Study Guide for the ROC(M)

Thinking about getting your Restricted Operator's Certificate (Marine)? Memorize this and you'll probably pass.

This document was first created on March 18, 2021. It was last updated on April 18, 2021.

In March of 2021, I decided to get my Restricted Operator Certificate (Maritime), better known as the ROC(M). This certification is required to operate a marine radio in Canada. You don't need to own a boat or even a marine radio to get it. You just have to prove your knowledge of the following information.

You must pass an exam with a mark of at least 70% to qualify for the ROC(M). There were 60 questions on my test with a passing score of 42 correct answers, and there were some verbal questions after that where I had to simulate calling a vessel and demonstrate my proficiency using the phonetic alphabet to spell out some words. I scored 58 out of 60, missing two questions about a warbling sound that's made before a distress call which I had never heard of. I've added that warbling distress alarm to the document below.

I relied on several resources to study for the test and I have assembled my notes in this document. The information here represents all the information I used to pass the test to gain my ROC(M). As far as I know, if you master the information in this single-page document, you should be able to pass that test for your ROC(M) just as I did.

Please note, I do not put myself forth as an expert on marine radio or on the ROC(M) certification, but I felt these notes could be useful to others who are considering getting their marine radio certification. I've kept them in short-form with the goal of helping people study for the test. If you are looking for comprehensive information, there are far better resources online. Please also note that ISED can change its exam at any time to include subject matter that isn't covered here. I'm not aware of them having done so but they might have.

Minor note: I'm using the spelling "licence" instead of "license" because that's what is used on the test. I generally prefer "license" but they didn't consult me. They also use "metres" instead of "meters" which is important to some people.

Remember: some answers might be "all of the above". Don't just pick the first right answer you see.

~Reg Natarajan VA7ZEB

Table of Contents

Let's start with the regulations

Maritime Mobile Service (MMS)

The Maritime Mobile Service is what the ROC(M) lets you use. It's a set of frequencies, regulations, conventions and protocols used by marine radio operators to communicate. The MMS spans the VHF, MF and HF bands.

  • Anyone who operates a marine radio in Canadian waters must have an appropriate certification.

  • Turning on a radio is considered "operating it" in the eyes of the law.

  • VHF marine radios operate in the 156 to 162 MHz band.

  • SSB modulation is used on MF/HF maritime voice frequencies.

  • Penalties for violations of the regulations with respect to the MMS are governed by the Contraventions Act.

The Restricted Operator’s Certificate (Maritime)

  • The ROC(M) is the certificate used by recreational vessels based in Canada. It can also be used for some commercial vessels.

  • The ROC(M) is valid for the lifetime of the holder.

  • The ROC(M) should be kept on the operator's person while operating a radio.

  • Pleasure boat operators should try to get an ROC(M) with a (Digital Selective Calling) DSC Endorsement. That is what this study guide hopes to help you achieve.

  • The ROC(M) lets you operate MMS radios (VHF/MF/HF) on a voluntarily fitted vessel.

        • Voluntarily Fitted Vessels include

              • Pleasure craft

              • Commercial vessels under 8m

              • Naval vessels (seriously!)

              • Tug boats which operate only in restricted waters

        • Compulsorily Fitted Vessels are commercial vessels that usually require an ROC(Marine Commercial) including

              • Ocean-going vessels

              • Passenger vessels certified to carry more than 12 passengers

              • Vessels longer than 8 meters

              • Coastal freighters

              • Ice breakers

              • Tow boats

        • If a Compulsorily Fitted Vessel is under 60 GT and is operating within 25 nm of shore, it may use an ROC(M).

Radio Station Licence

A Radio Station Licence is different from an ROC(M). Don't confuse the two. The Radio Station Licence authorizes a vessel to carry and use any device that emits radio waves, which isn't just radios but also includes radar.

  • As devices are added or removed, they must be updated on the Radio Station Licence.

  • If a Radio Station Licence is required, it must be displayed conspicuously near the authorized equipment.

  • The Radio Station Licence specifies the call sign assigned to the station. There is no call sign associated with the ROC(M). This is very different from the Amateur Radio service.

  • The Radio Station Licence also specifies the permitted transmit frequencies, the type of equipment that is authorized, and any special conditions that restrict usage.

  • The Radio Station Licence refers the operator to RBR-2 which lists the available marine frequencies for all of Canada. Schedule 1 of RBR-2 lists the VHF frequencies which you'll want to get familiar with.

  • A Radio Station Licence is NOT REQUIRED if these conditions are met. It doesn't matter if the vessel is commercial, government or a passenger ship, or is compulsorily fitted. If the conditions below are met, a Radio Station Licence is NOT REQUIRED.

        • The vessel operates only in Canadian waters.

