If you’re out on the water and things go badly -fire, taking on water, man overboard, etc - you really need to work the problem. Seconds may count but you also need to get on the radio and make a call. If things go bad, really bad, you have to call “Mayday” – wait for a response – pass all sorts of information about your position and how many people are on board and what your problem is, etc., but while your doing that you still have this problem to handle. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just push a button and send out the information about your vessel and what your problem is – to everyone – and get back to trying to save your boat (and your life)?
What you you pay for a button like that? If there was just some system – like the alarm system in your house – where you could automatically call for help and the people you need would instantly know everything about your boat, where it is, what your emergency is, and then send help whether you can talk or not; wouldn’t that be something worth paying for?
Yeah – here’s the thing. You already have it. It is free to use and if you are like 9 out of 10 boaters I talk to, you just haven’t turned it on or hooked it up properly. It’s just sitting there – waiting to be used.
When I discuss Digital Selective Calling (DSC) with boaters – even to licensed and professional captains – most of them have an idea what it is but two-thirds of them haven’t registered (for free) their own DSC radio and are almost always surprised by it’s built-in (and again free) capabilities. Useful as an everyday tool, and not just for emergencies, the DSC functionality of marine radios is worth the effort to activate.
Since 1999 – every marine VHF radio manufactured in the U.S. has been required to be equipped with DSC functionality. That radio with the little red button on the front that reads “Distress” can do so much more than just call for help. If properly registered and hooked into your GPS, your $100.00 VHF radio has the ability to:
- Make a distress call alerting the USCG and every other ship within range* that you have a problem, getting help on the way without saying a word.
- Call all other DSC equipped and registered vessels in your area – (think Pan-Pan or non-urgent marine broadcasts)
- Make individual station call – Like an at sea phone system, individual station call allows you to call another vessel and connect on a preset channel.
- Make calls to specific groups of vessels
- Relay distress coordinates (if connected to your GPS)
- Request the position of other vessels (if their DSC Radio is connected to a GPS).
These features are all built into the radio on your vessel. All you have to do is obtain an MMSI number and learn how to use the functions you already paid for, but might not have known you had.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of the Department of Homeland Security or the U.S. Coast Guard.