Note: The FCC, not the Coast Guard, regulates radio licenses in the U.S. The information below is the best information we have available concerning ship radio licenses. We recommend you contact the FCC directly concerning any questions.
Radio Licenses for Boaters
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 permits recreational boaters to have and use a VHF marine radio, EPIRB, and marine radar without having an FCC ship station license. Boaters traveling on international voyages, having an HF single sideband radiotelephone or marine satellite terminal, or required to carry a marine radio under any other regulation must still carry an FCC ship station license. For further information, see the FCC Ship Radio Stations Fact Sheet.
FCC Ship Station Licenses
Those not exempted by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 must still have an FCC ship station license. A ship station license application is made on FCC Form 605 accompanied with Form 159, available from local FCC Field Offices, by writing to the FCC, P.O. Box 1050, Gettysburg PA 17326, or by calling the FCC Forms Distribution Center at (202)418-3676 or the toll-free number (800) 418-FORM. Forms can also be obtained from most marine electronics dealers. You can call the FCC in Gettysburg, obtain information about marine radio licensing, radio interference, and other matters, at 1 800 322-1117. FCC Gettysburg's working hours are 8 AM to 4:30 PM. Click here for forms
When preparing FCC Form 159 ship radio station license, enter Fee Type Code PASR (blk 7).
Radios can be used immediately upon license application. The license is not transferable if a boat is sold or if the installed radio equipment is moved from one boat to another.
FCC License Fees
The FCC charges a fee for renewing or applying for a new ship station license. The amount of that fee is reviewed every year. See the FCC Fees webpage for more information on license fees. Licenses will be valid for ten years.
Licensing VHF Handhelds
If you wish to purchase a portable radio for use on more than one boat, only one license is necessary. When completing an FCC Application for Ship Station License (form 506), check "Portable" in block 10, "Type of License". No license is necessary if the handheld is to be used on a recreational vessel limited to domestic voyages (see above).
FCC Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permits
The FCC Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit is required for boaters having an HF radiotelephone, for boaters having a VHF transceiver and traveling in foreign waters, or where fitting of a marine radio is required by law (e.g. on boats 20m long or larger). There is a fee for this lifetime permit, but no tests are required in applying for this license. An application is made on FCC Form 605 accompanied with Form 159, available from local FCC Field Offices or by writing to the FCC, P.O. Box 1050, Gettysburg PA 17326.
FCC Radio Operators Licenses
The FCC website describes such information as types of licenses, permits and endorsements, instructions on how to obtain a license, where to take written examinations, etc.