This article is from the Boats FAQ, by John F. Hughes with numerous contributions by others.
The FCC form order answering machine is (202) 418 36766 and the
human operated info line is (202) 632 3337. Call these numbers to get info
about getting a VHF license. (dk1)
You can learn about operating procedures for your VHF radio from
Chapman's (see the bibliography). One essential rule: Channel 16 is for
commercial hailing and distress calls. Hailing by recreational vessels is
now supposed to happen on Channel 9.
You are required to carry adequate saftey devices for your boat. What is
deemed adequate varies by size. Most marine stores have a pretty good
idea what's the minimum. Once again, Chapman's can give you details.
There are no "licenses" for boating in the US_you can buy the biggest,
fastest boat on earth and do whatever you want with it, as long as it's
recreational and you do not carry passengers or freight for hire, and you
abide by the various marine laws that apply. Prudence dictates that you
should learn how to operate your vessel before you start out. Note that
many states have begun enforcing Boating While Intoxicated laws, and
that some have begun enforcing speed limits. See the additional material
If you want to operate a marine radio from your boat, you need a station
license. Generally a license application is packaged with each radio set,
and all radio dealers carry applications. If you are licensing any marine
radios, the first will be a VHF set for "local" communications ( <30 miles)
with 2-25 watt output. Marine radios must be "type accepted" which
means you can not build it yourself, or modify a CB, commercial, or ham
set. Pleasure boaters do not need a radio operator's license. (wv)
In general, boat registration laws and fees vary from state to state.
Usually a boat dealer or the local state police detachment is a good
starting point for specifics. (wv)
To carry any passengers for hire you need a Coast Guard license. Before
you can even take the required written exam(s) you need documentary
evidence of a full year (365 days) of boating experience. Licenses come in
several categories. To carry more than six passengers for hire, the boat
must also be inspected by the Coast Guard. Fines for violations are quite
Courtesy of Terry Steinford, we have the following long and thorough
essay about carrying passengers, etc.: (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Some of the requirements for carrying passengers, chartering and licensing
were changed about a year ago.
Self-propelled vessels that carry any passengers for hire are required to be
operated by a Coast Guard licensed operator. If the vessel carries more
than 6 passengers, at least one of which is a passenger for hire, the vessel
is required to be inspected by the Coast Guard as a commercial passenger
A pure sail vessel under 100 gross tons carrying up to 6 passengers is not
required to have a licensed operator. Way back in ancient history, pure
sail vessels up to 700 gross tons carrying passengers were not required to
be inspected, but that loophole was eliminated years ago.
The minimum license is the Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessels
(OUPV), formerly known as the Motorboat Operator or 6-pack license.
Inspected vessels require a licensed Master with the appropriate tonnage
and geographical route. All OUPV licenses are valid for vessels up to 100
gross tons. The "near coastal" route is up to 100 miles offshore. "Inland"
is most waters that are a lake, bay or sound on a chart. The dividing line
between near coastal and inland is based on geography, not the rules of
On December 20, 1993 the President signed the Passenger Vessel Safety
Act of 1993 (public law 103-206), changing the legal requirements for
passenger and charter operations. The act establishes for the first time
the definition of passenger for hire and requires many vessels operating
under bareboat charter to be inspected by the Coast Guard as commercial
passenger vessels. The law also changes the inspection requirements for
certain vessels over 100 gross tons.
The new law has relaxed the prior strict treatment of situations were a
guest provided food or chipped in for expenses. Previous law treated such
such guests as passengers, requiring operator licenses and possibly vessel
Under the new law a passenger for hire is is a passenger for whom
consideration is contributed as a condition of carriage on the vessel,
whether directly or indirectly flowing to the owner, charterer, agent or
any other persons having an interest in the vessel.
Consideration is an economic benefit, inducement, right or profit
including pecuniary payment accruing to an individual, person, or entity,
but not including a voluntary sharing of the actual expenses of the voyage
by monetary contribution or donation of fuel, food, beverage or other
Previously, vessels operating under legitimate bareboat or demise charters
were not required to meet the commercial passenger vessel standards.
Some vessels operating under charter are carrying hundreds of persons
and are in direct competition with commercial passenger vessels meeting
the Coast Guard inspection and licensing requirements. Under a
legitimate bareboat charter the vessel is in essence "sold" to the charterer
for the duration of the charter, hence the people carried aboard were not
passengers for hire. In some cases the charterer may not have been aware
of his legal liabilities during the charter. Unsuspecting passengers may not
have been aware that they were sailing on a vessel that did not meet the
same safety equipment and design standards as a regular passenger vessel.
Congress has acted to remove these differences for charter vessels carrying
more than 12, or in some cases 6 passengers.
The following vessels are required to be inspected by the Coast Guard:
(1) if under 100 gross tons:
(a) carrying more than 6 passengers, including at least 1 for
(b) chartered with crew provided or specified by owner and
carrying more than 6 passengers, or
(c) chartered and carrying more than 12 passengers, or
(d) submersible vessels carrying 1 or more passengers for hire
(2) if 100 gross tons or over:
(a) carrying more than 12 passengers, including at least 1 for
(b) chartered and carrying more than 12 passengers, or
(c) submersible vessels carrying 1 or more passengers for hire
An uninspected vessel that carries not more than 6 passenger for hire is
required to carry the safety equipment in Subchapter C of Tile 46 of the
Code of Federal Regulations. The requirements are generally the same as
for a recreational vessel of the same length, except that all life jackets
must be Type I commercial style.
There are no federal requirements for insurance for these vessels. Local
government agencies may require business or occupational licenses,
including insurance or bonds.