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Do Commercial Fishing Boats Need a Radio License?

Operating a commercial fishing vessel requires adhering to various regulations, including communication requirements. One crucial aspect is understanding whether a radio license is necessary for your fishing operations. This article will provide a detailed overview of radio licensing requirements for commercial fishing boats, addressing different scenarios and regulations to ensure compliance and safe operations.

Federal Requirements for Commercial Fishing Vessels

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates radio communications in the United States, including requirements for commercial fishing vessels. According to the FCC’s regulations, a Ship Radio Station License is mandatory for any vessel:

  • Required by law to carry radio communication equipment, such as VHF radios, radar, or EPIRBs (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons).
  • Carrying single sideband radios or Inmarsat equipment.
  • Communicating with foreign coast stations or traveling to foreign ports.

For commercial fishing vessels operating solely within U.S. waters and not communicating with foreign stations, a Ship Radio Station License may not be required if they only use VHF radios, radar, or EPIRBs. However, it’s essential to check with the FCC or local authorities for any specific requirements based on your vessel’s size, operations, and equipment.

Obtaining a Ship Radio Station License

If your commercial fishing vessel requires a Ship Radio Station License, you can apply for one through the FCC’s Universal Licensing System (ULS). The process involves:

  1. Filing FCC Form 605 electronically through ULS.
  2. Providing details about your vessel, radio equipment, and intended operations.
  3. Paying the applicable license fee (valid for 10 years).

Upon approval, you’ll receive a link to print your official license, which must be kept on board the vessel at all times.

Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit

In addition to the Ship Radio Station License, commercial fishing vessels traveling to foreign ports or communicating with foreign coast stations may also require a Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit (RP) for crew members operating the radio equipment. This permit is obtained through the FCC and involves a separate application and fee.

State and Local Regulations

While the FCC regulates radio communications at the federal level, some states and local authorities may have additional requirements or specific regulations for commercial fishing vessels operating within their jurisdictions. It’s crucial to check with your state’s wildlife or maritime agencies to ensure compliance with any applicable radio licensing or communication requirements.

Importance of Radio Communication for Fishing Safety

Proper radio communication is essential for the safety of commercial fishing operations. VHF radios allow vessels to communicate with other boats, marinas, bridges, and the United States Coast Guard (USCG) in coastal waters. This communication is vital for reporting emergencies, requesting assistance, and coordinating rescue operations if needed.

Additionally, many VHF radios provide access to NOAA weather forecasts, enabling fishermen to stay informed about changing weather conditions and plan their operations accordingly.

Penalties for Non-Compliance

Failure to comply with radio licensing requirements for commercial fishing vessels can result in significant penalties. The FCC has the authority to issue fines and sanctions for violations, including operating without a required license or using unauthorized radio equipment.

In addition to FCC penalties, non-compliance with radio communication regulations can also jeopardize the safety of your crew and operations, potentially leading to legal liabilities in case of incidents or accidents.


Commercial fishing vessels must adhere to radio licensing requirements set forth by the FCC and any applicable state or local regulations. While some vessels may be exempt from needing a Ship Radio Station License, it’s crucial to understand the specific requirements based on your vessel’s size, equipment, and intended operations.

Obtaining the necessary licenses and permits not only ensures compliance but also promotes safer operations by enabling effective communication with other vessels, authorities, and emergency services. By prioritizing radio communication requirements, commercial fishing operators can protect their crews, vessels, and businesses while contributing to a safer and more responsible maritime environment.

Remember, it’s always advisable to consult with the FCC, local authorities, or legal professionals to ensure you have the most up-to-date information and are fully compliant with all applicable regulations.

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