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May 31, 2011
Enforcement Advisory No. 2011-07
Enforcement Bureau Reminds Boaters of Marine Radio Rules
Directs Boaters to Check Safety Communications Equipment to Ensure
As the summer boating season ramps up, boaters are urged to familiarize
themselves with marine safety communication requirements, and ensure that
their equipment is operating properly. The FCC regulates marine
communications in cooperation with the United States Coast Guard, which
monitors marine distress frequencies continuously to protect life and
property. All users of marine radio, whether voluntary or compulsory, are
responsible for observing both FCC and Coast Guard requirements. Each
summer, the United States Coast Guard reports a significant number of
false distress calls and incidents ranging from a simple lack of courtesy
to intentional interference. The Enforcement Bureau intends to strictly
enforce the Rules related to marine radio operations. Ensuring the
integrity of safety and distress frequencies is vital to safeguarding
lives and property.
What Should You Know?
Most recreational boaters are authorized to operate VHF marine radios,
radar, and emergency position-indicating radiobeacons (EPIRBs) without
having to obtain individual licenses from the FCC. However, boaters must
continue to follow the operating procedures for calling other stations,
maintaining a safety watch, and relaying distress messages as specified in
the FCC's Rules, available at
Depending on the type of operation, you may identify your ship station
over the air using your FCC-issued call sign, maritime mobile service
identity (MMSI), the state registration number or official number of your
ship, or the name of your ship. To check if your vessel license
information is correct, you may search the FCC database of licensed
stations at http://wireless.fcc.gov/uls/index.htm?job=home.
* VHF Marine Channel 16 Designated for Emergency Calls - Section 80.369
of the FCC's Rules states that VHF Marine Channel 16 (156.800 MHz) is
the international voice, distress, urgency, safety, call, and reply
channel for ship, public, and private coast stations. The Coast Guard
continually monitors Channel 16 and treats any distress call received
as an emergency that should be immediately investigated. Prohibited
Channel 16 communications include: false distress or emergency
messages, superfluous communications, messages containing obscene,
indecent, or profane words or meaning, general calls (calls not
addressed to a particular station), routine messages and radio tests,
and communications when your ship is on land (for example, while the
ship is on a trailer).
* Emergency Position-Indicating Radiobeacons (EPIRBs) Only Authorized
for Emergency Use - EPIRBs, devices that cost from $200 to about
$1500, are designed to save your life if you get into trouble on the
water by alerting rescue authorities and indicating your location.
Section 80.1161 of the FCC's Rules requires that EPIRBs be used only
under emergency conditions, while section 80.89(a) of the Rules
prohibits unauthorized or superfluous transmissions. Some EPIRBs
automatically activate when wet and others are manually activated.
Both types can be used when a ship is in distress by emitting a radio
signal marking the ship's location for rescue responders. Boaters must
exercise extreme care to prevent inadvertent activation in
* Registration of EPIRBs Required - Current 406 MHz EPIRBs have a unique
identifier that must be registered with the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) whenever installed or replaced on a
vessel, pursuant to section 80.1061(f) of the FCC's Rules. (You may
now register online.) Registration will help rescue forces find you
faster in the event of an emergency. Older EPIRBs operating only on
121.5 MHz/243 MHz should be replaced as they are no longer detected by
satellites, and their use is now prohibited under the FCC's Rules. For
information on recommended monthly EPIRB test procedures, see
* Ship Station Licenses Required for Commercial Vessels - Commercial
vessels that are required by statute to carry radio equipment must
apply to the FCC for a ship station license. The ship station license
specifies the type of radio equipment that the vessel is authorized to
use. All radio equipment must be properly licensed, and type accepted
for maritime use. Ship stations are specifically prohibited from
employing unlicensed or unauthorized radio equipment, such as
unlicensed or unauthorized amateur or aircraft transceivers.
What Happens if Users Do Not Comply with the FCC's Rules?
Interference to a maritime distress and safety frequency, including VHF
Marine Channel 16, is a violation of the most critical nature, with
potential impact upon safety of life and property. Harmful interference
can be caused not only by intentional operation, but also by stuck
microphones on Channel 16, and inadvertent activation of EPIRBs. Harmful
interference disrupts vital safety frequencies, and can obscure genuine
distress transmissions. Tracking down such interference also places a
strain on valuable resources of the safety and rescue agencies. Be aware
that the Enforcement Bureau intends to strictly enforce the Rules related
to marine radio operations.
Violators may be subject to the penalties authorized by the Communications
Act, including first offense fines as high as $16,000 for each violation
or imprisonment for up to one year. Your radio equipment can also be
seized and forfeited to the U.S. Government. In addition, the Coast Guard
can recover the costs of its rescue efforts when the initiating distress
call is determined to be false; these rescue-related costs can be as much
as $5,000 per hour.
What Should You Do?
Marine safety and distress radio communications are designed to protect
both your life and the lives of those around you - fellow boaters, friends
and loved ones. Please take the time to learn the FCC's Rules governing
proper radio operation and comply with them. Common sense and simple
courtesy can help keep you from harm's way. Safety equipment is there for
your own benefit. Your life may depend on it.
Need more information? To file a complaint, visit www.fcc.gov/complaints
or call 1-888-CALL-FCC. For additional information regarding enforcement
of the marine radio rules, visit the websites below or email
MarineRadio@fcc.gov. Media inquiries should be directed to David Fiske at
(202) 418-0513 or David.Fiske@fcc.gov.
* For information related to ship station licenses, proper use of marine
VHF radio channels, and licensing of marine radio stations, please
visit the FCC website at
* For more information on EPIRB registration, please visit the NOAA
website at https://beaconregistration.noaa.gov/rgdb/.
* For more information on EPIRB and other Coast Guard requirements,
please visit the Coast Guard website at
To request materials in accessible formats for people with disabilities
(Braille, large print, electronic files, audio format), send an e-mail to
firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau at
202-418-0530 (voice), (202) 418-0432 (TTY). You may also contact the
Enforcement Bureau on its TTY line at (202) 418-1148 for further
information about this Enforcement Advisory, or the FCC on its TTY line at
1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322) for further information about the marine
Issued by: Chief, Enforcement Bureau
See Vincent E. Aversa, Jr., Forfeiture Order, DA 11-549 (Enf. Bur. 2011)
(assessed a $20,000 forfeiture for unauthorized operation on Channel 16);
Princess K Fishing Corporation, Forfeiture Order, 24 FCC Rcd 2606 (Enf.
Bur. 2009) reconsideration pending (assessed a $5,500 forfeiture for
unauthorized activation of an EPIRB).
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FCC ENFORCEMENT ADVISORY
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th St., S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20554
News Media Information 202 / 418-0500