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Old 02-22-2015, 07:22 AM   #1
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Does anyone use DSC for non-emergency calls?

I've had DSC on all my VHFs, mostly because I started boating seriously after it came out. I love the panic button, and can say first hand that it works - not because I used it, but because a defective VHF was activating it on its own - but that's another story.

My questions is whether anyone uses DSC for non-emergency calls. Perhaps for calling among a set of buddy boats? Or to call a boat that you are converging on to negotiate a pass?

I ask because I have never used it, and it strikes me as 10x more complicated to use than hailing someone. As a result, I think it doomed to never get used. Here is a usage example that illustrate why it's such a pain in the butt. This is based on an Icom M506.

- Assume I'm converging on a boat and want to call and negotiate a pass. And assume he has AIS so I can get his MMSI number. I click on his target and the MMSI pops up along with a bunch of other data.

- On a bunch of the systems I've used, this data only stays up for a few seconds then disappears, so you grab a pen and jot down the MMSI.

- Now you go to your VHF and start working your way through menus to find the one to place a call. Now enter the ships MMSI number. On any VHF or other device without a keyboard, entering a 9 digit number should be classified as torture and be illegal. But you are a boater, and therefore immune to torture, so you push through with the task.

- Now you select which channel you want to talk on. After that, you review all the info to be sure it's correct. We will assume you entered all the info correctly, so you press the Call button.

- Now you wait while the VHF tries to raise the other ship. Once the other guy acks the call, your VHF alarms to tell you this. Now you have to cancel the alarm. Confirm the channel you want to use, then start talking.

I don't know about you, but compared to hailing someone by voice, this is never going to happen. Never.

But, clever people have found ways to make this easier. Seemingly the best is the ability to click on an AIS icon and click a menu item to call that boat. But what equipment can actually do this, and does it work? The Furuno TZ products can't. Nor can the Furuno FAR radars. The Simrad products say they can, but I never tried it. Has anyone been successful doing this?

The other short cut that seems plausible is the idea of a buddy list. These are MMSIs that you pre-program into your VHF for people you call frequently. This doesn't help with calling other boats to negotiate passes, but it let's you chat more easily with your friends, I suppose. Does anyone use this approach?

I have noticed that in the PNW, the Canadian Coast Guard uses DSC to send out all-stations alerts. A few weeks ago there was a kayaker who had gone missing. Other than that, I've never seen DSC used.

What have others seen? Do you use it?
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Old 02-22-2015, 08:27 AM   #2
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I've never used it, and hate it for all the false alarms that happen off Ocean City, MD during the summer. It's not that we get a lot, but 1 every 2 or 3 weeks is way too much. I imagine that easy of use will dramatically improve as the vhf becomes more integrated into the plotter. One only has to look at how clumsy the first plotter and autopilot integrations were and how easy and seamless they are know. 5 years from now it will probably be a few touchs on plotter screen menus to accomplish what is driving you nuts now.

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Old 02-22-2015, 11:15 AM   #3
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Use it all the time while cruising with friends so we don't annoy everyone else out there. Also, you can query the other boat's position without having AIS.

In your example, straight call on Channel 16, or VTS if in an area where that works.
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Old 02-22-2015, 11:28 AM   #4
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That Canadian all station alert left a blinking message icon on my radio screen. Having never seen that before, I looked in the owners manual first to identify it, then again to see how to retrieve the message, then to delete it. No, it's not a user friendly system.
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Old 02-22-2015, 11:29 AM   #5
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Use it all the time while cruising with friends so we don't annoy everyone else out there. Also, you can query the other boat's position without having AIS.
Right, I can see how it would work well for a stable group of boats where you have their MMSIs pre-programmed.
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Old 02-22-2015, 02:20 PM   #6
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IMHO, DSC radios are a PIA to use, therefore we do not have one on board. Seems that we are not the only ones who have this opinion, thus having a negative effect on "Rescue 21."
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Old 02-22-2015, 06:40 PM   #7
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Use it regularly among our friends. We go out of our way not to advertise that we are leaving the boat unattended at anchor. Thus many social plans are made using DSC. It is also an unfortunate custom for many boaters and some locals to follow a hail on our hailing channel (68) to whatever channel is announced for the discussion. DSC eliminates that.
This is true throughout the Eastern Caribbean where VHF is used as a phone.
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Old 02-22-2015, 07:29 PM   #8
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But you can still be overheard by anyone on your selected channel, right? It's just not so easy to know which channel that will be.
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Old 02-24-2015, 05:11 PM   #9
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I've seen the call option pop up but have never tried it. On my SH GX-2150 one of the owner customizable buttons will do this, I've never changed them from the default setting from the factory. I can see after reading some of the responses here that it may be useful.
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Old 02-24-2015, 05:25 PM   #10
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Good post. I have often wondered how DSC was helping or hurting communications.
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Old 02-24-2015, 05:51 PM   #11
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IMHO, DSC radios are a PIA to use, therefore we do not have one on board. Seems that we are not the only ones who have this opinion, thus having a negative effect on "Rescue 21."
Making DSC calls can be painful, but you don't have to use that capability. You can always just make calls on the radio like any other radio. The emergency feature which broadcasts location and boat information is a big advantage over a non DSC radio.
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Old 02-24-2015, 06:37 PM   #12
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The SH GX2150 makes things easier than the ICOM and I've had both on the same boat. DSC is just a poor implementation of what should be a good thing. The other limitation of DSC select calling is the station you select to complete the communications. You have no way to determine if it is in use on the initial call unless you tune to it first. If you go to it and it is busy, then you have to start the process all over again and change the station. DSC should have a few channels set aside for communications and should be able to listen and assign an open channel. That might increase usage, but it needs to be a lot easier to use.

