FCC Ship License hell, but Group MMSI achieved


So now that I have a real yacht, and hope to take her foreign one day, it seemed proper to get an official FCC Ship Station License.  And better sooner than later since it includes an official FCC MMSI number, and the FCC will not let anyone transfer MMSI numbers already gotten (very easily) from BoatUS or SeaTow, etc. (despite endless petitions by various boating and safety organizations. And VHF/SSB/AIS devices can not have their MMSI changed without considerable trouble.  Plus, getting an official FCC MMSI (with a zero at the end) means I can create a legitimate Group MMSI number, and experiment with that interesting but woefully under used DSC feature.  So off I went to the official FCC ship licensing site (above), and into the pits of web form hell…

I won’t bore you with the details, but it seems like the FCC tasked a crack team of web programmers to create a maze of verbose online forms that seem officious but actually collect very little information, and drive you crazy in the process.  I’d heard that the FCC kept much less data valuable to SAR authorities than the free MMSI sites do, but would you believe that they ask for your fax number, but have no field for your cell phone?  Would you believe that the check list of radio equipment you have aboard still includes defunct 121.5 mHz EPIRBs and antiquated Inmarsat systems but does not include Iridium or Globalstar phones, or Fleet Broadband?  And they don’t even let you put your vessel dimensions into their database?  Given a semi uncertain distress message, like a DSC call with no voice follow-up, the first thing the search and rescue folks try to do is to contact you and/or your emergency contacts to see if the possibly distressed vessel really is at sea.  The FCC is hardly helpful, and yet charge you $160 for the trouble!
   But there was good news. The application was approved overnight, and once I figured out how to find/edit my own records in the ULS, bada-bing, Gizmo has an official call sign and MMSI.  You could look me up in the public database too, but it’s far easier to check the screen shot below.  As soon as I get new radios and AIS transponders to test, you’ll find Gizmo at 367412350, and all the VHF radios on hand that can be programmed with one or more Group MMSI’s will soon ding-a-ling to the Group # 036741235. (Apparently BoatUS type MMSI numbers can not be made into Group #’s — sigh — but you and your buddies can experiment with the Gizmo-based Group MMSI too, unless you’re within my VHF range and would mind my testing.)


Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now pleased to have Ben Stein as a very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Please don't regard him as an "expert"; he's getting quite old and thinks that "fadiddling fumble-putz" is a more accurate description.

10 Responses

  1. Ross says:

    A ship station license is a piece of cake. Try getting a MMSI for a shore station? I tried to get one for our yacht club’s station but eventually gave up in frustration. Group calling would have been very useful for us, especially for our rescue boats supporting our public access sailing program.

  2. Anonymous says:

    The FCC has no need or interest in your vessels dimensions. Not when anyone who wants to know them can enter the vessels number from the radio license into the USCGs database and get all the information from your Certificate of Documentation.

  3. I had some difficulty with the FCC’s web page a few years back trying to get a GMDSS license. I’m surprised to learn they have not fixed it.
    BTW I was in you neck of the wood this last weekend on the S/V Must Roos.

  4. richardstephens says:

    Wow… they have really improved that system in the last couple of years. It took me months to figure it out!
    Any vessel with a VHF that travels interationally is supposed to have an FCC operator’s license and a ship’s license. But it is hard to imagine that many recreational boaters go through this pain.

  5. Sheila says:

    We’ve been sailing around the Caribbean for several years and about three years ago we went through the procedure of obtaining our radio licenses online. I wrote a post about it which you can read HERE.
    The procedure was very easy, but I did have a question so I called them up. I was very surprised and pleased that the person on the other end of the phone was nice and HELPFUL!
    So, perhaps you just need to give them a ring and have your questions sorted out quickly rather than going in circles on the net.
    Hope this helps!
    s/v So It Goes

  6. Merv Floyd says:

    Watch out if you program more than one VHF with your MMSI#. If someone calls you or transmits a psotition request, they will ALL try to answer and the “bells of hell” will ring and drive you nuts. You CAN program most radios not to respond but it is about as much fun as the FCC website.

  7. Aw cmon, it’s not that hard! I needed a license for my SSB and epirb, and I surely intended to go foreign, so I needed the4 restricted operator’s permit, but the whole thing took me maybe 15 min on the web. And updates are easy too!

  8. Merv Floyd says:

    No, it’s not hard but it is a mind numbingly stupid process. First you need an FRN # to even talk to the FCC. To get that you have to input just about every piece of personal data you can think of. Then, amazingly quickly, the computer allocates you an FRN # so you can now talk electronically to the FCC.
    So you go to the site, enter your FRN # and what is the first question it asks?… “Name?” etc etc etc all over again.
    Having done that you decide to pay electronically so you go to the payment site. First question.. “Name?” etc etc.
    Total for FRN, Operator and Station license requires inputting essentially the same data 5 times.
    You can’t tell me that transmitting all this data 5 times actually increases security and I dread to think what happens if you make a mistake.
    All this in the name of progress.

  9. Sandy Daugherty says:

    We need a way to measure website friendliness, an index of useability. What’s a piece of cake in the mind of an engineer is positively Cyrillic to a liberal arts major, and vice versa. here’s my first cut:
    1. easy: click on a blue underlined URL
    2. medium: order flowers on Mother’s Day
    3. difficult: find a metric threaded sink faucet
    4. arcane: cancel your cable TV subscription
    5. Everest: compare actual holding power of a stupid anchor.

  10. Ben, thank you for posting this info — particularly the screenshot of your license details. That was the key that unlocked the process for me. BTW, a Google search for “how to apply for mmsi fcc” is not particularly fruitful. So, thanks!
    Long-time listener, first-time caller,
    – JZ

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