Handhelds to have own distinct MMSI number

 Ofcom has today announced plans to authorise hand held VHF DSC – a comparatively new piece of ship radio equipment. This device uses a type of paging system which can be used to call other vessels or make safety, urgency and distress alerts.

This will make hand held VHF DSC available to a wide range of boaters – including for example kayakers – who have until now had to rely on less reliable voice calling on Channel 16. It also boosts the Maritime Coastguard Agency’s (MCA) desire to see greater use of VHF DSC, to enhance maritime safety for all users.

How to authorise a hand held VHF DSC radio

Ofcom has made authorisation as easy as possible. Hand held VHF DSC is authorised only under the Ship Portable Radio Licence, available free of charge from the Ofcom website (https://services.ofcom.org.uk ).

Sets are not identified under a ship’s Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) but with their own individual MMSI, which must start with ‘2359xxxxx’. This is because sets may be carried from ship to ship, so they must not be programmed with a ship’s MMSI.

Anyone who already holds a Ship Portable Radio Licence can go onto the website and simply add VHF DSC hand held to the list of equipment. As with VHF non-DSC hand held radios, the licence covers only one piece of equipment. So, for five VHF DSC sets, a user will need five licences (one for each piece of equipment), each with its own MMSI.

Anyone without a licence can register online and apply, ensuring that they include hand held VHF DSC in the list of equipment. The system will automatically generate an MMSI. Licences are free of charge if issued online.

Licences limited to UK waters

Ofcom has decided not to wait for a harmonised European standard.

So, for the time being, hand held DSC may only be used in UK waters. This means that it cannot be used for Automatic Identification Transmission System (ATIS) on the inland waterways of continental Europe. This is because the ATIS identity is based on a ship MMSI and because hand held VHF DSC apparatus may not be recognised by authorities abroad.

Frequently asked questions for users and dealers are available on the Ofcom website at http://licensing.ofcom.org.uk/radiocommunication-licences/ships-radio.