View Poll Results: Is your primary VHF radio DSC capable and enabled?
My radio is not DSC capable. 9 12.00%
My radio is DSC capable and connected to GPS, but I have not registered for an MMSI number. 5 6.67%
My radio is DSC capable but not connected to GPS. 13 17.33%
My radio is connected and registered for full DSC functionality. 47 62.67%
I don't know if my radio has DSC capability. 1 1.33%
Voters: 75. You may not vote on this poll

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Old 02-02-2014, 07:28 AM   #41
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I am surprised to see as of today 18% of respondants have either not connected their DSC capable radios to their GPS or have not applied for an MMSI number. Because most of us on TF are real boating enthusiasts I think the number of boaters in general who have not connected and registered their radios is probably higher. Shame on the CG for not being more proactive in enlightening the boating community in the value of this free service.

Guys, this is plainly a no-brainer. An EPIRB is no substitute for DSC. When an emergency DSC call is initiated every DSC enable boat in the area will be notified and those boats with GPS connected receiving the distress signal will show the location of the distressed boat on their GPS. In most boating areas, a fellow boater will likely be much closer and be able to render assistance much quicker than the CG. Since DSC is transmitted via VHF it is line of sight.

Many new VHF radios also have an AIS receiver. A nice feature but just know that if operating in fog or reduced visibility that very few recreational boats have an AIS transmitter.

Also it's important to know how to initiate a distress call. I remind the admiral every time we go out that to initial a distress call the red button must be held down while the radio does a count down of about 3 seconds before the distress call is initiated. A tone is initiated confirming the radio has sent the distress call. 3 seconds is a long time when the boat is sinking, on fire, MOB, etc.

Standard Horizon (SH) tech's will help those who have SH DSC capable radios. Call them if you have a SH radio, they have diagrams of most chart plotters and will tell you exactly which wire to connect to the plotter.
While I agree that DSC is a great tool and does a great job of complimenting an EPIRB, and in many cases IS superior to an EPIRB for getting help to you faster.....but...

VHF communications are not as reliable as EPIRBs have proven themselves and thus as a former SAR guy...I'd have to say an EPIRB is still a much more secure rescue device than DSC. Maybe someday...but not yet would I solely trust my life to a DSC radio.

Have both but the nod goes to the EPIRB...
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Old 02-02-2014, 07:29 AM   #42
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Well, I'm not surprised at the poll results at all. I don't debate for a second it's a valuable capability, but it's still ridiculously complicated to configure. Just as another poster said, proprietary radio jacks (or no jacks at all, just bare wires), every GPS unit interface is a little different, hidden menus like you're Edward Snowden cracking an NSA system, then there's the awful FCC website that isn't nearly as clear as it could be - talk about slinging jargon and acronyms around. I'm a government bureaucrat myself and found that FCC site one of the worst examples I've seen of obscure gov speak. Meanwhile I can pull my cell phone out of my pocket (I know, if I'm close enough to shore to be in cell range), one tap open GPS Essentials for exact coordinates, and dial 911 - or heck, for many 911 dispatch centers now they triangulate my coordinates on cell towers. I'll get the DSC configuration finished this spring but until the whole process gets drastically easier - and most boaters seldom leave cell phone range - I don't think those poll results will change much.
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Old 02-02-2014, 07:41 AM   #43
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Well, I'm not surprised at the poll results at all. I don't debate for a second it's a valuable capability, but it's still ridiculously complicated to configure.
On newer radios that has changed, I think encouraged by the CG from feed back such as yours.

EPIRB's notify SAR resources, DSC notify fellow boaters and the CG. I think both are equally reliable if properly installed and used. Just my opinion.

Personally I have both, but I would probably use DSC if I needed emergency help where I generally boat, the ICW. Open water without a doubt - EPIRB, it's in our ditch bag.
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Old 02-02-2014, 07:51 AM   #44
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On newer radios that has changed, I think encouraged by the CG from feed back such as yours.

