OFCOM (The UK Office of Communications) have decided that from 1st October 2006, marine radio ship licences will be available free of charge.

OFCOM conducted a public consultation in early 2005 on the reform of ships’ radio licensing. All ships’ radios require a licence, including VHF, HF, EPIRBS, etc. The current licensing regime includes a fee and annual renewal. OFCOM believes this regime contributes significantly to the estimated 20% of vessels having an unlicensed marine radio.

The consultation response overwhelmingly endorsed altering the current regime. As a result, a new regime will be put in place on October 1. This includes:

‘Lifetime’ ships’ radio licences and ships’ portable radio licences will be issued free of charge. These will be valid for as long as the licence details remain correct or until the licence is either revoked by Ofcom or surrendered by the licensee.

The new licences will be of an electronic form (probably PDF documents) and will be issued to users of a new online self-service licensing service. Licensees would then need to print a hard copy of the licence, which must be kept on board the vessel, although the requirement to permanently display a licence disc is removed from 30 September 2006.

Paper licences will remain available, but these will be subject to an administrative charge.

Note that there are no changes to the existing requirement for radio operators to hold the relevant marine radio operator’s certificate. Operating marine radio without both ships’ and operator’s licences will remain an offence for which the maximum penalty on conviction is a £5,000 fine and/or six months imprisonment.

Licences expiring before 30 September 2006 must still be renewed under existing arrangements at a cost of £20 for a ships’ radio licence and £15 for a hand portable licence.

A complete statement of the results of the consultation is available at www.ofcom.org.uk.