        • The radio equipment on board is only capable of operating on Marine Mobile Service communication and navigation frequencies.

        • The station is aboard a ship or vessel. Land stations do not qualify for the exemption.

  • The conditions for exemption above mean that vessels operating marine radios in the US (or any other country) must have a Radio Station Licence.

  • Radio Station Licences can be obtained online at ISED.

  • Radio Station Licences must be renewed annually and a fee applies.

  • Radio Station Licences will only be granted for equipment that meets ISED specifications. Equipment that does not meet ISED specifications can't be granted a licence or the exemption from licencing noted above.

  • Radio Station Licences will only be granted to people 16 years old or older.

Authorities

The following organizations have authority over the Maritime Mobile Service.

  • ISED Spectrum Management

  • ITU (International Telecommunications Union)

  • CCG (Canadian Coast Guard)

  • IMO (International Marine Org which is a part of the UN)

Sea Areas

The world's navigable waters are divided into four Sea Areas numbered A1-A4. A1 is the least challenging area, with VHF radio generally allowing vessels to communicate with a coast guard station. As vessels transit from A1 to A4, their equipment requirements increase. A vessel equipped to navigate Sea Area A4 must be well equipped to communicate as many traditional means are unavailable in that region.

  • A1
    Within range of at least one shore-based VHF-DSC CGR Station. Outside of A1, a vessel should carry an EPIRB (which we'll talk about later).

  • A2
    Within range of at least one shore-based MF DSC CGR station (Canada and USA haven't declared A2 operational) excluding A1

  • A3
    Within Satellite coverage between 70°N and S excluding A1 and A2

  • A4
    Polar regions beyond 70ºN and 70ºS Latitude excluding A1, A2 and A3. This area is currently covered by HF radio and will eventually have satellite coverage.

Compulsorily Fitted Vessels

Compulsorily Fitted Vessels must maintain the following requirements.

  • Log Keeping.

  • Radio Watchkeeping on MF 2182 kHz and/or Channel 16 (VHF) 156.8 mhz (15 min before leaving dock/mooring until anchored or in a place where they aren't a hazard).

  • Maintain Radio Silence periods on MF 2182 kHz. The radio silence period commences on the hour and on the half hour and extends for three (3) minutes. Compulsorily fitted vessels with MF must maintain a radio watch during these periods. Voluntarily equipped vessels need not maintain a radio watch but must maintain radio silence during the specified periods.

  • Vessels with VHF radios only onboard are not required to maintain Radio Silence periods.

  • DSC capable radio equipment onboard.


Voluntarily Fitted Vessels

Voluntarily Fitted Vessels must maintain the following requirements.

  • Allow ISED Spectrum Management Officers to inspect whenever they feel like it. Also don't lie to them or you'll have even more trouble.

  • Carry the following documents

        • Radio Station Licence (if needed)

        • ROC(M) for the operator(s)

        • Radio Aids to Marine Navigation (optional)

        • Manufacturer's operation manuals (optional)

        • The vessel must carry a licence (if not exempt)

Secrecy

Maritime communications are secret. This distinguishes them from Amateur Radio communications which are not secret and may be divulged if transmitted by an amateur station.

  • All who become acquainted with Marine Mobile Service communications are bound by secrecy.

  • Divulge them only to the addressee, his agent, authorized government officials, legal tribunals or operators of telecom systems as needed.

  • Secrecy does NOT apply to distress, urgency or safety messages, or to messages addressed to all stations or broadcast information.

Power, RF Exposure, Safety Code 6

The risk of excessive exposure to radio waves is addressed several ways.

  • All radios must have an ISED label meeting RSS-102 (Safety Code 6)

  • All marine radios are required to have a means to reduce the transmitter power to 1 watt, which is to be used for communication with nearby stations.

  • Generally, all contacts on VHF should start at 1 watt and power should only be incremented when no response has been received.

  • The maximum permitted power of a VHF transmitter on a vessel is 25 watts. You can generally expect about 20 nm of range from a 25 watt radio if you have unimpeded line of sight.

  • Operators may install their own antennas, but most probably shouldn't. Be careful not to get burned or jolted as your radio transmits.

Permitted Uses of Marine Radio

Permitted uses of the Marine Mobile Service are

  • Distress, Urgency, Safety

  • Operational

  • Business and personal messages


It is not permitted to use the Marine Mobile Service for:

  • False Distress

  • Profanity/obscenity (penalty of up to $5000 and a year in jail)

  • Superfluous transmissions (excessive conversation, kids playing, running with open mic)

  • Establishing land based stations (unless you get a special station license)

Call Signs

Call signs are the Station Identifier used by maritime radio operators to identify themselves and/or their vessels.

