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.)