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DSC RADIO - Digital Selective Calling

 

The "Get out of Trouble Button" is only as good as you program it.

By Daniel Eaton
Flotilla Commander
United States Coast Guard Auxiliary
Fort Myers Beach

 

The Rescue 21 Radio System has arrived at the Coast Guard station Fort Myers Beach! Rescue 21 revolutionizes how the Coast Guard uses communications for search and rescue (SAR) missions within the coastal areas of the United States. In addition to its many features, it supports Digital Selective Calling (DSC) technology. Digital Selective Calling has been integrated into the Global Maritime Distress & Safety System since 1999. Digital selective calling allows mariners to initiate or receive distress, urgency, safety and routine radiotelephone calls to or from any similarly equipped vessel or shore station, without requiring either party to be near a radio loudspeaker. DSC acts like the dial and bell of a telephone, allowing you to "direct dial" and "ring" other radios, or allow others to "ring" you, without having to listen to a speaker. Amy Bartholomew the store manager of the West Marine Store in Fort Myers Beach stated “All new VHF and HF radiotelephones have DSC capability. Even the most affordable units include this feature.”

Bill White, the Communications Officer for the Coast Guard Auxiliary of Fort Myers Beach explained, "A very small number of boaters have registered for a MMSI number who have a capable radio. With the implementation of Rescue21 at the Fort Myers Beach Station, combined with Group St. Petersburg, this will have a positive impact upon SAR operations in the Fort Myers, Sanibel Island, Captiva Island and the surrounding waterways." He urges recreational boaters "If you have a marine radio with a Get out Trouble Button (Distress Button), you need to take action now, before you get into trouble." It is a three step process.

The first step is to obtain a Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) number. Obtaining an MMSI number is a necessary requirement in order to use the DSC functions of your radio. The MMSI number serves as both a nine digit "telephone number" and as a unique identification number for the U.S. Coast Guard to use to identify your vessel in an emergency. BoatU.S. has been authorized by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the U.S. Coast Guard to assign MMSI numbers to vessels with DSC capable radios that are not already required by law to carry a radio, and do not make international voyages or communications. BoatU.S. is responsible for relaying the MMSI registration information to the U.S. Coast Guard for search and rescue purposes. The online registration for a MMSI number is both free and easy. Simply point your web browser to http://www.boatus.com/mmsi. From that page you can create a new MMSI number. This number will be associated with your vessel so the Coast Guard would have preliminary information before beginning the search. This information includes type, length and style of boat, the names of the owner, cell phone contacts, and registration numbers. The online process takes less than 10 minutes to complete. If you do not have access to the internet, you can call the MMSI toll-free information line at 800-563-1536 to obtain a number by mail for fax.

The second step is to program that number into your DSC radio. Consult with your radio manual on exactly how to enter the number into the memory of the radio. I found the process to be simple and took under 5 minutes to complete. Depending upon the brand and model of your radio, you should be aware that you may have only 2 or 3 attempts to program the number. If you fail to enter the number and exceed the number of attempts you will need to send you radio back to the manufacturer to reset it. Don’t let that scare you. Just be sure you are familiar with your radio and follow the instructions in your manual. If you’re missing the manual, you may be able to find a copy of your manual on the manufacturer’s website.

The last step is to connect your radio to your GPS, LORAN or chart plotter. Although there is no standard “plug” to connect your GPS, Loran or Chart plotter to your radio is can be as simple as connecting two wires to the NMEA output of the GPS. Consult your radio’s owners manual and your GPS owners manual for specific details. Your GPS, chart plotter or LORAN unit will then send real time location information, that is your current latitude and longitude, to your radio.

The last step is to connect your radio to your GPS, LORAN or chart plotter. Although there is no standard "plug" to connect your GPS, Loran or Chart plotter to your radio is can be as simple as connecting two wires to the NMEA output of the GPS. Consult your radio’s owners manual and your GPS owners manual for specific details. Your GPS, chart plotter or LORAN unit will then send real time location information, that is your current latitude and longitude, to your radio.

Now you have all the pieces together. Once you have completed all three steps your system is now ready for a distress situation. Should you get into trouble, tune to channel 70 and lift the Distress button guard and press the distress button. Your MMSI number together with your real time location is transmitted to the Coast Guard. Now the Coast Guard knows where to begin their search and who to search for.

More information regarding Rescue 21 can be found online at http://www.uscg.mil/rescue21/home/index.htm. Coast Guard Auxiliarists donate their time and talents to promote the missions of the Coast Guard. Known as "America’s Volunteer Lifesavers", the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary was established by Congress in 1939 to assist the Coast Guard in promoting boating safety. It boasts more than 35,000 members nationally from all walks of life who receive specialized training and must meet specific requirements. Operational Auxiliarists also must pass background checks so that they may be a functional part of Coast Guard forces. Since September 11, 2001, the mission of the Auxiliary is expanding to include missions of port safety and security and maritime domain awareness. Auxiliarists assist the Coast Guard in non-law enforcement programs such as public education, vessel safety checks, safety patrols, search and rescue, maritime security and environmental protection and Coast Guard Academy introduction programs for youth. For further information visit the Flotilla Website at http://www.Aux91FMB.org.



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