VHF radios have come a long way since they first started to be installed in boats years back. These days they have extra functions such a DSC that adds an extra level of safety to your boating. We are all aware that you can just call for help with Mayday or Pan, but do you know what the DSC button does? Many boat owners aren’t aware that it is a requirement to have a licence in order to operate a VHF radio and benefit from the full functionality of them.
The Digital Selective Calling (DSC) button won’t work unless you have input a Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) number that you can apply for once you have a radio operator licence via the Government body AMSA (Australian Maritime Safety Authority). Your MMSI number is also required to make use of AIS (Automatic Identification System) if this is also installed on your boat. AIS is where you can identify other vessels and shipping on your plotter giving their course and speed, which is a huge advantage over Radar, which is severely hampered by rain.
If DSC is activated it transmits, via channel 70 on VHF, a brief burst of digital data that’s stored against your MMSI, such as identity of your boat, the priority of the alert and who it’s calling. Even better if your VHF is linked to your GPS it sends your specific location.
It was developed in the English channel where the high volume of both commercial and leisure vessel movements meant that it could take a considerable amount of time to make a voice call on Channel 16 seeking assistance. The system is now used to great effect Worldwide. It’s therefore an immediate one button call for help when any persons on-board are in grave and/or imminent danger and is a request for immediate assistance. All stations/radios that receive the alert are required to act via the normal procedure as if this was a voice call for help.
So having now completed the radio course I feel far more confident in knowing that if, and I mean if, something goes wrong, I have the skills and understanding on how to call for help whether via DSC or the normal methods.
For your information I did my radio licence through a company called Above and Beyond Boating based in Newport. The course takes about 1 hour and requires answering 25 multiple-choice questions, which were easier than I expected. If you do contact Neil let him know that you are a PBS client and he will provide a personal service and PBS discount to assist you in getting your licence. This is a once-off course which never needs to be renewed unless you want a refresher.