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ATIS Licensing FAQ

What is ATIS?

The UK’s inland waterways are largely restricted to leisure use, with comparatively few commercial journeys being made.  Produce delivered to our ports in containers or in bulk generally continues its journey by road or rail.  In Europe, however, there is a long history of using rivers and canals as transport arteries.  The Rhine, Danube and Rhone rivers transport millions of tons of cargo each year.  With large numbers of large vessels, many carrying hazardous cargoes, strict traffic management is needed.  Communication is key to this, to ensure that vessels remain aware of those around them.

ATIS - the Automatic Transmitter Identification System - has therefore been developed to identify vessels travelling on the inland waterways of several European countries.  These countries together form the Regional Arrangement Concerning the Radiotelephone Service on Inland Waterways or RAINWAT. 

This guidance explains the steps Ofcom has taken to enable UK ship radio licensees to use ATIS. 

How does ATIS work?

A vessel is normally identified by its call sign or MMSI.  However, to use ATIS, a vessel must also have an ATIS number.  At the end of every transmission (in fact every time you release the PTT button), the radio sends out an audible signal, which contains the ship's ATIS number, identifying the vessel to marine coast stations and inland stations. 

For UK vessels, we have agreed with the RAINWAT countries that the ATIS number will be formed by taking the vessel’s MMSI and adding the digit ‘9’ as a prefix, making a ten-digit number. 

How can I tell if my radio supports ATIS?

Many manufacturers already make ATIS radio or radio that can have ATIS activated.  Some sets allow the user to switch between ATIS and non-ATIS use.  You should consult your instruction manual or ask your dealer to establish if your set supports ATIS working. 

The RAINWAT Arrangement

To ensure that all of the countries using ATIS apply common rules, the RAINWAT countries agreed an Arrangement, which originally entered into force in 2000.  In 2012, this was replaced by a new Arrangement www.rainwat.bipt.be/component/attachments/download/652 and this was further amended in 2013 though that has yet to be published.

The Arrangement provides for the use of radio on the inland waterways of RAINWAT countries.  It covers aspects such as the use of frequencies, operating procedures and the need to maintain a database of participating ships.  The laws of the individual participating countries will stipulate what radio apparatus must be carried.

The inland waterways of the UK are far less congested than those of the RAINWAT countries, so the UK has not yet acceded to the Arrangement and it does not apply to our inland waterways.  Moreover, to apply it over here would require significant investment in infrastructure.  The current level and nature of the use made of our inland waterways does not justify that level of expenditure.

The Arrangement requires every vessel sailing on the inland waterways of a RAINWAT country to have a copy of the Arrangement on board, in addition to the ship radio licence.  For UK vessels, the licence must also include the Variation, which is described below.  You must also have your operator certificate (SRC, ROC and so on).  The 2012 Arrangement further requires vessels to carry a copy of the Guide on radiotelephone services on inland water­ways.  This has yet to be published but should be available in 2014.  In the mean time, licensees should carry the existing equivalent guide, http://www.ccr-zkr.org/13020500-en.html#02 though this is available only in French or German.

The policing of the RAINWAT agreement will depend on the law and the policy of each state party to the Arrangement.  Individual licensees must familiarise themselves with the agree­ment, in order to avoid unwitting non-compliance.  The agree­ment is administered by the Belgian radio and telecommunication regulator BIPT1.  Licensees should check with the authorities of the country in which they are sailing to find out what will be needed. 

How do I obtain an ATIS number?

Varying the ship radio licence

The UK ship radio licence does not normally include ATIS equipment or an ATIS number, as most vessels will not be sailing in RAINWAT countries.  You must therefore formally request us in writing (that includes e-mail) to vary your Ship Radio Licence to permit the use of ATIS equipment and to issue an ATIS number. 

Your request must include:

  • the name of the licensee
  • the UK ship radio licence number
  • the name of the vessel
  • the vessel's call sign
  • the vessel's MMSI

We can then send you a notice formally varying your licence to include ATIS apparatus and notify you of your ATIS number.  We shall also provide the BIPT1 the following information:

  • Vessel name
  • Vessel Call sign
  • Vessel MMSI (Maritime Mobile Service Identity) number
  • Date of Issue for the Notice of Variation

To request a variation, please contact us at:

Spectrum Licensing
Riverside House
2a Southwark Bridge Road
London
SE1 9HA

Spectrum.Licensing@ofcom.org.uk

What if I do not have an MMSI number?

If your vessel has not got an MMSI, you can obtain one via our ship radio licensing portal (here).  You must be registered to use this.  Alternatively, you can complete Of 347a, or send an email to spectrum.licensing@ofcom.org.uk .  An MMSI remains with a vessel, even if the vessel is sold on.

MMSIs are intended for use with DSC radio equipment and we strongly urge licensees to equip themselves with this type of radio.  The Maritime and Coastguard Agency has published information (here) on the benefits of DSC.  Anyone operating DSC equipment must hold a suitable operator certificate, such as the UK Short Range Certificate and an Authority To Operate. 

Some ATIS equipment does not use DSC.  In these cases, and if despite the benefits, you decide not to equip with DSC equipment, we are prepared to allow you to request an MMSI by amending your licensing details online to include DSC in the equipment.  The system will then generate an MMSI.

Can I use hand held VHF DSC for ATIS?

No. This is because:

  • ATIS identification numbers relate to a ship, while the MMSI of hand held VHF DSC relates to the individual piece of equipment.
  • The Ship Portable Radio Licence is the only authorisation available for hand held VHF DSC radio.  It is not valid beyond UK territorial sea and we do not issue an international call sign with that licence.  So, hand held VHF DSC cannot be used anywhere in continental Europe.  Licensees travelling to RAINWAT countries must therefore hold a full Ship Radio Licence.
  • Other countries may not authorise hand held VHF DSC (or may not do so in the same way that we do). So, they could regard a hand held VHF DSC as being illegal under their legislation, even if it is switched to ATIS working. This could result in enforcement action by the authorities overseas

We have published further guidance on the installation and use of hand held VHF DSC at http://licensing.ofcom.org.uk/radiocommunication-licences/ships-radio/faq/vhf-faq/

Can ATIS be used in the UK?

No.  As the UK has not yet acceded to the Basel agreement, the variation to the ship radio licence only allows ATIS equipment to be used out with the territorial waters of the UK and Channel Islands. 

If the radio equipment does not have the facility to switch between ATIS and non-ATIS working, this may mean returning to the dealer to have the facility deactivated for use in the UK.  In the UK, the equipment must operate within the parameters of the relevant Interface Requirement or other technical standard referred to in the ship radio licence document. 

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