  • Call Signs come with a Radio Station Licence, not with an ROC(M).

  • When calling, use name of ship, then the call sign: example Sea Urchin CZ1234.

  • If vessel has no call sign, use its name.

  • If no name, use its call sign.

  • If the vessel has no name and no call sign, use the vessel license or the radio MMSI (which you'll learn about below).

  • If you're really stuck for a call sign, just use your own name.

  • It is a good practice to keep the vessel license and MMSI handy.

Frequencies and Channels

  • ISED-SM publishes RBR-2 for authorized frequencies. Schedule 1 handles VHF. Aside from 16 and 70 and MF 2182 and 2187.5, it is not necessary to memorize these channels for the purpose of the ROC(M) test.

  • Use Canadian channel groups. Not US or International.

  • Channel Types and Designations

        • Simplex and duplex (repeaters, eg ch24)

        • Suffix A is a simplex counterpart to a duplex channel. ITU uses prefix 10 as equivalent to suffix A.

        • Suffix B is Canada-only no-transmit channels for CCG continuous marine broadcasts for weather and nav info.

        • 21B is equal to WX8

        • 83B is equal to WX9

        • 25B, 28B are the others

  • Weather Channels

        • WX 1-7 are Environment Canada and NOAA

        • WX 8-9 are CCG

Control of Communications

The controlling station is the station in charge of procedural matters such as what frequency to use and the imposition of silence.

  • In a distress situation, the vessel in distress is the controlling station unless control has been delegated to a more capable station (usually the CCG).

  • In non-distress, the station CALLED is in control.

  • In ship-shore, the shore is the control station (usually the CCG).

Order of Priority

Communications are given a priority. Higher priority communications may interrupt lower priority communications.

  1. Distress communications

  2. Urgency communications

  3. Safety communications

  4. Communications relative to direction-finding bearings

  5. Communications relative to the navigation, movement and needs of aircraft engaged in search and rescue operations

  6. Messages containing exclusively meteorological (weather) observations destined to an official meteorological office

  7. Communications related to the application of the United Nations Charter

  8. Service messages relative to the working of the radio communications service or to messages that have been previously transmitted

  9. All other communications


Let's talk about how you actually use your radio in the real world

Calling Frequencies

These frequencies are used worldwide to initiate communications. Initial contacts on these frequencies is permitted but one should immediately transfer to another channel. Operators should avoid excessive calling on these frequencies.

  • Voice

        • 156.8 MHz (VHF Channel 16)

        • MF 2182 kHz (remember to honour the silence periods)

  • DSC (no voice communications permitted)

        • 156.525 (VHF Channel 70)

        • MF 2187.5 kHz

  • Notes

        • CCG does NOT monitor 2187.5 kHz DSC

        • CCG DOES monitor 2182 kHz voice

        • USCG does NOT monitor any MF/HF, neither 2187.5 kHz DSC nor 2182 kHz voice

Speech Protocols and Conventions

The following techniques should be used in the Marine Mobile Service

  • Focus on Speed & Rhythm

  • BASS (Brevity, Accuracy, Speed, Secrecy)

  • Repeat call signs at least once and no more than three times.

  • Always "balance" your use of call signs. If you repeat the called vessel's call sign three times, state your own three times. If you only state the called vessel's call sign once, state your own once (and so on).

  • When communications are complete, both vessels must sign off with their station identifier.

  • Word Spelling

        • Use ITU Phonetics.

        • For numbers, use 1-9, DECIMAL, THOUSAND, DOLLARS

        • All numbers should be quoted one digit a time. 156.8 becomes one five six decimal eight.

        • DOLLARS is said first, before the numbers.

  • Use procedural words and phrases

        • Acknowledge

        • Affirmative (yes, or permission granted)

        • Break (a separation between multiple parts of a message)

        • Confirm

        • Correction

        • Go ahead (proceed with your message)

        • How do you read?

        • I say again

        • Mayday

        • Mayday Relay

        • Negative

        • Over (I'm done, waiting for your reply)

        • Out (I'm done, no reply needed)

        • Pan Pan

        • Prudonce (restrict comms to higher priority)

        • Read Back

        • Roger (message received and understood)

        • Roger Number (to acknowledge one of many communications)

        • Stand By (hang on for a minute, I'll brb)

        • Say again

        • Securite

        • Seelonce

        • Seelonce Distress

        • Seelonce Feenee

        • Seelonce Mayday

        • Urgency Ended

        • That is correct

        • Verify

        • Wilco

        • Words Twice (send each word twice)

  • Time and Date

        • 1335E = 1:35 PM Eastern

        • Z for UTC

        • 0000 or 2400 for midnight

        • 211645 is the 21st day, 4:45 PM


Do a radio check

Example:


SEA URCHIN this is ORCA radio check over


Response Use scale 1(Bad), 2(poor), 3(fair), 4(good), 5(excellent):


ORCA this is SEA URCHIN reading you four OUT (or OVER)


When calling the CCG for a radio check, do not use 16. Use a CCG working channel and say what channel you're on as the CCG monitors many channels at once.

