Radio and The Irish Inland Waterways Boater
areas of confusion surround the use and licensing of VHF radios on our inland
waterways. Many boats have them fitted or owners may have acquired them
already installed in their boats. There are many types of VHF radio and
equally there are several specific requirements that must be met before you
can operate a VHF radio on a boat. These also apply to handheld
VHF Radios are powerful, compact and economical units and are readily
available. Marine VHF is a channel based system in that the radio band that
it operates on is divided up into dedicated and standardised slots called
channel, rather like your TV set.
basic types of radio exist today
Voice only Radio
the standard VHF radio, either in fixed mount version or handheld portable.
Typically fixed mount units are permanently wired into the boat and transmit
on greater power then handheld units.
new radios conform to the requirements of the Global Maritime Distress and
Safety System. ( GMDSS) . They have the ability to transmit digital distress
messages, that can include position information and also you can use the
digital calling technology, known as Digital Selective Calling (DSC), rather
like a mobile phone, where you enter the number ( called the MMSI) of the
vessel you want to call, assuming they have DSC and then their
DSC VHF radio
“rings” like a phone. All DSC radios have all the conventional features of
standard VHF radios as well and voice communication is carried on exactly as
Currently (as of 2004)
there are very few DSC capable handhelds.
that all new VHF fixed mount radios sold in the EU now must be at least DSC
capable. Either it will have DSC ability built in or can be easily upgraded
to do so. For pleasure boats
at present there is no requirement to fit a DSC VHF radio
Benefits of VHF radio
not be readily apparent to the inland waterway boater why they should fit a
In an emergency
the Coast Guard can be quickly contacted, especially now they have radio
stations on Lough Ree, Lough
and the Erne.
Other boaters in
the area can be alerted to a distress or be co-ordinated by the Coast Guard
Radio Station to help in a rescue.
weather forecast at regular intervals, especially now as there is a
dedicated inland lakes forecast.
sets are now available at low cost and at a minimum boats should at least
carry a hand held unit.
Ships Radio License
Republic of Ireland, to install and operate a VHF radio requires a Ships Radio License, more
correctly and beautifully called a “License to establish a Wireless
Telegraph Ship Station” (makes you feel like Marconi doesn’t it). This
document should not be confused with the normal Certificate of Competence,
which is more commonly referred as “the license” or the operators license
Ships Radio License allows you to establish the actual radio installation,
it specifies what frequencies and power you may you and most importantly it
provides you with a Call Sign. The call sign for Irish pleasure
vessels is EIxxxx where xxxx is a four digit number. This call sign is an
international unique identifier for that vessel. If you have the full
operators certificate you will also be issued an Maritime Mobile Service
Identity ( MMSI). This is your DSC VHF radio’s “phone number”.
apply for your ships radio license, after acquiring your operators license,
providing Communications Regulator (ComReg) with details of the vessel,
Northern Ireland the provisions are very similar.
The Ships radio
License, consists of a license document , license terms booklet and a
license disk (which must be displayed on the boat).
Republic of Ireland: Ships Radio Licence particulars and a list of training
course providers can be found
List of Northern Ireland RYA VHF course providers can be found
Certificate of Competency (a.k.a. the
certificate comes in various forms, all of which are operators licenses.
The most basic is “The Restricted Certificate in
Radiotelephony (VHF only),” which is achieved by passing Module 1 of the
SRC (Short Range Certificate) exam. This certificate entitles you to use a
standard voice only ( no DSC, see below) VHF. This is what many boats are
currently fitted with.
require to operate the new digital calling radios (DSC) and be capable of
using the safety equipment under the new GMDSS, then you will be required to
complete both Module 1 and Module 2 of the SRC, thereby acquiring the full
Radio Operators Short Range Certificate.
Most VHF courses now focus on passing both modules together and there are
plans to discontinue Module 1 only exams after 2005. So in the future there
will be only the standard SRC cert. Anyway the course is easy to do and the
exams are simple and straightforward. There are many course providers around
the Island ( see useful links).
In Northern Ireland the provision of the Short Range Certificate in VHF
is delegated by the Radio Communications Agency to the Royal Yachting
Association (RYA). The RYA certifies course providers which then provide the
exam. This is a one day exam.
Note: That as of 1st June 2004, Any RYA VHF license acquired after this
date cannot be used to apply for a ships radio license for a boat subject to
the radio licensing laws of the Republic of Ireland.
Do’s and Don’ts
Don’t say “Over and Out” to end a conversation, the correct procedure is
each side simply says “Out”. (Nothing gives away an unlicensed user as much
Don’t Use Channel 16 for long conversations, it’s primarily a distress
channel, make a short call and then change to an agreed working channel (normally channel 6,8,72,77). Remember you may be causing interference
Don’t let your kids or any unlicensed operator use the radio for routine
business, its illegal to do so.
Don’t use VHF radios
on-shore, either for shore to ship or shore to shore
communications, these are forbidden by your license conditions
Don’t conduct non-ship's
business over the radio, for example conversations about the long drive home
use the approved procedures and special words to get your message across. It
speeds the process and makes things clearer
listen at all times the vessel is in use to Channel 16, this is a
requirement of your license.
call the Coast Guard Radio stations using their working channel for routine
business wherever possible, for example, when requesting a radio check.
be brief, courteous and professional at all times in the communications you
know the rules and regulations.
Distress and calling channel, monitored by the Coast
6,8,72,77 Inter ship channels
62 Lough Ree Coast Guard Working Channel
61 Lough Derg Coast Guard Working Channel
(announce on CH 16) 0103, 0403, 0703, 1003, 1303, 1603, 1903, 2203
Inland Lakes Forecast
(announced first on CH 16)
Ree Radio VHF Ch 62 07.15hrs with a repeat at 09.15hrs16.15hrs with a repeat
Lough Derg Radio VHF Ch 61 At 07.20hrs with a repeat 09.20hrs16.20hrs with
repeat at 18.20hrs
- Ships Radio Licence particulars and a list of training course providers
can be found
List of Northern Ireland RYA VHF course providers can be found
www.sailing.ie Irish Sailing Association ( search for
Contributed by Dave McCabe