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International MMSI?

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I am joining a trip in Canadian waters this summer.  I have a handheld VHF with DSC (digital selective calling) for which I have registered an MMSI (marine mobile service identity).  However this MMSI was obtained through BoatUS, which handles domestic MMSI registration for the FCC.  It is not registered internationally.  

Apparently, in order to obtain an internationally valid MMSI, it is necessary to cancel the domestic MMSI and apply directly to the FCC for a new MMSI.   This appears to be a little complicated and involves a new fee.
Does anyone have any thoughts or experience with this?   Is it even worth the trouble?   I think it would only be a concern for issuing an automatic distress signal using DSC. 
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ROC stands for Restricted Radiotelephone Operator’s Certificate and is required by
Anyone using a marine VHF radio or other marine radios (each person on the boat who will use the radio needs their own card). There are significant fines if you are found using a VHF or marine radio without your card.

In addition, if you received your ROC card before the new Digital Selective Calling was introduced, then you are encouraged to return and get your DSC endorsement for your ROC card.

It looks like unlike in the USA, in Canada you need a license to operate a VHF radio.

As I understand it, besides the possibility of fines for breaking the rules, the main safety issues seem to be that using a USA domestic only MMSI would not show up as a Handheld, and when used to match vessel information would either not have any information, or worse would match some MMSI that was domestic only in the foreign country.   I don't know how Canada SAR would handle that situation.



International Handheld VHF MMSI

All Handheld VHF-formatted MMSI numbers supplied by the Commission will be in constructed in the following format in accordance with ITU regulations:


Here a distinctive 8 precedes digits 2, 3, and 4 (MID) and the trailing Xs may be any figure from 0 to 9. This unique MMSI format for handheld VHF radios assist maritime emergency personnel in making better informed decisions based on the more limited coverage area and battery life of these radios versus hard-mounted VHF vessel radios.

Good luck.

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If you have any Canadians in your group they could call in an emergency. The VHF would still be usable on the water for group comms although technically not legal. 

it also seems to me in case of a true emergency some radio licensing fines would be low on one’s list of worries.

All that said I think a Garmin inReach mini is an excellent investment. They have global coverage and work in areas with poor VHF lines of sight. 

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A few thoughts.

Although I might well be wrong, my understanding that it is OK for anyone to use any radio on any frequency to seek assistance when life and limb are in jeopardy.

I seriously doubt anyone is going to care if you use your VHF handheld for non-emergency comms while you are in Canadian waters or in international waters without the appropriate authorizations.  If you want to have your bases covered, obtaining a Restricted Radiotelephone Operators Permit and a portable ship license for the handheld from the FCC should suffice.

With regard to device for distress calls  Joe's suggestion to consider a Garmin InReach is an excellent one.  Can be used anywhere for all kinds of activities and is a versatile device with numerous features besides using it to send a distress call.  For kayakers it might even be more reliable than DSC.

MMSI numbers are a little complicated and knowing about them is not my day job so take it for what is worth.  Technically, MMSI numbers for handheld units are different from numbers issued to vessels. If you are a kayaker, It is important the MMSI number you get is specifically encoded for a handheld unit and for technical legality so you can use it while paddling different kayaks.  The FCC issues a ship portable license and MMSI for handheld units that is properly encoded, can be used on multiple vessels, and can be used internationally.  Services such as BoatUS issue MMSI numbers for specific vessels which include handheld units to be used only on that vessel.  It is my understanding such MMSI numbers are not encoded to be recognized as handheld units.  Also, since MMSI numbers not issued by the FCC (say by Boat US) are for domestic use only,  the MMSI number and related info is not available to any non domestic CGs or SARs units.  In other words if you send a distress call by DSC in Canadian waters, they will not know who or what you are. I do not know if the call would alert them to a distress situation and the GPS location, but assume it would.  If not, that could really ruin your day.

Ed Lawson


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