Navigation equipment for small commercial vessels

Small commercial ships should keep a listening watch on VHF channel 16 for any coastguard announcements.

You should fit VHF DSC (Digital Selective Calling) if your ship needs a fixed VHF channel to receive these broadcasts.

All new vessels and all those replacing VHF radios must have VHF DSC installed.

Radio installation

You must mount any radio aerials as high as you can to get the best possible reception. If your main aerial is fitted to a mast, you should also provide an emergency aerial.

Contact the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) if you’re not sure of the VHF coverage in the area where you’ll be operating.

MCA radio helpline
Telephone: 02380 329356
Find out about call charges

You must make sure that you’re able to charge the batteries that charge the ships’ radio equipment and that they’re protected from flooding.

Your fixed radio installation should be marked with:

  • the ship’s call sign
  • codes for the use of the radio
  • Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) number (where applicable)

You should also have a card giving information on radio distress, urgency and safety procedures in full view of the radio operating position.

Your ship must meet the requirements of the Merchant Shipping (Distress Signals and Prevention of Collisions) Regulations.

Small vessels may be exempt from certain requirements, for example if:

  • you only operate between sunrise and sunset or in favourable weather, in which case you don’t have to carry navigation lights
  • your vessel is less than 12 metres in length, in which case you don’t have to carry sound signalling equipment

Read the rules in section 17 of MGN 280 on navigation lights, shapes and sound signals for small commercial vessels. Rules for other navigational equipment are detailed in section 18.