Your First Call

If you do not have a DSC radio or do not know the MMSI number of the station you are calling, you would use the following procedure to initiate a call using voice. If you do have a DSC radio and know the MMSI number of the station you're calling, we'll get to that soon, but you'll need to know the voice protocols anyway.


First, listen to make sure the channel is clear. Then:


ORCA , ORCA , ORCA

This is

SEA URCHIN, SEA URCHIN, SEA URCHIN

OVER


If no response is received after two calls at two- minute intervals, wait at least three minutes before calling again.


Response should be:


SEA URCHIN

This is

ORCA

Go to Channel 71.

OVER


Response:


ORCA

This is

SEA URCHIN

ROGER 71

OUT


When all comms are done, sign out


ORCA OUT


When calling a CGR station, always state the channel on which you are calling, as the CGR operator will be monitoring several channels. Example:


HALIFAX COAST GUARD RADIO, HALIFAX COAST GUARD RADIO, HALIFAX COAST GUARD RADIO

This is

WAVERUNNER, WAVERUNNER, WAVERUNNER

on Channel 26

OVER


Expected Response:


WAVERUNNER

This is

HALIFAX COAST GUARD RADIO

Go ahead.

OVER


All stations example:


ALL STATIONS, ALL STATIONS, ALL STATIONS

This is WAVERUNNER, WAVERUNNER, WAVERUNNER

Any vessel with weather information, Thunder Cape area, switch to Channel 71.

OUT


When your station is called but the identity of the calling station is uncertain, you should reply immediately, using the words:


STATION CALLING SEA URCHIN

This is

SEA URCHIN

SAY AGAIN

OVER

Distress Calling (The Highest Priority Call)

Distress communications are used only when a vessel or person is threatened by grave and imminent danger and requires immediate assistance. These signals and following messages shall be sent on VHF Channel 16 and/or 2182 kHz (MF). These procedures DO NOT prevent a vessel in distress  from calling on other channels, making use of any means at its disposal to attract attention, making known its position and obtaining assistance.  Whether using the DSC Distress function or not, a voice Distress call must be made on VHF Channel 16 or MF 2182 kHz. The Distress call shall have absolute priority over all other transmissions. All stations that hear it must immediately cease any transmissions that might interfere with Distress traffic and shall continue to listen on that frequency until it is clear that they cannot be of any assistance. The Distress signal Mayday, spoken once, shall precede all transmissions. Control of Distress traffic is the responsibility of the vessel in distress, or of the station which sent the original Distress message. It is normal practice for these stations to delegate  the control of Distress traffic to Coast Guard Radio (CGR).


DISTRESS PROCEDURE USING DSC

In a Distress situation, select the type of distress from the menu if one is provided, lift the red cover and depress the “Distress” button for 3 to 5 seconds (or until the display changes to “Acknowledgment” mode). The DSC radio will transmit the Distress alert on VHF Channel 70 or MF frequency 2187.5 kHz automatically every 3.5 to 4.5 minutes, until a digital acknowledgement is received or the Distress is cancelled. Remember, there is no voice communication on DSC frequencies.  Upon receiving a Distress alert, a DSC radio will sound a warbling sound as an alarm and display a message giving the MMSI number of the distressed vessel, nature of distress (if available), the position (latitude and longitude) and time of the Distress


DISTRESS CALLS NON DSC (standard voice)

The Distress call shall not be addressed to a particular station or to “All Stations,” and acknowledgement of receipt shall not be given before the Distress message is sent. 


Example:


MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY 

This is

BLUEWAVE CF1234, BLUEWAVE CF1234, BLUEWAVE CF1234

MMSI 316123456

MAYDAY BLUEWAVE

Position two miles west of Bowen Island.

Have struck a log and am taking on water.

Engine seized.

Two eight foot Rinker, blue with white stripe.

Five people on board, one injured.

Preparing to abandon ship with lifejackets, no dinghy.

BLUEWAVE

OVER


The Distress call and message shall be repeated at intervals by the vessel in distress until an answer is received or until it is no longer able to continue. The timebetween repetitions of the Distress message shall be sufficiently long to allow time for stations which have received the message to reply.


Example of Mayday Relay


MAYDAY RELAY, MAYDAY RELAY, MAYDAY RELAY

This is

VICTORIA COAST GUARD RADIO,  VICTORIA COAST GUARD RADIO, VICTORIA COAST GUARD RADIO

MAYDAY

BLUEWAVE is located two miles west of Bowen Island.

