Marine Radio Regulations

Radio Usage - Rules and Common Sense

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

In the past the U.S. required such licensing for radio operators as well as station licensing for all vessels. The law changed in 1996 with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) doing 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 me 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.

The problem is some members of the recreational boating community do not seem to want to follow the rules. They continue to operate their vessels and their marine radios without regard to the rules the rest of us all follow. Hell, if they would simply apply a modicum of common sense it would be a significant improvement. Because of this, do not be surprised if the radio licensing requirements issue will raised once again for all boaters.

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 licensed by rule (most recreational boaters), are required by law 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 should be considered as the "#1 Recreational Boater Gotcha Rule!"

It makes you responsible for all the rules and regulations regarding the use of your radio whether licensed or licensed by rule.

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 violations made that can lead to FCC or U.S. Coast Guard enforcement action?

Don’t ever think; "How will they be able to catch me?" You may want to rethink that. All radios have a unique electronic signature. There is also equipment out there to take human "voice prints" of radio 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 maritime listening world, like "Hey Good Buddy, Ya Got your Ears On?"

The Frustration Factor

Many of us already 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 Weekend, the 4th of July or Labor Day Weekend and Good Luck! You might have better luck learning semaphore or flashing light. Frustrating doesn't even come close to describing the chaos!

10 Minutes after turning on your radio and listening to this, you are usually asking yourselves just where the FCC and the Coast Guard are when you need them. Will it ever stop? Who Knows! When you have children, whether aged 4 or 40, using the radio, I'm afraid it is going to continue for the foreseeable future.

Can this behavior 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 the Bridge to Bridge Navigation Frequency - VHF channel 13 (156.650 MHz) or Vessel Traffic Services (frequencies vary) in a busy port 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 obviously didn’t invite him to the BBQ.

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