The regulations governing the use of maritime radio are detailed in the ITU Radio Regulations, set out by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006. The ITU is a specialised agency of the United Nations that is responsible for issues that concern information and communication technologies.
The ITU brought forward Recommendation M.1174-2 (05/04), which describes the technical characteristics of equipment used for on-board vessel communications in the bands between 450 and 470MHz. This recommendation has been brought to the attention of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and the International Maritime Radio Committee (CIRM).
What does this mean for superyachts? There is a set of frequencies approved for usage for on-board VHF communications, for the vessel to be operating legally. Operating illegally can result in large fines and/or confiscation of equipment. The implications of this could mean both a substantial reinvestment in new radio equipment and the loss of a safe working environment for your crew.
On 19 May, 2016, Spanish police entered Barcelona’s marinas and refit yards to track down the source of a rogue radio signal that was disrupting the local rail network. The source of the signal was a superyacht that was unknowingly operating using an illegal frequency.
Running an overly amplified radio station is illegal in most locations around the world and, therefore, some companies are fitting radio systems on board yachts that are in breach of international law. These breaches are considered criminal offences and can carry hefty penalties.
Maritime frequencies are selected for their mobility; they can be used the world over, thereby avoiding any clashes with important land-based frequencies. Issues arise because the communications systems on board superyachts can be so powerful that their disruptions are far-reaching, and can impinge upon the law unwittingly.
With the gradual shift of radio communications from analogue to digital, issues can arise on board superyachts from a litany of educational errors and negligence on the part of certain OEMs and suppliers. The key in this instance is to work with a marine radio communications specialist company.
“In 2016, you cannot just buy radios, you must build a communication system,” explains Jack Robinson, director of commercial development at Net-Logic Marine. “Many companies will happily sell you radio handsets but have no understanding of how to build a working, legal and efficient communications system, built around the needs of the owner and crew. With the ITU announcement, digital has become a regulatory demand. Yachts need to treat communication as they treat IT; you can buy a laptop from Amazon but you would not ask them to handle your IT infrastructure.”
Robinson believes that there is a trend within the industry to upgrade the radios on board without taking into account the regulations or even the true needs of a vessel. The switch from analogue to digital radio communications is not just about legalities – working digital technology on board is paramount to having a secure and reliable communications system in place, and full communications coverage is primarily a safety issue.
It is well documented that digital radio technology offers many advantages over analogue, including improved voice quality with greater coverage and increased privacy. Adrian Hicks, director of Channel 28, believes that the superyacht industry has already started the digital migration. “The past four years have seen a big changeover to digital, and all the new builds have this technology,” he explains. “As long as you have digital and encryption, you will have a secure network.”
But changing to a digital radio system requires a structured process in order to be implemented properly. Find more on this in the full article in issue 79 of The Crew Report, available at the Monaco Yacht Show.