Never for Ever (I suppose I should start calling her that) came with a VHF radio. In fact, it came with a Standard Horizon Matrix AIS GX2150 VHF with a remote mic. The radio is both DSC capable and has an AIS receiver. Simply put, DSC stands for digital selective calling and provides a way to communicate digitally between two or more stations without tying up any VHF channels, which—if you have ever listened to the inane chatter on some of the public channels like 66— is a good thing. AIS stands for automatic identification system and is something that most (all?) bigger ships use to track each other. We won’t have a transmitter so we can’t be tracked, but the AIS receiver provided an easy way to keep a look out for big, fast moving ships, especially in fog or at night.
The RAM mic allows you to use the VHF from the cockpit and has most of the functions of the main station. This is handy so you don’t have to keep ducking down into the cabin to chat with a fellow boater or the marina you are entering. The last boat we chartered didn’t have a RAM and it was often a bit of a pain to carry on conversations while steering the baot and you had to keep the radio turned all the way up to hear it.
The Radio Law
In order to use the DSC, your radio has to have an MMSI (Marine Mobile Service Identify) which acts as your ID and your ‘phone number.’ These are supplied free by the federal government and are good worldwide.
The Restricted Radio Operator Certificate is required to operate a marine VHF. See Radio Communication Regulations para 30-33 at http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/regulations/SOR-96-484/ in regards to certification requirements.
Legally a ROC(M) with an DSC endorsement is required to operate a marine VHF in Canada. That means technically any individual cannot use the radio in your boat until that person has taken the proper course and passed the test; a regulation I think is often ignored based on the typical radio traffic you hear.
As per the Radiocommunication Regulations section 15.2 (1), radio operators are required to licence their radio If the radio will be installed and used outside Canadian water. For more details on that regulation, please refer to the Radiocommunication Regulations SOR/96-484 located at http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/regulations/SOR-96-484/page-6.html#h-16 and Radiocommunication Act at http://laws.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/R-2/FullText.html.
A station license for the radio itself is no longer required for use within Canada, supposedly to save on paperwork, but if you are leaving the country you must obtain a station license.
We got our ROC(M)’s a few years back when we did our PCOC (Pleasure Craft Operator Card) which is also a requirement in Canada. There are a lot of dubious purveyors of this certification as the Federal Government decided it was best handled by private companies (wtf?) but we did ours online through the Canadian Power and Sails Squadron who are a national organization dedicated to boating and safety. They also administer the ROC(M) program so getting a membership there is a great idea. And you get a subscription to Canadian Yachting West!
The ROC(M) class was two days and you also learn about most of the radio-based equipment potentially found in a boat like epirbs and SSB radios that are usually only found in offshore boats. You also have to learn the phonetic alphabet: alpha bravo charlie delta…
The radio in our boat already had an MMSI number so I submitted a CPC-2-3-07 Annex B to change the registration over to us (you can view it here w00t!). The old registration for our radio also listed a call sign so I figured it had already been licensed — so I contacted the Calgary office who processed my MMSI application to enquire. We want to go down to the U.S. and explore Puget Sound so according to the law, a license is a must. Turns out the Edmonton office does the licensing and they were already processing it. I have to pay a $36 annual fee to keep the license up-to-date but other than that we are good to go.
More on AIS
AIS is cool. I am tempted to get a transmitter (upwards of another $1000) just so we can be in the system. As it stands now the AIS receiver in the radio is (at least I am pretty sure it is — now that I think about it, I forgot to check) tied into our chart plotter. That means I should be able to bring up a display that looks a bit like the one below that will show all the ships in the area and also display their MMSI and basic facts about them.
If we got a transmitter then all the other ships would see us as well. The other great thing about AIS is that you can use one of many tracking services like VesselFinder.com to track traffic or even individual boats. One of the bloggers I follow (Life Aboard Gudgeon — a young fellow living in Victoria Inner Harbour) just recently installed his AIS system so if you go to VesselFinder and type in the name of his boat or his MMSI you get his most recent location—zoom out to see nearby boats as well. Or you can just snoop around and see what all the ferries or warships are doing. So cool!