Marine and fisheries compliance: vessel monitoring system

Information and forms relating to the Scottish Government's vessel monitoring system (VMS).

What is VMS?

The Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) is a form of satellite tracking using transmitters on board fishing vessels. The system is a legal requirement under EC Regulation No. 1224/2009 (retained in UK law) and Scottish Statutory Instrument (SSI) 392/2004.

Schematic showing how the vehicle monitoring system works in practice.

How does it work?

A basic VMS unit consists of a GPS receiver which plots the position of the vessel (much like in-car SatNav or a handheld GPS unit) coupled with a communications device which reports the position at a minimum of every two hours.

To gain a position fix, a GPS receiver must have four GPS satellites within line-of-sight. GPS satellites are Low Earth Orbiting satellites arranged in constellation with the orbits scheduled so that at least six satellites are within line-of-sight from almost anywhere on the Earth's surface.

What information is sent by a VMS unit?

The unit automatically sends the following data on a pre-determined timescale:

  • the vessel identification
  • geographical position
  • date/time (UTC) of fixing of position
  • course and speed

How often is VMS information sent?

Information must be transmitted once every two hours. There are reciprocal agreements with non-EU countries, such as Norway and Faroes as well as Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) such as NEAFC, where the requirement to position-report is once every hour. The satellite tracking device installed on UK vessels is configured to automatically change the reporting frequency when a vessel enters and exits these areas.

Which vessels need to be fitted with a VMS unit?

As of 2012, all EU, Faroese and Norwegian vessels which exceed 12 metres overall length must be fitted with VMS units.

Are any vessels exempt?

Vessels used exclusively for the exploitation of aquaculture and operating exclusively inside the baselines of Member States are exempt from satellite tracking.

A picture of a VMS unit

Which VMS units are approved for use by Scottish vessels?

In the UK, the only approved VMS units are supplied by AST Marine Sciences Ltd (AST). These units comprise two parts: the transceiver and the battery box. The battery box has a green light to indicate whether the box is receiving mains power, and an 'In Port' button which can be used to power down the unit. The units are fitted with tamper alarm switches which send alerts if opened.

Where can I purchase a VMS unit? Who owns the VMS unit once purchased?

The only UK supplier for the approved VMS unit is AST Marine Sciences Ltd (AST). They can be contacted on +44(0)1493 416566. VMS units are the property of the vessel owner. If a vessel is being sold outside the UK, a vessel owner can retain the VMS unit for fitting to a replacement vessel.

Who should I contact about VMS invoices?

You should contact AST on +44(0)1493 416566. If the invoice is not from AST, then it is possible that your vessel is still reporting using an older non-approved VMS unit and you can contact Marine Scotland's Fisheries Monitoring Centre on +44(0)131 271 9700 to confirm.

Who monitors VMS data?

Each EU member state has established 'Fisheries Monitoring Centres' (FMCs) to monitor the activities of their flag fishing vessels wherever they may be and fishing vessels within their waters.

Which vessels is Marine Scotland responsible for?

In the UK, FMC responsibilities are discharged collectively by Marine Scotland, the Marine Management Organisation (MMO - England) and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA - Northern Ireland). Marine Scotland is responsible for all Scottish-based vessels anywhere in the world and for non-UK vessels operating in waters within Scottish jurisdiction. Marine Scotland's Fisheries Monitoring Centre acts as the FMC for Scotland.

Who is responsible for ensuring the VMS unit is operational?

It is the responsibility of the master to ensure that the satellite tracking device is fully operational at all times. The Fisheries Monitoring Centre monitors VMS reports received and informs vessels/representatives/owners of any technical failures or non-functioning of the unit.

What should I do if I am notified that the VMS unit is not operational?

The notification will explain the actions that are required. The main points are:

  • If the vessel is at sea, you should send manual positions every 4 hours to the UK Fisheries Monitoring Centre either by telephone +44(0)131 271 9700, fax +44(0)131 244 6471 or email with the vessel name, PLN & call sign, the date/time (in UTC) of the position fix and the current position of the vessel
  • Once in port (or if already in port), you should engage an engineer by calling AST Marine Sciences Ltd (AST) on +44(0)1493 416566 before your next departure
  • Once notified, you must not leave port without contacting the Fisheries Monitoring Centre on +44(0)131 271 9700 to confirm that the unit is working again or to seek temporary authority to sail. Failure to do so may result in enforcement action against your vessel.

Can I switch off my VMS unit?

UK vessels are allowed to power down the unit while in port only, although the Norwegian authorities have requested that vessels do not power down whilst in a Norwegian port. To correctly power down, the 'In Port' button should be held down for 5 seconds, wait 5 minutes then power down the VMS unit (which should be on a separate circuit-breaker).

Failure to power down the unit correctly will cause the unit to enter 'sleep mode' and continue to report on battery power. The unit will detect any significant movement and re-commence reporting regardless of whether mains power is connected (therefore you should remember to switch on the power supply before sailing). For this reason, vessels should not use the In Port button while at anchor.

Vessels on guardship or non-fishing duties must continue to report as normal. However, we will consider requests to disconnect VMS units if a vessel will be out of action long-term.

How do I obtain access to VMS data?

Access to VMS data is strictly controlled as it is considered to be personal data. However, under the Data Protection Act 2018 vessel owners can request access to their VMS data either in writing (by letter, fax or email) or by completing a VMS Data Request Form (attached to this publication). Representatives of vessels, including masters, can also request VMS data if they have the owner's consent to do so.

Requests should be submitted to the appropriate local Fishery Office for consideration.

Vessel monitoring system: data request form 2018
Vessel monitoring system: data request form 2018 (pdf)
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