Has struck a log and taking on water.

Engine seized.

BLUEWAVE is a two seven foot Rinker, blue with white stripe.

Five people on board, one injured.

They are preparing to abandon ship with lifejackets, no dinghy.

Any vessels in the area able to assist, contact Victoria Coast Guard Radio  giving position and estimated time of arrival.

VICTORIA COAST GUARD RADIO

OVER


Vessels which receive a Distress message from a vessel in their vicinity and are able to render assistance should not acknowledge for a short interval to give the Coast Guard Radio (CGR) station a chance to respond to the Distress message first. Vessels receiving a Distress message that has been acknowledged by a CGR station and are able to render assistance within a reasonable time should proceed toward the location of the vessel in distress while monitoring. Once the CGR station has requested assistance from other vessels, a call to the CGR station stating your speed and estimated time of arrival to the vessel in distress may be made. Do not cause interference to radio traffic between the vessel in distress and the CGR station or other assisting vessels.


Example of nearby vessel:


MAYDAY

VICTORIA COAST GUARD RADIO,   VICTORIA COAST GUARD RADIO,   VICTORIA COAST GUARD RADIO

This is

ORCA , ORCA , ORCA

Received MAYDAY.

Position Plumper Cove.  ETA to  BLUEWAVE two zero minutes. 

ORCA

OVER


Response from CGR:


MAYDAY

ORCA

This is

VICTORIA COAST GUARD RADIO

ROGER

Understand you are at Plumper Cove,  proceeding to BLUEWAVE,  ETA  two zero minutes.

Advise this station when you are on scene.

OVER


Response from ORCA :


MAYDAY

VICTORIA COAST GUARD RADIO

This is ORCA

ROGER

OUT


The vessel ORCA arrives on scene. BLUEWAVE has sunk. ORCA recovers all three persons, there are no critical injuries and ORCA proceeds to Fishermans Cove.


IMPOSITION OF SILENCE

The station in distress, or any station in the area, may impose silence on a particular station or stations in the area if interference is being caused to Distress traffic. The station in distress shall use the expression Seelonce Mayday, while other stations use Seelonce Distress.


Example of imposing silence on a specific station by the vessel in distress:


MAYDAY

SUNGOD,   SUNGOD,   SUNGOD

This is

BLUEWAVE,  BLUEWAVE,  BLUEWAVE

SEELONCE MAYDAY

Distress traffic in progress.

STOP TRANSMITTING.

OUT


Example of imposing silence by a vessel other than the one in distress:


MAYDAY

ALL STATIONS,   ALL STATIONS ,  ALL STATIONS

This is

BLUEWAVE,   BLUEWAVE,   BLUEWAVE

SEELONCE DISTRESS

Distress traffic in progress.

STOP TRANSMITTING.

OUT


All Stations call by CGR to impose silence:


MAYDAY

ALL STATIONS,   ALL STATIONS,   ALL STATIONS

This is

VICTORIA COAST GUARD RADIO,  VICTORIA COAST GUARD RADIO, VICTORIA COAST GUARD RADIO

SEELONCE DISTRESS

CEASE TRANSMITTING.

VICTORIA COAST GUARD RADIO

OUT


Cancellation of distress and silence:


MAYDAY

ALL STATIONS, ALL STATIONS, ALL STATIONS

This is

MOONBEAMER, MOONBEAMER, MOONBEAMER

One eight three zero Pacific standard time

BLUEWAVE

SEELONCE FEENEE

All five persons safe on board this vessel. BLUEWAVE has sunk. We are transporting crew to Fisherman's Cove.

MOONBEAMER

OUT


Urgency Calling (One Level Below Distress)

Urgency calls are used for very urgent messages concerning the safety of a ship, aircraft, other vehicle or person. These signals and following messages shall be sent on VHF Channel 16 and/or 2182 kHz (MF). The Urgency signal is “Pan Pan” spoken three times. It is sent at the beginning of the call. An Urgency alert or call should normally be addressed to All Stations. It may be addressed to a specific station, for example, the Coast Guard Radio (CGR). Urgency signals do not invoke Search And Rescue. If you hear an Urgency message, you must listen for at least three minutes.


Urgency Calling Using DSC

To transmit a DSC Urgency alert, enter the DSC menu, select “All Ships,” then “Urgency.” Specify the working channel as 16. The Urgency alert will be transmitted on Channel 70.


Urgency Calling Using Voice

Example of an Urgency call and message:


PAN PAN, PAN PAN, PAN PAN

ALL STATIONS, ALL STATIONS, ALL STATIONS

This is

ODYSSEUS, ODYSSEUS, ODYSSEUS

MMSI 316012345  (state your MMSI if you did a DSC alert first)

Located five miles due west of Bowen Island.

