Previous Page Table of Contents



The rapid identification of a vessel type and its identification greatly facilitates MCS activities. The efforts of FAO towards standardizing the vessel markings to correspond with international radio call signs is an added advantage for identification and initiating communications with the sighted vessel.

The "FAO System" of identification is set out in The standard specifications for the marking and identification of fishing vessels,[129] paraphrased below.


The Specifications contained herein were endorsed by the Eighteenth Session of the FAO Committee on Fisheries, Rome, April 1989, for adoption by States on a voluntary basis as a standard system to identify fishing vessels.


1.1 Purpose and scope

1.1.1 As an aid to fisheries management and safety at sea, fishing vessels should be appropriately marked for their identification on the basis of the International Telecommunication Union Radio Call Signs (IRCS) system.

1.2 Definitions

For the purpose of these Specifications:

i) the word "vessel" refers to any vessel intending to fish or engaged in fishing or ancillary activities, operating, or likely to operate, in all fishing waters and also includes a boat, skiff or craft (excluding aircraft) carried on board another vessel and required for fishing operations;

ii) a deck is any surface lying in the horizontal plane, including the top of the wheelhouse;

iii) a radio station is one that is assigned an International Telecommunication Union Radio Call Sign.

1.3 Basis for the Standard Specifications

The basis for the Standard Specifications, the IRCS system, meets the following requirements:

i) the use of an established international system from which the identity and nationality of vessels can be readily determined, irrespective of size and tonnage, and for which a register is maintained;

ii) it is without prejudice to international conventions, national or bilateral practices;

iii) implementation and maintenance will be at minimum cost to governments and vessel owners; and

iv) it facilitates search and rescue operations.


2.1 Basic System

2.1.1 The Standard Specifications are based on:

i) the International Telecommunication Union's system for the allocation of call signs to countries for ship stations; and

ii) generally accepted design standards for lettering and numbering.

2.1.2 Vessels shall be marked with their International Telecommunication Union Radio Call Signs (IRCS).

2.1.3. Vessels to which an IRCS has not been assigned shall be marked with the characters allocated by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to the flag State followed by the license or registration number assigned by the flag State. In such cases, a hyphen shall be placed between the nationality identification characters and the license or registration number identifying the vessel.

2.1.4 In order to avoid confusion with the letters I and O, it is recommended that the numbers 1 and 0, which are specifically excluded from the ITU call signs, be avoided by national authorities when allocating licence or registration numbers.

2.1.5. Apart from the vessel's name or identification mark and the port of registry as required by international practice or national legislation, the marking system as specified shall, in order to avoid confusion, be the only other vessel identification mark consisting of letters and numbers to be painted on the hull or superstructure.

2.2 Application

2.2.1 The markings shall be prominently displayed at all times:

i) on the vessel's side or superstructure, port and starboard; fixtures inclined at an angle to the vessel's side or superstructure would be considered as suitable provided that the angle of inclination would not prevent sighting of the sign from another vessel or from the air:

ii) on a deck, except as provided for in paragraph 2.2.4 below. Should an awning or other temporary cover be placed so as to obscure the mark on a deck, the awning or cover shall also be marked. These marks should be placed athwartships with the top of the numbers or letters towards the bow.

2.2.2 Marks should be placed as high as possible above the waterline on both sides. Such parts of the hull as the bow and the stern shall be avoided.

2.2.3. The marks shall:

i) be so placed that they are not obscured by the fishing gear whether it is stowed or in use;

ii) be clear of flow from scuppers or overboard discharges including areas which might be prone to damage or discolouration from the catch of certain types of species; and

iii) not extend below the waterline.

2.2.4 Undecked vessels shall not be required to display the markings on a horizontal surface. However, owners should be encouraged, where practical, to fit a board on which the markings may be clearly seen from the air.

2.2.5 Vessels fitted with sails may display the markings on the sail in addition to the hull.

2.2.6 Boats, skiffs and craft carried by the vessel for fishing operations shall bear the same mark as the vessel concerned.