I know of only two people other than me that use it. The first time I heard a DSC all station call from the Canadian Coast Guard, I thought something was broken on the boat and went on a gauge scan. It got my attention.

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Old 02-24-2015, 06:46 PM   #13
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Once you have it programmed and set up it is very slick and private and takes a bunch of gratuitous hailing off the air. Modern plotters and AIS systems I am aware of can integrate to modern VHFs and avoid the scenario described by the OP. Easy one touch dialing.

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IMHO, DSC radios are a PIA to use, therefore we do not have one on board. Seems that we are not the only ones who have this opinion, thus having a negative effect on "Rescue 21."
You can't be serious, how are they a PIA???? You don't have to use the call function if you don't want to, and then it's like any other VHF, except with a superb emergency broadcast and locator system. PFDs are a PIA to deal with too, I take it you've eschewed those as well?
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Old 02-24-2015, 07:27 PM   #14
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If you get a VHF with AIS built in you can see the targets on the VHF and directly broadcast to them. No numbers to write down. It's very easy. Through a NMEA network it will display on your plotter as well.
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Old 02-24-2015, 08:35 PM   #15
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Once you have it programmed and set up it is very slick and private
How is it more private? Just the hailing and channel negotiation part, right? The ultimate conversation is still open channel, I believe.
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Old 02-24-2015, 08:36 PM   #16
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What have others seen? Do you use it?
As you say, in the PNW it's common for the US and Canadian coat guards to use DSC to announce an emergency.

At to its ship-to-ship communications use, I think it boils down to the desires of the individual user. When we went to Desolation Sound in the company of friends who at the time had a 30' Newport sloop, we used DSC communications for awhile as they had used it on a five-month cruise to Alaska the previous year. But after awhile we decided it was more hassle to use than to simply call on 16 and go to a working channel, so we stopped using it. We have never used it since even though our lower helm radio is all set up for it.

We don't have anything against it. But we very seledom communicate with other boats when we are cruising unless we are actually cruising with another boat, but even then the nature of the people we cruise with means very little radio conversation anyway. So we simply prefer the speed and simplicity of calling on 16.

There are, however, some people who seem to talk on the radio nearly the entire time they're out on their boat. So for them, DSC communications probably makes more sense as it moves their continuous calls to other boaters off 16.

Regardless of whether or not one has any interest in using DSC communications, the advantages DSC provides in an emergency make it well worth having the technology on board.

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How is it more private? Just the hailing and channel negotiation part, right? The ultimate conversation is still open channel, I believe.
That is my understanding as well. The privacy comes from not announcing the working channel that's going to be used on 16.
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Old 02-24-2015, 08:52 PM   #17
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An alternative when buddy cruising is to just stay on an agreed channel. It's easy if you have two radios, one monitoring 16 and the other on your agreed working channel. Alternately, most VHFs have a scan function of some sort where you can leave them on your working channel and it will keep checking 16 automatically.

But I can definitely see how DSC could work reasonably well when buddy boating after you have your buddies programmed in.

But for hailing random boats, it seems like way more hassle than hailing on 16.

As for clicking on an AIS icon to call, I'm not seeing that as widely implemented as one might expect. It does seem like a good way to streamline the call process, but who is doing it, and doing it well? Or perhaps the question should be, who is using it?

In terms of the overall value of DSC, I still think it's worth its weight in gold just for its emergency use, and I always wire my VHFs to the GPS and chart plotter for that reason alone.
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Old 02-24-2015, 09:58 PM   #18
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Alternately, most VHFs have a scan function of some sort where you can leave them on your working channel and it will keep checking 16 automatically..
As I recall, that's what we ended up doing on the cruises with our friends with the sailboat even though we both had DSC calling capabilities.
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Old 02-24-2015, 09:59 PM   #19
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When we came down the rivers to Mobile, AL, our SH with AIS would show a tow coming towards us. I have tried many times over the 3 month period to use the MMSI to call the tow for passing instructions. I never received an answer using this function. At least I knew the Tow name and could call directly.
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Old 02-24-2015, 11:27 PM   #20
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I've had DSC on both an Icom an an SH, and tried to use them both with friends. The Icom was so complicated as to be unusable. The SH OTOH is simple and I use it for hailing friends when cruising in Voyageurs National Park or on the Mississippi.
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