Have damaged rudder, unable to steer.

Not taking on water.  ODYSSEUS is a three six foot power boat.

Am in no immediate danger.

Request tow to nearest marina.

ODYSSEUS

OVER


Response:


PAN PAN

ODYSSEUS, ODYSSEUS, ODYSSEUS

This is

MOONBEAMER, MOONBEAMER, MOONBEAMER

Received Urgency message.

I am located approximately one mile south and proceeding to your location to render assistance.

ETA approximately one zero minutes.

MOONBEAMER

OVER


Cancellation:


PAN PAN

ALL STATIONS, ALL STATIONS, ALL STATIONS

This is

MOONBEAMER, MOONBEAMER, MOONBEAMER

Under tow to marina.

No further assistance required.

URGENCY ENDED

ODYSSEUS

OUT


Safety Calling (One Level Below Urgency)

Safety messages are generally used for navigational or weather warnings. The Safety signal has priority over all other communications except Distress and Urgency. It is recommended that vessels not send a DSC alert. Safety calls and messages shall generally be addressed to All Stations. Safety messages are the only one of the three where the message is not included in the call. Move to a working frequency for the message. An exception to that is when a vessel may impede navigation. On VHF, a suitable working frequency is Channel 06, as it is designated as both a Safety and Intership channel. On MF, a suitable working frequency can be either 2638 kHz or 2738 kHz, as these frequencies are designated as Safety and Intership for all types of vessels. Safety calls do not invoke Search And Rescue.


Call on VHF 16 (or MF 2182):


SÉCURITÉ, SÉCURITÉ, SÉCURITÉ

ALL STATIONS, ALL STATIONS, ALL STATIONS

This is

SATURNALIA, SATURNALIA, SATURNALIA

Safety message concerning Cabot Head area  to follow on Channel 06.

SATURNALIA

OUT


Call on Channel 06:


SÉCURITÉ,  SÉCURITÉ,  SÉCURITÉ

ALL STATIONS, ALL STATIONS, ALL STATIONS

This is

SATURNALIA, SATURNALIA, SATURNALIA

Oil barge broken loose and adrift five miles due east of Cabot Head Light.

Menace to navigation.

SATURNALIA

OUT


A navigation Safety call and message can be sent on Channel 16 if the message is very brief. In BC, this one is common:


SÉCURITÉ, SÉCURITÉ, SÉCURITÉ

ALL STATIONS, ALL STATIONS, ALL STATIONS

This is

SPIRIT OF VANCOUVER ISLAND,  SPIRIT OF VANCOUVER ISLAND,  SPIRIT OF VANCOUVER ISLAND

Approaching Active Pass southbound.

Any opposing traffic respond on Channel 11 or 16.

SPIRIT OF VANCOUVER ISLAND

OUT


Safety calls are normally broadcasts, and the transmitting station will not expect a reply. If a vessel requires further information or clarification about the Safety call, the vessel originating the Safety call should be contacted using the procedures for establishing a routine call. Clarification can then be obtained on a working channel.

Now let's talk about hardware

VHF Marine Radios

VHF Radio Equipment used on the Marine Mobile Service must be approved by ISED Spectrum Management. These represent the vast majority of radios used in the Marine Mobile Service.

GMDSS

Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) is an international (worldwide) system employing advanced digital and satellite technology to complement traditional emergency communications. The idea of GMDSS is to ensure that every equipped vessel has at least two paths to communicate. Development of GMDSS was initiated in 1988 by the International Maritime Organization (IMO).


GMDSS is optional for recreational/pleasure vessels.


GMDSS is mandatory for:

  • large cargo ships or passenger ships in open sea

  • closed construction non-pleasure craft over 8m

  • non-pleasure craft carrying more than 6 passengers

  • towing vessels


SOLAS Requirements (over 300GT or more than 12 passengers on International voyages)

  • DSC Radio

  • SART Search & Rescue Transponder

  • Portable VHF

  • NAVTEX receivere

  • Inmarsat System

  • AIS

  • EPIRB

DSC

DSC is a system that takes the burden off Channel 16 and MF frequency 2182 kHz by transmitting digital information to request or report a vessel's position or to determine a suitable frequency to use for voice communications. By using DSC, one can call another vessel or a land station and choose a working channel without using Channel 16 at all. In emergency situations, DSC lets the operator quickly report his vessel's exact position to the coast guard or other vessels capable of providing assistance.

  • The primary component of GMDSS is VHF-DSC.

  • Digital Selective Calling (DSC) uses VHF Channel 70 156.525 or MF 2187.5 kHz.