3.1 Specifications of letters and numbers

3.1.1 Block lettering and numbering shall be used throughout.

3.1.2 The width of the letters and numbers shall be in proportion to the height as set out later in this paper.

3.1.3 The height (h) of the letters and numbers shall be in proportion to the size of the vessel in accordance with the following:

a) for marks to be placed on the hull, superstructure and/or inclined surfaces:

Length of vessel overall (LOA) in meters (m)

Height of letters and numbers in meters (m) to be not less than

25 m and over

1.0 m

20 m but less than 25 m

0.8 m

15 m but less than 20 m

0.6 m

12 m but less than 15 m

0.4 m

5 m but less than 12 m

0.3 m

Under 5 m

0.1 m

b) for marks to be placed on deck: the height shall not be less than 0.3 m for all classes of vessels of 5 m and over.

3.1.4 The length of the hyphen shall be half the height of the letters and numbers.

3.1.5 The width of the stroke for all letters, numbers and the hyphen shall be h/6.

3.1.6 Spacing:

i) the space between letters and/or numbers shall not exceed h/4 nor be less than h/6;

ii) the space between adjacent letters having sloping sides shall not exceed h/8 nor be less than h/10, for example A V.

3.2 Painting

3.2.1 The marks shall be:

i) white on a black background; or
ii) black on a white background.

3.2.2 The background shall extend to provide a border around the mark of not less than h/6.

3.2.3 Good quality marine paints to be used throughout.

3.2.4 The use of retro-reflective or heat generating substances shall be accepted, provided that the mark meets the requirements of these Standard Specifications.

3.2.5 The marks and the background shall be maintained in good condition at all times.



The Malaysian vessel identification system comprises the following:

a) A three to four letter code and number designating the state, use of vessel and number for the vessel. This is hammered on to the hull of the vessel, e.g. JHF 1 - JH meaning the state of Jahor, F for fisheries, and 1 for the number of the vessel.

b) The "tin plate" with the Department of Fisheries logo and the signature of the Director General is placed on the inner side of the hull with non-removable nails, currently for vessels above 70 GRT.

c) The wheelhouse colour for the state of registration, e.g. Johor is blue.

d) The registration number for the vessel is white with a black background and sized depending on the size of the vessel:






Canoe/skiff with outboard engine




< 25 GRT with inboard engine




25-40 GRT with inboard engine




> 40 GRT




e) Each vessel (except a canoe/skiff without a wheelhouse) is marked according to its appropriate fishing zone (Zone A, B, C, and C2). The letter is coloured in white with a black, round background and painted on both sides of the wheelhouse. The diameter of the background ranges from 10-22 inches according to vessel size.

Fishing Zones are as follows:










Trawler/P. Seine

< 40

> 5 nm from shore


Trawler/P. Seine


> 12 nm from shore


Trawler/P. Seine

> 70

> 30 nm from shore

As trawlers are considered to be "unfriendly" to the environment and resources, their activities are closely monitored by the Department of Fisheries. A special marking was imposed on the vessel for ease in identification. All trawlers are required to have a white diagonal stripe across each side of the wheelhouse.


Summary of the Malaysian Vessel Marking System

The paper has been designed as a handbook for fisheries administrators for use when establishing or enhancing, monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) systems in support of fisheries management initiatives. It updates the 1994 FAO Technical Paper No. 338, An introduction to monitoring, control and surveillance systems for capture fisheries, through a review of recent international fisheries agreements and new MCS approaches involving participatory management, preventive and deterrent MCS strategies, and the importance of safety-at-sea for fishers. The paper is divided into eight chapters to: provide an overview of MCS; review the legal basis for MCS activities; propose design considerations for MCS systems; review organizational considerations for MCS; discuss management measures and consultation and planning issues; review operational procedures and equipment; review patrol, boarding, inspections and prosecution procedures; and address emerging coastal MCS strategies. Annexes provide further details of operational issues and options for MCS system design and implementation.

[129] FAO (1989). Also see FAO (1985).
[130] Personal discussions with Mr Salehan, Chief of Fisheries Resource Protection in Malaysia, May 2000.

Previous Page Top of Page