BBQ. Meanwhile the rest of the boating world is waiting to pass their traffic on the channel and could really care less about Aunt Tilly. And truth be told, your friend John . . ., he probably doesn’t give much of a rat’s ass either . . . since you didn’t invite him to the BBQ.

NEXT - Marine Radio - Radio Station Licensing

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