  • DSC radios have a directory to store frequently-used MMSI numbers and to associate names with MMSI numbers.

  • If your DSC radio does not have an integrated GPS, you should (probably buy one that does but failing that) enter your position manually at least every four hours.

  • VHF DSC is required on International over 300GT and over 12 passengers or Domestic over 300GT or more than 20m carrying more than 12 passengers.

  • VHF-DSC does not use satellite (other than GPS) and has line-of-sight range only (20nm generally).

  • A DSC radio will have a red “Distress” button, protected by an attached cover to prevent accidental activation.  Pressing this button for 3 to 5 seconds will cause the radio to transmit a DSC Distress alert on Channel 70.

  • A DSC radio can also send an All Ships Urgency or Safety signal.  Stations receiving this signal will sound an alert and display a message.

  • DSC radios can also make routine calls to other vessels or ask for another vessel’s position.

  • You cannot legally test the Distress function. It is to be assumed that if you can make routine DSC calls, your equipment can make a Distress call.


DSC Classes

  • Class A fulfills all IMO GMDSS requirements for VHF and MF/HF radios on compulsorily fitted vessels over 300 GT operating in any sea area.

  • Class B fulfills minimum IMO GMDSS requirements for MF and VHF radios on non-pleasure craft operating in Sea Areas A1 and A2 only.

  • Class D fulfills the minimum requirements for VHF-DSC radios on non-pleasure craft not required to carry Class A or Class B equipment.  Class D VHF-DSC radios are now considered the standard for recreational boaters.

  • Class E has similar capabilities to Class D but is for MF/HF equipment.

  • Class H covers VHF handheld radios which include GPS and DSC.  It is intended to provide minimum facilities for VHF-DSC Distress, Urgency and Safety, as well as routine calling.

  • Class M defines a man-overboard device that will produce both a DSC Distress alert and an AIS Distress alert when activated. 

  • Classes C, F and G and SC-101 equipment did not provide minimum DSC functions and have been withdrawn and are not approved for use.


Transmit Procedure:

  • Switch the radio on.

  • Select channel 70.

  • Adjust squelch.

  • Adjust volume.

  • Listen

  • Transmit - Select or enter the MMSI of the vessel you are calling. The  vessel being called will receive an audible alert, and  a message will be displayed indicating the caller’s MMSI number (or name if the MMSI number is in the radio’s directory). It will also indicate the proposed channel on which voice communication is desired.

  • Note, the called station still has control, as they decide whether to acknowledge the call or not. 

  • If an acknowledgement is not received within three minutes of attempting a routine call, the call may be repeated. Further repeat attempts should not be made for at least 15 minutes.


The DSC Position Request function allows one vessel to obtain the position of another vessel using only DSC functionality. No voice calling is necessary. The initiating vessel selects “Position Request” and the MMSI of the vessel of interest. Once the DSC message has been sent and the request is accepted, the other vessel’s position will be displayed. Some radios show range and bearing in addition to latitude and longitude.


Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI)

All DSC vessels and shore stations are each assigned a unique identity number known as a Maritime Mobile Service Identity number (MMSI). The MMSI number consists of nine digits, is assigned exclusively to that specific vessel or station, and is not transferable.


  • Three of the digits will identify the country of origin. The code for Canada is 316. The continental United States numbers are 303, 338, 366, 367, 368 or 369.

  • A Group MMSI number has one 0, and coast stations have two 0s preceding the country identifier.

  • DSC transmit functions will not work until an MMSI number is entered.

  • Maritime Identity (MI) number is used to identify other maritime devices. In cases where the handheld VHF-DSC radio is NOT associated with a specific ship station or vessel, IC may now issue an MI registration for the handheld VHF-DSC transceiver, rather than an MMSI number. MI has nine digits, with the number 8 preceding the three country of origin numbers (i.e., 8316).

  • You can get MMSI or MI numbers through the ISED website (search MMSI MI Canada). It is free of charge.

  • Once you get your MMSI or MI, you will need to program it into your radio. Most radios only allow three tries at this before you need to return them to the factory to be reset.

Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB)

An EPIRB is a buoyant device that is activated to indicate that a vessel is in distress and to give its position to anyone who can help.

  • EPIRBs should be on board any craft (pleasure or commercial) operating outside Sea Area A1.

  • EPIRBs send their messages to satellites in digital format on 406 MHz. The International COSPAS-SARSAT System is a satellite-aided Search and Rescue initiative designed to detect EPIRB signals. By 2018, there were 44 nations and agencies participating.

  • Most 406 MHz EPIRBs have a strobe light. EPIRBs include a low-powered 121.5 MHz signal for homing. Most new EPIRBs include GPS information integrated into the Distress signal. They are generally accurate within 100m.

