Do you need a License or Permit to Operate a VHF Marine Radio?

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Last updated on August 24, 2022

The first VHF broadcasts in the 1950s were much celebrated as the technology was free from interference and allowed better communication. Although using a very high-frequency radio isn’t obligatory on recreational boats that measure less than 65.5 feet, having one onboard can save your life in an emergency.  

So, do you need a VHF license or permit? Are there any rules to follow before you can use this radio? Keep reading to learn more about this topic. 

submersible marine two way radio

What License do you Need to Operate a VHF Marine Radio on a Recreational Boat in the United States?

A license or permit isn’t mandatory if you want to have a VHF on your recreational boat, except under certain conditions.

In an emergency, this radio facilitates instant communication between your boat and other boats, bridges, marinas, and the US Coast Guards. You can also use it to get an important announcement that can affect the safety of your boating trip. 

Unlike cell phones that might not work correctly in the middle of the water, the radio frequency is strong enough to keep you connected to other parties. VHF radios also have access to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather forecasts that run 24 hours daily. 

Who Needs the Marine Radio Operator Permit?

According to the Federal Communication Commission or FCC, your boat or marine vessel needs a permit and is legally obliged to have a VHF in the following cases. 

  • Your marine vessel weighs more than 300 gross tons. 
  • Your boat is more than 20 meters or 65.5 feet long and is sailing in the Great Lakes. 
  • You have a towing vessel longer than 8 meters or 26 feet long. 
  • Your vessel carries more than six passengers and operates in the open sea or any tidewater located in the US.

What is a VHF certificate?

The certificate aims to provide working knowledge in using VHF marine radio and EPIRB or Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon. You must have specific qualifications to get the VHF certificate. 

  • You must be a legal resident of the US. You can also get a permit if you are eligible for employment in the United States. 
  • You can receive and send messages in spoken English so that others can understand you.

The good news is that after you get this permit, you don’t have to retake the test, as you’ll hold the permit for life. 

How do you get a Marine VHF License?

You should be able to pass a written or telegraphy exam by scoring at least 18 out of 24. This is the FCC Element 1 exam, which covers the basics of radio law.

How Long Does the VHF Course Take?

This is a 6-hour course that involves some reading and studying.

Can you Do a VHF Radio Course Online?

It’s possible to take the course in a classroom or online, but the exam will be held in a school.

Do you Need a License to Operate a Marine Radio in Canada?

In Canada, if your radio operates using frequencies outside the maritime mobile band, you should have a license to operate it. You won’t need a license in the following cases. 

  • Your radio device operates using frequencies that are allocated for maritime mobile communications. 
  • Your marine vessel doesn’t operate except in Canadian waters.

Do you Need a License to Operate a Marine Radio in the UK?

You need a Ship Portable Radio License to operate a marine radio in the UK. According to current law, this license limits the use of the radio to the UK territorial waters. Anyone who operates a marine vessel should get a radio license, whether you’re a kayaker, powerboater, angler, sailor, or paddleboarder. 

Depending on the type of radio, you might also need an operator’s license. Different courses are available at the RYA or MCA training centers, and you can take an appropriate one according to the equipment you use. 

Do you need a VHF License in Australia?

You don’t need a license to own or install a VHF radio on your marine vessel in Australia. However, the operator should have a Certificate of Proficiency. Without one, you’ll be fined under the Radiocommunications Act 1992, with up to two years of imprisonment, even if you’re not present when the radio is used by someone else. 

Do you Need a License to Operate an SSB Radio?

You don’t need a license to operate an SSB or Single Sideband radio. However, it would help if you had a lifetime Restricted Radiotelephone Operator's permit, and your Ship Station license should be valid. The license is valid for ten years. 

Final Thoughts

A VHF radio is a must-have in an emergency, although you’re not required by law to carry one on your boat or marine vessel if it measures less than 65.5 feet long. You don’t need a permit to operate the radio except if your boat weighs more than 300 gross tons or it works in specific conditions. The rules differ in other countries. 

About the author  Robert Finn

Robert has over 20 years of experience boating and selling boat equipment. His passion for the latest and greatest gear helps our clients find what they need. His favorite boating place is the Florida Keys.