The Yacht Radio Licence - A Guide To Licensing, Call Signs, MMSI Numbers & More

03 November 2014

Radio licensing is an integral part of the yacht documentation procedure and is an important component of the Oceanskies yacht registration service.

Oceanskies is a leading yacht registration and yacht documentation consultancy specialising in the registration of yachts of all sizes at all of the main yacht registry jurisdictions.

It is the purpose of this guide to set out the underlying legal requirements for yachts to hold a valid radio licence and detail the key components of the process.


International radio regulations govern all use of the entire radio spectrum worldwide. The regulations are laid down by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Radio regulations have international treaty status and are binding on all ITU member states. The ITU was founded in Paris in 1865 as the International Telegraph Union, and took its present name in 1934. In 1947 it became a specialised agency of the United Nations, based in Geneva.

The international regulations require all radio transmitting stations installed onboard a yacht to have a license issued by the government of the country of the vessel's registry. Specifically, the Radio Regulations issued by the ITU state at Article S18:

S18.1 § 1 1) No transmitting station may be established or operated by a private person or by any enterprise without a licence issued in an appropriate form and in conformity with the provisions of these Regulations by or on behalf of the government of the country to which the station in question is subject.

Article 47.2 of the Radio Regulations relevantly states that:

“The service of every ship radiotelephone station, ship earth station and ship station …………. shall be controlled by an operator holding a certificate issued or recognised by the government to which the station is subject. Provided the station is so controlled, other persons besides the holder of the certificate may use the equipment."

The effect of the radio regulations is to ensure that radio equipment used onboard a yacht does not cause undue interference to other communications equipment and is operated by competent persons. In practice this means that all maritime radio transmission equipment onboard a yacht operating internationally must be:

  • compliant with national requirements
  • covered by a Ship Radio Licence or Ship Portable Radio Licence
  • operated by (or under the direct supervision of) a holder of a maritime radio operator's certificate

Yacht Radio Licence

The licensing authority responsible for the issue of a yacht’s radio licence will be determined by the vessel’s flag state and is usually a either a national radio licensing authority or a department of the ship registry. The issue of a radio licence to a vessel allows the licensee to install and, if a relevant Maritime Radio Operators’ Certificate of Competence and Authority to Operate is held, use any combination of maritime radio equipment listed below on a specified vessel:

  • Digital Selective Calling (DSC) equipment associated with the Global Maritime Distress & Safety System (GMDSS);
  • MF, HF, VHF equipment;
  • Satellite communications equipment (Ship Earth Stations);
  • RADAR;
  • Search and Rescue Radar Transponders (SARTs);
  • Low powered, on board maritime UHF communications equipment;
  • On board repeater stations;
  • 3/123.1 MHz Aeronautical Search and Rescue equipment;
  • 5/243 MHz and 406/121.5 MHz Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs), 406 MHz and 6.1 GHz; and
  • Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs).

Yacht Call Signs

A call sign will be allocated to the yacht as part of the licensing function. This call sign is a unique identification for the vessel and cannot be transferred between vessels (unlike a vessel name). The call sign is recognised worldwide because the issuing agency will register it with the ITU with the details of the vessel. A vessel with a properly registered call sign can be identified easily and it also enables a vessel owner to set up an account with an accounting authority to make use of international telephone services through foreign coast stations.

Yacht Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) numbers

An MMSI number is the equivalent of an electronic call sign and it is required to operate Digital Selective Calling (DSC) radio or satellite communications equipment. It is usually allocated as part of the initial radiolicensing procedure but can be requested at any point afterwards. The MMSI is also registered with the ITU.


EPIRBs and PLBs are self-contained, battery-operated radio transmitters. Their purpose is to help determine the position of survivors in search-and-rescue (SAR) operations. A 406 MHz EPIRB or PLB has a unique identification code, known as a HEX ID, which is programmed during manufacture. If the EPIRB/PLB is activated and the owner or operator has properly registered the unit as part of the radiolicensing procedure it could assist rescuers in determining the name, size and type of the craft in distress. If the EPRIB is not properly registered its usefulness to the rescue services in an emergency will be seriously degraded, and lives may be put at risk.

Yacht Portable Radio Licence

A Portable Radio Licence covers the use of a portable, hand-held marine VHF or VHF/DSC radio with an integral power supply and antenna not covered by the Ship Radio Licence. It can also additionally cover the carrying of PLBs. This licence is usually issued to someone who intends using a hand-held radio on more than one vessel.

Oceanskies Radiolicensing Services

Oceanskies includes the provision of a radio licence for all client vessels as part of its standard yacht registration service. We will apply on behalf of the yacht owner to the radiolicensing authority corresponding to the yacht's registration.

The radio licence will allocate the vessel's call sign and, where applicable, the vessel's MMSI number.

In cases where flag state and/or the radio licensing authority requires a radio inspection survey to be carried out as part of the licensing process we shall organise on behalf of the owner.

Oceanskies is also able to provide a registration service for EPIRBs and PLBs installed onboard client vessels and will ensure that each unit is noted on the vessel's radio licence and registered with the appropriate coastguard authority.

We can also assist when required with the commissioning of satellite equipment and the provision of a radio and/or satellite accounting authority.

Oceanskies can also provide as a separate service a dedicated 24 hour shore based emergency contact facility.

For further information please do not hesitate to contact us.

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