EPIRB's notify SAR resources, DSC notify fellow boaters and the CG. I think both are equally reliable if properly installed and used. Just my opinion.

Personally I have both, but I would probably use DSC if I needed emergency help where I generally boat, the ICW. Open water without a doubt - EPIRB, it's in our ditch bag.
Really not possible. VHF antennas have blind spots, both yours and the USCGs as well as the other boaters. The blind spots are cause by topography as well as dead spots in antennas.

Sometimes you are out of VHF range of other boaters so the USCG/SeaTow (digital radio) is still the only receiver in some cases.

Though other boaters hear you...many do not respond surprisingly so.

EPIRBs do only notify rescue resources but within just a few minutes the USCG is broadcasting a PAN PAN of your situation.

Yes to having and using both...but if you are betting your life on a device to save you...please take the safer bet.

Reality for most of us is that we carry both...just use both...no harm... no foul....
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Old 02-02-2014, 09:35 AM   #45
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Mine is tied to GPS and has an MMSI loaded. Never heard a DSC emergency call, but two of us do have each other's MMSI loaded to call each other. The first time my radio rang I almost fell out of the helm. The Coast Guard doesn't have Rescue 21 deployed in Alaska yet but has some plans to deploy a modified system by 2017. DSC is a good concept poorly implemented.
I think the Coast Guard is working on Alaska right now. A gentleman (Jim Rackly) is heading up the project. He is retired Coast Guard, and is the Comm guru in Alaska.
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Old 02-02-2014, 02:05 PM   #46
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I spoke to a Coastie about the DSC system years ago and while he liked it, he said he had a high level of confidence in their ability to locate boats with the Rescue 21 system in place for the SF Bay and California Delta.
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Old 02-02-2014, 03:44 PM   #47
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None of my radios have DSC.
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Old 02-02-2014, 03:51 PM   #48
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Actually I ripped out a perfectly functioning radio because it didn't have DSC functions. If anyone is in need of a Presidential radio I'd be happy to mail it to you for the cost of shipping.
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Old 02-02-2014, 05:37 PM   #49
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Actually I ripped out a perfectly functioning radio because it didn't have DSC functions. If anyone is in need of a Presidential radio I'd be happy to mail it to you for the cost of shipping.
Sure. Mail that puppy to me. I'll do a PM.
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Old 02-02-2014, 07:47 PM   #50
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Well, I'm not surprised at the poll results at all. I don't debate for a second it's a valuable capability, but it's still ridiculously complicated to configure. Just as another poster said, proprietary radio jacks (or no jacks at all, just bare wires), every GPS unit interface is a little different, hidden menus like you're Edward Snowden cracking an NSA system, then there's the awful FCC website that isn't nearly as clear as it could be - talk about slinging jargon and acronyms around. I'm a government bureaucrat myself and found that FCC site one of the worst examples I've seen of obscure gov speak. Meanwhile I can pull my cell phone out of my pocket (I know, if I'm close enough to shore to be in cell range), one tap open GPS Essentials for exact coordinates, and dial 911 - or heck, for many 911 dispatch centers now they triangulate my coordinates on cell towers. I'll get the DSC configuration finished this spring but until the whole process gets drastically easier - and most boaters seldom leave cell phone range - I don't think those poll results will change much.
It wasn't a problem at all for me connecting a ten year old Standard Horizon VHF to a Garmin plotter. Just a matter of looking at the wiring diagram for each and connecting the correct wires together. BoatUS will assign you a number and the instructions for entering the number are in the radio owners manual.

If it's too difficult, pay a pro to do it. That's better than sitting around complaining about how hard it is to do. It should take a pro just a few minutes.

A cell phone is a pretty poor substitute for DSC.
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Old 02-02-2014, 11:01 PM   #51
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I will install a S.H. vhf with the built in gps this spring. It's in the box at home.

