VHF Regulations

VHF Radio Operators Certificate

  • Whilst it is not necessary to hold a Certificate of Competence in order to obtain a Ship Radio Licence or a Ship Portable Radio Licence, a maritime radio may be operated only by or under the direct personal supervision of a holder of the appropriate Certificate of Competence and Authority to Operate (normally granted by the Secretary of State. This is to maintain operational standards and ensure knowledge of current distress, emergency and safety procedures. The certificate holder is required to produce these documents when requested to do so by a person authorised by Ofcom.
  • The minimum Certificate of Competence that is required for use of a ship radio is the Short Range Certificate. This certificate covers use of both standard VHF and VHF/DSC equipment under the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System in sea area A. Please note that other relevant certificates may be required for vessels where radio fit is compulsory and may also depend on the sea areas of operation. Further guidance may be obtained from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. 

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Ship Station Licence

What it authorises

  • The Ship Radio Licence authorises the installation and use of maritime radio and associated equipment, as well as non-maritime radio equipment (such as a mobile phone picocell) on a named ship, subject to applicable licence conditions. The ship must be registered in the UK or one of the Crown Dependencies.
  • The licence applies to the ship nomatter where in the world it might be. Marine surveyors in other countries may demand to see the ship’s radio licence, to ensure that all radio equipment fitted is properly licensed, as required by international agreements.
  • A Ship Radio Licence also assigns the ship a radio identity in the form of its call sign and MMSI. It is important to use these to identify only the ship to which they have been assigned.  

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Handheld / Portable Radio Licence

What it authorises

  • The Ship Portable Radio Licence authorises the use of one piece of portable maritime equipment from each of a limited number of categories of equipment, including an EPIRB. Unlike the Ship Radio Licence, it does not restrict use to a single ship. It therefore allows equipment to be taken from one ship to another. It might typically be used by weekend dinghy sailors or kayakers or those who cruise canals.
  • A Ship Portable Radio Licence does not assign a ship call sign, as the Licence is not tied to a single ship. 

Territorial restriction

  • If you propose to use any maritime radio anywhere on the high seas (including the UK Continental Shelf) or in the waters of another country, you must hold a Ship Radio Licence and not a Ship Portable Radio Licence. This also applies to safety equipment, such as EPIRBs and MOB devices. The Ship Portable Radio Licence does not, therefore, authorise the use of an MOB device beyond the limit of UK territorial seas.

Limits on the Ship Portable Radio Licence

  • The Ship Portable Radio Licence is valid only to the extent of UK territorial seas and not beyond. 
  • For licensing purposes, a portable maritime radio is taken as being a hand-held portable VHF or VHF/DSC radiotelephone with an integral antenna and power supply and which is not designed to be permanently installed on a ship and which may therefore be used on a number of different ships. 

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