The FCC registration site is quite confusing and there doesn’t seem to be an overview of what is required, so I will attempt to clarify what is required for the most common cruiser scenarios. You may not need everything here, or you may need more, but I will cover what is required for the normal complement of VHF, HF, EPIRB, MMSI and similar.
Get Registered with an FRN (FCC Registration Number)
Go to FCC Universal Licensing System . If you don’t have an FRN (FCC Registration Number) then create one by selecting the Register button. If you have one and aren’t sure you have all the registrations, then select Log In.
Cost: No cost
Duration: Does not Expire
Who Needs it: Any US boat that has communication devices aboard such as VHF, EPIRB, HF Radios such as SSB or Ham radios, satellite phones, etc. will need to register. This does not convey a license but is registration at the FCC site and can be used to group all your licenses on board. It also registers your safety equipment such as EPIRBs. Licenses can only be associated with one registration so it makes sense for all licenses to be maintained by one person for the boat. For our boat I deal with the FCC stuff and link both our Ham Licenses, the Ship’s Station License and the RR License under this one registration. This makes it easier to keep track of what is expiring and gives a central point of reference for the FCC to contact us as required.
How to Register for an FRN
- Go to https://wireless.fcc.gov/uls/index.htm?job=home and select Register
- Select Registering as an Individual and select that you do have an address within the US (this can be a mailbox such as St. Brendan’s Isle or other)
- Enter your Name, Social Security number, mailing address, password and security questions and select Submit.
- The number you are issued is your username for using the FCC system. You can now Log In at this address: https://wireless.fcc.gov/uls/index.htm?job=home
Ship Recreational or Voluntarily Equipped (SA)
The first license you need will be for your boat and the equipment on it. This license cannot be moved to your new boat and cannot be moved to a new owner, so it is only for the length of time you own this particular boat. It is renewed every ten years.
Duration: Good for 10 years
Who Needs it: If you have communications on board and intend to travel internationally, then you will need a ship’s license. If you have a DSC and intend to travel internationally, you must get this license in order to obtain an MMSI number that is good internationally as well as to register the rest of your communication equipment with the FCC. You also associate your EPIRB with your boat here. Your SSB or Ham radio equipment is also listed here.
From the FCC site: You do not need a license to operate a marine VHF radio, radar, or EPIRBs aboard voluntary ships operating domestically. The term “voluntary ships” refers to ships that are not required by law to carry a radio. Generally, this term applies to recreation or pleasure craft.
If you have a marine radio with DSC capability, you must obtain a nine-digit maritime mobile service identity (MMSI) number and have it programmed into the unit before you transmit. Each vessel needs only one MMSI number. Prior to obtaining an MMSI number, you will be asked to provide certain information about your ship. It is important that you obtain an MMSI number because the U.S. Coast Guard uses this information to help speed search and rescue operations. So if you are traveling domestically only, you can get the MMSI from BoatsUS or other groups. HOWEVER – if you ever intend to leave the country you are required to get your MMSI number from the FCC. Since most VHF radios cannot have their MMSI reprogrammed without a trip the dealer, consider getting an FCC MMSI number if you think there is a chance you will leave the country with your boat some day.
How to get the SA license
Log into the FCC site using your FRN. Using the menu on the left side of the FCC site, select Apply for a New License. You will be given a long list of possible licenses to apply for (see part of list at right) – select SA from the alphabetical list of choices.
This application is long. Go through it carefully selecting the appropriate choices for your boat.
The call sign you are issued is the Ship Station call sign and will form the left part of your email address for SailMail if you do email on board.
NOTE: There is a way to keep the MMSI number used by the previous owner so that you do not have to re-program all the devices that use the MMSI (AIS, VHF, and HF radios may use MMSI). Please read Transferring Your MMSI from the Previous Owner
RR – Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit
Duration: Does Not Expire
Who Needs it: If you have an SSB or Ham Radio at least one person on the boat will require a RR. If you only have VHF you do NOT need this permit. Each person who will use the SSB / HAM radio needs a Restricted Operator License, so you must get one for each operator.
Amateur Radio Servie (HA) License
Duration: 10 years
Who Needs it: anyone who has passed any of the ARRL Ham licenses and wishes to use a Ham Radio on board their boat. You must first pass the ARRL tests (see Ham Licences, below) and receive a call sign before applying for this license.
How to Get the HA license
After you have passed the Ham test and have a call sign, Log into the FCC system. Then go to My Licences on the left menu. Half way down the page under Don’t see your licenses here? select associate the license with your FRN. Then enter your call sign into the chart shown. There is no cost for this.
Amateur Radio (Ham) licenses
This is not an FCC license but I mention it here because this is required for the HA license above. Without it you can only listen to the HAM radio. To transmit on it, except in cases of emergency, each user is required to be licensed through the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL). Obtaining this license requires passing a test and usually requires taking a course in order to pass the test. There are now three levels to this test (Technician, General, and Extra) and none of them require morse code knowledge. For most usage at sea and access to most Ham bands the General License is sufficient (use of Pactor modem requires the General License). Once you pass your HAM exam and receive your call sign you can apply for the HA registration
The main FCC license that you will need for your boat if traveling internationally is the Ship Station License (SA). You will also need a Restricted Radio Operator License (RR) if operating an HF radio. If operating a Ham radio you will also need the Amateur Radio (HA) license which is a simple transfer into your FRN using the call sign. That’s all!