MMSI Number

I just bought a Standard Horizon HX870 VHF radio with GPS and now have to get a MMSI number for my kayak. The problem is I own more than one kayak and only one kayak may be registered to this radio. Does this mean I can’t use my new radio with my other kayaks and canoes? Or do I have to buy additional radios for all my other kayaks in order to paddle safely with a VHF/GPS radio?

That’s a darn good question.

Here’s a link to MMSI application worksheet.

The information is all pretty straightforward until you get into the remarks section, which asks questions about length and color, and characteristics that are visible from a mile away.

I wonder if you could use a general term such as “sea kayak” rather than getting into specific length for each boat. Color is another question, unless all your kayaks are the same color.

Maybe your local USCG could advise you how to fill out that remarks section when you will be using the radio in different kayaks. The answer could be as simple as just identifying the boat as a kayak, so USCG knows what type of vessel they’re looking for.

Can you update the registration info if/when you change kayaks? Or is there a provision for handhelds?

Yes! That’s What I Originally Thought
All I had to do was just register it as a kayak or canoe and that would be enough. But if you go into detail and enter all the info required in the remarks section, then the description will not fit all your other paddling craft that differ in size, color, shape and maybe registration, if available.

Trouble is: paddlers are encouraged to have these safety devices on them when paddling, but the requirements governing the use of them make it impractical, especially when paddling a different boat that isn’t described for the particular MMSI number for the VHF/GPS radio you might have on you.

The dilemma is during an emergency do you push the button, knowing very well that the MMSI number belongs to another kayak?

Yes You Can Update
But you got to send the radio back to the manufacturer to have it reset, which is impractical: Like, suppose on the day of the race, the weather conditions make it more advantageous to switch from a tandem kayak that has a MMSI number to single kayak that doesn’t. So what do you do, leave the safety device on shore and race without it?

For your information, these VHF/GPS radios cost over $200.00 each. Trust me, even if I owned two of them, I’d get them mixed up and end up paddling with the wrong radio that doesn’t match the kayak.

My PLB when I registered it I talked to one of the government officials with email. They said just put kayak. I have several all different colors. no big deal.

its not

beaurowcratic entanglement…the agency wants a visual idea of your main craft.

PLB asks us to notify the online PLB service of where you plan on: hiking biking mountain climbing and with what so when the CG comes looking for your screwup …

‘remarks’ could be yawl one one kayak and one 21 ft skiff. Doahn speak English n sport two heads…

Took my own advice
and called the local USCG station. Told them I owned two kayaks of different lengths and colors and wanted to use one handheld VHS/DSC radio on both boats. I asked them what information to include in the registration so the USCG could easily find me should I need assistance.

The Traverse City Station didn’t know so they patched me over to the USCG Sector Sault Sainte Marie (MI).

They didn’t know either and suggested I ask the manufacturer or whoever is handling the registration.

I’ve sent an email to BoatU.S. If they respond, will share that info.

I did find the following at the USCG website:

"Obtaining MMSIs for DSC-equipped VHF Handhelds

"A handheld VHF transceiver with DSC and an integral global navigation satellite system (e.g. GPS) not intended for dedicated use on a particular ship (e.g. a diver’s radio) should be assigned a unique 9-digit number in the format 81M2I3D4X5X6X7X8X9. While currently means do not exist within the U.S. to assign such identities, the Coast Guard has been in discussions with the Federal communications Commission and others on implementing them.

“In the interim, VHF handhelds used in the United States should use the MMSI assigned to the ship to which the handheld is primarily associated, even if another radio on that ship uses the same MMSI. Non-commercial users of VHF handhelds not primarily associated with any single ship may use an MMSI provided by an organization such as BOAT US, SEA TOW and U.S. Power Squadron (see above). VHF handhelds should not be used ashore absent FCC or NTIA authorization allowing such use.”

It appears the USCG recognizes the need for an identifier for handheld portables other than a MMSI, but I won’t hold my breath waiting for those “discussions” with government agencies to materialize into anything productive.

I had planned on buying a handheld VHS/DSC radio. Now I’m wondering if an EPIRB would be a better choice.

MMSI question answered

– Last Updated: Jan-19-16 8:53 AM EST –

Here's the response I received from BoatUS concerning a handheld VHS/DSC radio:

"All radios that remain permanently on board a boat (ie. Fixed mount radio or AIS) share one MMSI number applicable to that vessel only. A Handheld VHF/DSC radio, on the other hand, is expected to potentially travel from boat to boat, or be placed in a ditch bag that goes with the dinghy. It is also more likely to stay with the original owner if the boat and fixed mount radio is ever sold. At this time, it is not an easy or convenient task to reprogram a handheld radio with a new MMSI number when the boat and other programmed radios are sold, so we recommend a separate MMSI for the handheld.

"When you complete the form online, you will be asked to select a radio type. Once you select 'Handheld VHF w/DSC' the system will automatically remove the vessel specific field requirements for items such as State Registration or Documentation number. It will also preset the boat type as XXX-Unspecified and prompt you to describe it in the remarks. Location can be listed as residence.

"The goal of the remarks section is simply to help the Coast Guard to know what they are looking for when they receive a distress. You'd be fine just stating: 'Hand held VHF used on 2 sea kayaks, one red, one yellow in the Great lakes area.' You can mention the lengths if you want to. Either way it clearly indicates that they are not searching for a 52' Motoryacht.

"Currently our MMSI system does not set up the new Memberships, but that should go live next month. You can go ahead and set up your Membership online at or by calling 800-395-2628 to apply by phone. Then proceed with getting your MMSI at You can get the MMSI first, but there's a field where you can provide your Member number on the form if you have it already.

"Oh, you will still need to answer the initial gateway questions (designed to prevent foreign vessels and those cruising into foreign territories from using the BoatU.S. MMSI instead of getting the appropriate International MMSI). Just choose 'US' even though it is not a registered vessel.

"Let me know if you have any questions. Have a great day!

"Kristin L. Loyd
Supv, Special Programs
Technical Services
MMSI Program
800.563.1536 | |"

Thus, no issues using a handheld VHF/DSC radio on different kayaks.

Like the answer that Rookie got…
you have to consider the intent of stuff like that as much or more than the specific instructions. The intent is to make it easier for rescue services to find you. If bothering with the MMSI or whatever number interferes with that, common sense says you make the description more generic and more useful.

Then again, some people actually give Facebook and Linked In their real birthday.

thank you

Hey Rookie, you’ve come through on this matter. Thank you very much.

However, with the government, there’s usually some small glitch or unforeseen situation that pops up.

So until I start the registration process, I won’t know? Got to be careful, for I only have one (1) chance to register. Wish there was an option to just check off “family” instead of one individual.

You’ll be fine, Clyde
Just don’t press “submit” until you’re sure all your information is correct. Plus, the MMSI applications are handled by USCG approved organizations, not federal agencies:

“Mariners not required to carry a marine radio (e.g. recreational boaters) and who remain in U.S. waters can obtain an MMSI through approved organizations such as BOAT US 1-800-563-1536, SEA TOW 1-800-4SEATOW, U.S. Power Squadron, and Shine Micro (primarily for AIS). Most of these organizations provide MMSIs at no charge even to nonmembers.”

I think the salient point of the BoatUS response was: “The goal of the remarks section is simply to help the Coast Guard to know what they are looking for when they receive a distress.”

Happy the info was of help to you; it certainly was to me and removed the registration uncertainty I had about a VHS/DSC.