  • Most EPIRBs with built-in GPS can transmit alerts to a Rescue Coordination Centre within a few minutes.

  • EPIRBs have built-in test functions. Make sure to refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for testing them.

  • Batteries should be replaced on or before the expiration date.


Category 1 EPIRB

  • May be activated manually or automatically.

  • Has a special bracket that releases the EPIRB when submerged.

  • Externally mounted.


Category 2 EPIRB

  • Manually activated, although some newer ones can activate automatically.

  • No special bracket


Personal EPIRB

  • AKA Personal Locator Beacons

  • Portable units that operate much the same as EPIRBs.

  • Generally carried by an individual instead of on a boat or aircraft

  • Can only be activated manually.


EPIRB Registration

  • Canadian EPIRBs must be registered in the Canadian Beacon Registry (Tel. 1-877-406-7671) https://www.cbr-rcb.ca.

  • US EPIRBs must be registered in the SARSAT Beacon Registry, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA),  Suitland, MD (Tel. 1-888-212-7283) www.sarsat.noaa.gov.


Radar Search And Rescue Transponders (SARTS)

The Search and Rescue Transponder (SART) is a device used to assist radar-equipped vessels in locating survivors. It is usually carried on life rafts. When being scanned by a vessel's X band radar, a SART will send out a signal in response. When it has sent that signal, a SART will emit an audible tone and flash an indicator light. The SART signal then appears on the RADAR of the scanning vessel. If scanning on X band stops for more than 15 seconds, the SART will generally revert to standby mode to conserve power.

AIS Search And Rescue Transponders (AIS-SARTS)

AIS-SART transmits alert messages that appear on AIS equipped chart plotters. It is an emergency radio transmitter that is intended to be used in a life raft. It includes a GPS receiver to provide position information and when activated will transmit an alert message, the vessel ID and the GPS position on the AIS (Automatic Identification System) frequencies. This will result in the vessel showing on chart plotters and presumably web-based AIS systems that received the alert.

Navtex Receivers

NAVTEX is an automated system provided by the Maritime Safety Information Service which provides vessels with navigational warnings, weather information and emergency alerts. As part of the World-Wide Navigational Warning Service (WWNWS), the purpose of this system is to provide maritime safety information to vessels at sea in text format on a digital display unit.

  • The international NAVTEX frequency is 518 kHz. All broadcasts on this frequency must be in English.

  • A second frequency of 490 kHz is used for local language broadcasts. Canada provides French language NAVTEX broadcasts on this frequency in some areas.

  • Each station is allocated a ten-minute time slot, once every four hours, for its transmissions.

  • The typical range of NAVTEX transmissions is 250 to 400 nautical miles.

AIS

AIS is a system that uses VHF radio signals to transmit digital navigational data between vessels and shore stations which is then displayed on chart plotters. This gives you a beautiful real-time map of your area showing all AIS-equipped vessels. Alerts are provided if those vessels are thought to pose risk to your vessel.

  • AIS data is transmitted alternately on Marine VHF Channels 87B (161.975 MHz) and 88B (162.025 MHz).

  • Range will be similar to that of VHF voice communications, generally 20 nm.

  • An AIS receiver will often detect targets that are hidden from radar by intervening land. AIS allows shore-based repeater stations to be used to expand coverage beyond line of sight.

  • Most large ships are required to carry and use AIS transponders.


Classes

  • Class A transponders are for compulsorily equipped vessels. They have GPS, a transmitter, two AIS receivers, and a Channel 70 DSC receiver. They are 12.5 watts.

  • Class B transponders are for voluntarily equipped vessels. They are only 2 watts, do not transmit navigation status or voyage details, and do not require a keyboard or display.

Some Stuff You Probably Won't Ever Need

Trip plans

Trip plans should be used and left with friends to aid in SAR if needed. I don't think this will be on the test, but it's in a lot of the study material I've found online. Formats vary and can be easily downloaded.

Telephone Calls

CCG provides phone call service in Atlantic Canada only. Telephone companies in other areas may do this for a fee. To use: pick a radiotel frequency, depress transmit for 3 seconds, hear a ring, wait for operator. You will need correct station info. Charges apply. Better yet, buy a sat phone and forget this obsolete nonsense.

Now go take your test

ISED has delegated testing for the ROC(M) to the Canadian Power Squadron. You can see their available courses here. I do not know of a way to just challenge the test without taking their course which is unfortunate. I took my course from Jericho Beach Kayak Centre which (as of the time of writing this) has made arrangements with the Canadian Power Squadron to allow testing over Zoom.

This document represents pretty much everything I know about marine radio. I passed the test with this information, and my guess is you will if you study this, too. Good luck.

Best,

Reg Natarajan

VA7ZEB