Marine Coast Stations (9/10)
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules permit marine dealers, suppliers, yacht clubs, and boating groups to operate from shore on marine VHF and single-sideband frequencies. Filing electronically for call letters can take less than five days.
The FCC is the authorizing agency that permits marine businesses and marine groups to transmit on marine VHF and SSB channels from shore. Marine coast station licenses are available to individuals, boating groups, marine dealers, and any other group that needs to communicate on marine channels from shore to ship.
According to U.S. Coast Guard telecommunications official Joe Hersey, “More VHF and SSB shore stations monitoring the distress channels plus Digital Selective Calling (DSC) emergency frequencies will add to our listening watches.” This supports the idea that more licensed marine coast stations on the air provide additional radio watches on distress frequencies.
“We had an idea,” Hersey adds, “to ask the Federal Communications Commission to consider relaxing rules on obtaining a coast station license for medium-frequency and high-frequency radiotelephone. Current rules limiting such use—a commercial fisherman, for example, could not normally get permission to install a radio in his house so he can call his wife, or vice versa—were based upon protecting public coast stations from competition. Since commercial HF stations have disappeared, the rationale for this restriction for a private shore station license has disappeared. If the restrictions were relaxed, I believe we still should insist on station and operator licensing, and prohibit use where competition still exists.
“Doing this, I think, would keep high-frequency use and familiarity with working the radio alive and promote availability/sales of DSC-equipped HF radios. It would also bring more people up on high-frequency radiotelephone channels, an argument for improving safety. The U.S. Coast Guard and FCC still require fishing and commercial vessels to carry HF radio for long-range safety communications, yet it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to actually contact anybody, including us, the Coast Guard, with it!”
A marine coast station license normally would not be available for the following uses:
• A radio hobbyist wishing a test-free long-range license to simply chat with boats at sea.
• An individual not regularly in the marine business but who wants private channels to stay in touch with their yacht on “free” radio channels.
• Shore-to-ship communications that have nothing to do with the normal operation of the vessel at sea. An example is a river gaming boat where shore-to-ship communications might deal with how the slot machines are paying out.
If shore-to-ship communications dealt with providing supply or service to passengers or the crew, this could be a legitimate application for a shore-to-ship license.
The marine coast station license grant will usually include three or four VHF marine band frequency assignments. VHF distress Channel 16 and DSC digital Channel 70 should be included for the requested VHF channels. Only specific marine VHF channels are permitted for shore-to-ship operation. Inter-ship-only channels would not be permitted.
On marine single sideband, 2182 voice distress and 2187.5 DSC would begin the requested channel lineup, plus a maximum of two channels in each marine SSB long-range band category—4, 6, 8, 12, 16, 22, and 26 MHz. The channels requested would normally be the common ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore frequencies known as “alpha” and “bravo” channels. As an example, on the 8 MHz medium-range marine SSB band, Channel 8A, 8294.0 kHz, and 8B, 8297.0 kHz, would be selected.
VHF shore station power output may be as much as 50 watts, and marine SSB peak envelope power could be up to 1,000 watts. Typically, most shore-side radio transmitters only put out 25 watts, and most marine SSB transceivers only put out 150 watts peak envelope power. But the rules do permit more.
Filing: Then and Now
Before computerized coast station license application began this year, the original paper Form 503 was required. The form was sent to the FCC in Gettysburg, Penn., where it would undergo the scrutiny of licensing personnel. Routinely, Gettysburg would reject the application because not enough information was submitted to justify numerous frequencies or the coast station license itself. Originally it took an accompanying letter on your marine business stationary in order to satisfy the Commission that it was licensing a business shore station as opposed to granting a license to someone wishing to skirt high-seas telephone service or just gab with ships at sea.
Southern California and Pacific Northwest applicants also needed to submit a frequency application form granted by the area Marine Radio Council. At first, the Council would work very hard in making sure that no two coast stations ended up on the same channel just a few miles apart. But as the channels quickly filled up, the frequency surveys became more a rubber stamp than actual monitoring for channel loading. Although the new electronic filing does require Southern California and Pacific Northwest Radio Council coordination, no Council coordination attachment was asked for. You simply state that you have made contact with the Radio Council for frequency coordination and they have given you their blessing.
Coast station applications are now filed electronically with the FCC for almost next-day call sign issuance. The FCC fee for a coast station license is $150 for 10 years. This is the same fee for a ship station license, but coast station licensing requires several additional electronic forms to be completed:
• FCC Form 601 Information & Instructions
• FCC Form 601 Application for Wireless
• Radio Service Authorization
• FCC Form 601 Schedule D Information & Instructions
• FCC Form 601 Schedule D Station Locations & Antenna Structures
• FCC Form 601 Schedule G Technical Data for Maritime & Aviation Services
• FCC Form 601 Schedule G Technical Data
“You must file technical information for each fixed location, including the antenna structures and/or each handheld/mobile transmit location, temporary fixed station location, or itinerant station. It is recommended that you complete Schedule D prior to completing Schedule G,” according to the FCC, noting that electronic filing for coast station licenses recently switched from paper to electronic.
The Commission adds that: “Universal Licensing System for Maritime Coast is the interactive licensing database developed by the wireless telecommunications bureau to consolidate 11 existing licensing systems used to process application and grant licenses in wireless services. ULS provides numerous benefits, including fast and easy electronic filing, improved data accuracy through automated checking of applications, and enhanced electronic access to licensing information.”
The Universal Licensing System has a home page at http://www.fcc.gov/wtb/uls.
The FCC’s description of the process as “easy” may not accurately describe the procedure. On the first time through, five tries were rejected before succeeding on the sixth. FCC licensing personnel, contacted by phone, went out of their way to figure out why our submitted first application kept coming back as rejected. It took them about 24 hours to identify the problem.
The coast station license process might also hang up on the applicant’s federal registration number. This can happen if a number has previously been assigned to that applicant for other licenses he or she may hold, but the applicant didn’t know they had their own FRN number. This requires temporary passwords, verifications, and sometimes can cause as much as a week delay in the coast station licensing process. Frequencies and emissions are another hang-up. You even need to substantiate in a separate statement why you are applying for the VHF and high-frequency/medium-frequency DSC frequencies.
And when it comes to the antenna structure, the FCC needs as much detail as if you were putting up a commercial land mobile radio system, including ERP, major lobes, feedline loss, height above sea level and height above the local property line.
Log onto the FCC website and look up each form’s instructions. This will give a better idea of what they are looking for when you begin to work through the electronic forms. It is an involved process, but if you are in the business of regularly obtaining ship and coast station licenses, it gets a little easier each time you satisfactorily complete the process.