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General or Commercial Radio Operator License (GROL or CROL) Program

Jan 10, 2020

According to the FCC, the only people who are permitted to operate or perform repairs and maintenance on radio communication systems within aircraft stations or ships are those people who hold specific commercial radio operator licenses issued by the FCC.  These regulations are strictly upheld, and it is only by passing a specific examination overseen by a COLEM (Commercial Operator License Examination Manager) that an upgraded or new commercial radio operator license can be obtained from the FCC. 

Do You Need A Commercial Radio Operator License?

In broad terms, in order to operate radio communication systems on aircrafts and certain types of ships, or to maintain or repair these systems, a commercial radio operator license is required. Read on for more information about specific licensing requirements for the operation of radio communication systems, compared with those attached to maintaining and repairing these systems.


It is important to understand that the below information refers only to situations when a commercial radio operator license is required. However, holding this license does not imply permission by the FCC for the transmission of radio signals. Before you undertake any radio signal transmissions, ensure that FCC permission has been specifically granted and necessary licenses obtained as required.

Operating a Radio.

You will need a commercial license to use a radio station on a ship if any of the following are true:

  • The ship has capacity to carry six or more passengers when hired.
  • The radio system operates on either HF (high frequency) or MF (medium frequency).
  • The vessel visits overseas ports.
  • Radiotelegraphy is transmitted by the vessel.
  • Legal requirements dictate that the vessel must carry a radio communications system for safety reasons because the vessel weighs more than 300 tons gross.
  • The vessel is an aircraft, except when the aircraft does not operate overseas flights or only operates on VHF (very high frequency).

You will not need a commercial license to use a radio station for any of the following purposes:

  • The vessel operates on VHF (very high frequency) only and does not make overseas trips or facilitate overseas communication, unless there is a legal requirement for the vessel to carry a radio communications system for safety reasons and the vessel weighs more than 300 tons gross.
  • Radionavigation onshore stations, maritime support, short radiolocation, and shore radar.
  • EPIRBs or stations for survival craft.
  • Stations for ship radars, if the radar can be operated solely via external controls and the frequency of the radar is controlled by a device that is fix-tuned or where the frequency is a magnetron (pulse type) or other non-tuneable type.
  • Coast stations.
  • Aircraft vessels which do not operate overseas flights and operate on VHF (very high frequency).
  • Automatic radionavigation transmission devices for aircrafts, including transponders, radio altimeters, and aircraft radar equipment.
  • Stations for aviation survival and ELTs solely used for the purpose of survival.

Repairing or Maintaining a Radio.

In order to maintain or repair any of the following, you will need to hold an FCC-issued commercial radio operator license:

  • Ship radar stations and radio stations.
  • Every type of coast station.
  • Units carried by hand which facilitate communication between coast stations and ships on maritime specific frequencies.
  • Any type of aeronautical ground or aircraft station that is used to facilitate communications with aircraft, including portable units that are hand carried.

You will not need to hold a commercial license to perform maintenance or repairs on, or to operate, the following station types:

  • Land radio equipment that operates on a mobile, two-way basis, such as that used by federal, state, and local government agencies, rescue squads, ambulances, industry and business, truckers, taxicabs, and fire and police departments.
  • Personal radio systems such as GMRS (General Mobile Radio Services), RCRS (Radio Control Radio Service), and CBRS (Citizens Band Radio Service).
  • Auxiliary broadcast systems, including remote pickup systems.
  • Domestic public systems, both mobile and fixed, such as multipoint distribution systems, microwave point-to-point systems, radio systems for rural areas, cellular systems, and mobile phone systems.
  • Any stations that function on the CTRS (Cable Television Relay Service).
  • All types of downlink and uplink satellite stations.

Please note that possessing a commercial radio operator license does not imply FCC authorisation to operate GMRS or amateur radio stations. For clarity, it is only a person who holds a GMRS or amateur radio operation license who may operate a GMRS or amateur radio system.

Cell Signal Booster Installation.

A marine cell phone signal booster, repeater, or amplifier is considered an ancillary product or service that helps improve cellular reception in marine vessels. For installation of consumer or non-industrial grade marine cell phone signal boosters (USA) and marine cell phone signal boosters (Canada), a Commercial Radio Operator License (CROL) and General Radio Operator License (GROL) is not required. However, as with installation in buildings and vehicles, any installed signal booster must be registered with respective cellular service provider or carrier in United States (not required in Canada). Registration address to be provided can that be of main company business office where representatives would know the location of the ship or marine vessel at all times. CROL or GROL is required for installation of industrial signal boosters.

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  • isn’t the first place I’d expect to see information on radio operator licenses. It was still an interesting read and it included the usual information on cell signal boosters you expect to find here. I wouldn’t mind seeing more articles like this.

    Fritz Tiboldt on
  • Never knew you needed a license to do repair work on certain radios. This is interesting to me because I just got my technician’s license for ham radio and I’m interested in other types of broadcasting. I wonder how easy it is to get these other licenses? Helpful info on the cell phone boosters too. I think they’re a smart idea if you do a lot of boating.

    Brad Tillman on

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