One thing I strongly disagree with though is any assertion that cell phones are anywhere near a replacement for a good radio. That may be true on your coast but is absolute rubbish on this coast and has darn near gotten people killed because they think it is the same or a replacement. IT IS NOT. A good additional tool yes, but not even a poor replacement.
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Old 02-02-2014, 11:24 PM   #52
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Don't have a DSC radio. But I do have an MMSI number. My son and I both have Radio Operators Certificates. Awaiting the convergence of an AIS equipped GPS enabled radio, maybe Standard Horizon will breed an Explorer GPS with a Matrix + someday...
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Old 02-03-2014, 12:04 AM   #53
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Oh, I wouldn't argue for a minute that a cell phone is a good substitute for VHF at all, I just point out that for a lot of recreational or weekend-only boaters, if given the a choice of hassling with a DSC/GPS configuration, reading the wiring diagrams, making the connections, finding the hidden menus, hoping you don't have to ship your radio to the factory if somebody tried to enter a number once or twice previously -- or simply tapping a cell phone for 911 -- well, I won't beat the topic, there's a reason why I'll bet 80% (simply a wild guess, but I'll bet I'm close) of boaters overall never follow through with the full DSC/GPS installation. And maybe some guys find wiring and wiring diagrams and multiple and hidden system menus easy enough to handle, good for you, but I don't. And even if I can work my way through it all -- and I will finish the whole process when they put the boat in the water this spring -- I'd still rather use my time for something else (and no, there is no professional for at least 240 miles I could have hired or I would have done that already). And remember the quickie number you get from BoatUS is only good (I mean only registered in the SAR databases) in the US, not internationally, so when we do the Loop in a few years I want everything to work and be properly documented and be registered properly in Canadian waters too, hence my extra FCC hassle.
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Old 02-03-2014, 12:25 AM   #54
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Haven't upgraded to a new VHF radio yet. The VHF is one of those things that I rarely use anymore. We try to monitor it while underway, but seldom have a reason to actually use it. I remember using it once last year to call a harbor master for a slip assignment. For our marine area DSC isn't real high on the priority list at the moment.
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Old 02-03-2014, 06:22 AM   #55
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I rarely use my VHF too. Occasional call to a bridge tender or marina. Mostly used to check its working condition by calling Sea Tows automated radio check on CH 27.

I do however have a reminder to turn it on on my pre departure checklist.
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Old 02-03-2014, 09:20 AM   #56
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...BoatUS will assign you a number...
BoatUS can assign you a number but the number it is not valid outside the US. This is from their web site.

Registration Criteria
BoatUS has been authorized by both the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the U.S. Coast Guard to assign MMSI numbers only to vessels that meet the following criteria:
  • Used for recreation only
  • Not required by law to carry a radio
  • Do not make international voyages or communications
Do NOT Register with BoatUS MMSI if:

  • your vessel is required to carry a radio onboard (“Compulsory Equipped”)
  • you plan to visit or communicate in a foreign port including Canada, Mexico, Bahamas, and the British Virgin Islands
If either of the above conditions apply, you are legally required to obtain a Ship Station License from the FCC. They will issue an appropriate MMSI with the License
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Old 02-03-2014, 09:29 AM   #57
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Enabled with MMSI and GPS location. Also AIS transreceiver. All Garmin networked
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Old 02-03-2014, 09:48 AM   #58
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Haven't upgraded to a new VHF radio yet. The VHF is one of those things that I rarely use anymore. We try to monitor it while underway, but seldom have a reason to actually use it. ........
I call marinas on the phone to make a reservation or see if they have open slips but after that, they usually ask me to use the VHF once I get close for docking instructions.

I use the VHF for bridge openings and have used it when in close proximity to large ships to find out their speed or intentions so I can stay out of their way.

I also use the VHF for passing situations although it's usually me who is being passed.

You really shouldn't be without one (or two, a handheld).
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