a a a Display Options Cymraeg
Follow Ofcom on Facebook Follow Ofcom on Twitter Subscribe to the Ofcom RSS Follow Ofcom on YouTube Follow Ofcom on YouTube

Independent regulator and competition authority
for the UK communications industries.

Search Ofcom


Hand held VHF DSC FAQs

HAND HELD VHF DSC - FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

  • What is DSC?

DSC stands for Digital Selective Calling and is a means of calling other ship stations or shore stations, like ports. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) has published guidance on the many advantages of DSC on their website.

  • Can I use hand held VHF DSC? Is hand held VHF DSC legal now?

Yes. In response to approaches from both users and manufacturers, we have made arrangements to authorise the use of some hand held VHF DSC in UK territorial sea this means within 12 nautical miles of low tide or for example half-way across the English Channel to France.

  • What kit is legal?

We have published a draft document (IR2083), which is available on our website. If the use of your apparatus conforms to IR2083, then it can be covered by the UK Ship Portable Radio Licence. Your dealer or the manufacturer can advise you. Apparatus must include the CE mark to show that it complies with the applicable EU Directives.

  • I bought a hand held DSC in the USA/over eBay/at a car boot/off a bloke in the pub. Can I use that?

Almost certainly not but see the answer to the preceding question. Canadian and US-specification apparatus has a different channel plan from Europe and other channel plans must not be used. If apparatus allows the user to select a channel plan, you must select the plan that applies to Europe.

  • Do I need a special licence? Will my existing Ship Radio Licence cover it? Must I vary my existing licence?

You must have a separate Ship Portable Radio Licence for each hand held VHF DSC radio. This is because each individual radio is given a separate identity. The apparatus must not be used outwith UK territorial sea. So, it cannot be covered by a normal Ship Radio Licence, as this does not impose any territorial restrictions. If you already have a Ship Portable Radio Licence, you should ensure that it includes hand held VHF DSC. If it does not, you can change it online, free of charge.

  • Can I use it on inland waters?

In common with other ship radio apparatus, hand held VHF DSC may be used in UK inland waterways. However, it must not be used overseas, for example for ATIS.

  • What is ATIS?

ATIS is the Automatic Transmitter Identification Scheme and identifies individual vessels on the inland waterways of continental Europe. We have published guidance on ATIS at http://licensing.ofcom.org.uk/radiocommunication-licences/ships-radio/faq/atis-faq.

  • Can I use hand held VHF DSC for ATIS?

No. There are three reasons for this:

  • 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 not valid beyond UK territorial sea and we do not issue an international call sign with that licence, so the hand held VHF DSC cannot be used anywhere in continental Europe.
  • 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.
  • Can I use it on any vessel?

As it is licensed under a Ship Portable Radio Licence, you can use the hand held DSC on any ship within UK territorial sea. However, this is at the discretion of the ships master.

  • What operator certificate do I need?

You must hold at least the Short Range Certificate to use hand held VHF DSC, just like any VHF DSC radio.

  • What if I sell my radio?

You must surrender your Ship Portable Radio Licence. Until you do, we cannot transfer the MMSI to the new owner. If the new owner makes a DSC distress call, the MCA will always respond but it may affect their efficiency if they dont have the correct contact details.

  • Do I need to register my DSC, like an EPIRB?

No. We share MMSI details with the MCA to assist their search and rescue operations. We shall share MMSIs for individual hand held VHF DSC radios with the MCA in the same manner.

  • I am a dealer. Can I sell any hand held DSC radio?

Under European law, if a piece of hand held VHF DSC apparatus conforms to the relevant Directives it will have CE mark and can be sold in any EU country, including the UK, even if its use cant be authorised here. If a manufacturer in another Member State produces an example that carries the CE mark but that does not conform to our IR (see above), it can be sold in the UK but it cannot be used under a UK Ship Portable Radio Licence. If hand held DSC does not carry the CE mark, it may not be sold here.

  • I am a dealer. Can I programme a normal ship MMSI into a hand held DSC set?

While there is no specific law against doing this, it remains that using hand held DSC programmed with an MMSI, other than one that starts 2359xxxxx, is not authorised by the Ship Radio (or Ship Portable Radio) Licence and is therefore unlawful. The courts may hold that it is also unlawful knowingly to facilitate such an unlawful act. Remember - we have agreed this MMSI arrangement with the MCA, to assist in their response to any distress calls. Programming the wrong type of MMSI may affect the MCAs efficiency.

  • Why has this taken so long?

Any new DSC apparatus must fit into existing arrangements, notably the GMDSS. It has taken a long time for the international community to draft standards under which hand held VHF DSC can operate. These have almost been agreed, so we can refer to them for the purposes of authorising the use of the apparatus in UK waters. When they have been agreed fully, we anticipate that an international authorisations regime can be agreed.

  • What about the future?

Some the internationally established parameters may change, leading to a need for changes in the way that VHF DSC is used or authorised. For example, an MMSI format may be adopted that differs from the 2359xxxxx format described above. Users would then have to get a new MMSI from us and have it programmed into their set. Dealers would advise how to do this, as sets can often not be reprogrammed by users.

Back to top