Digital Selective Calling, or DSC, instantly sends a distress call to the Coast Guard over VHF radios – but many mariners are not hooking up with the newer technology.

“Most mariners didn’t realize what DSC meant and they could actually use a DSC equipped VHF radio and send a digital signal instead of a voice signal. And it was designed to reduce some of the clutter on Channel 16, the hailing frequency.”  

Mike Folkerts is a Coast Guard Boating Safety Specialist.

All fixed-mount VHF radios built after 1996 must have DSC capability. A hook up to the Coast Guard in Alaska was acquired just two years ago via four receiver high-sites sites in Southeast and three in South Central regions, and more will be online soon.

“There was a lot of rumor that DSC didn’t work in Alaska – in reality DSC does and has worked since the technology was introduced. But the Coast Guard couldn’t hear it. 12  And that’s what we are in the process of improving at this point.”

Operation Distress Connect kicked into gear after the Coast Guard learned that 90 percent of VHF radio distress calls they received do not contain position information and 60 percent have no identity.

Folkerts says there are easy fixes – the first is to connect your GPS receiver to the VHF. Register the DSC radio and get a Mobile Maritime Safety Information ID via a Google search, and enter the MMSI number into your VHF radio.

“That is the information that when you transmit your MMSI number, which is like a personalized telephone number for your VHF radio people call you and just you, or whoever they have the number for and when you press the distress button all   that information on that  MMSI form you filled out and sent in is automatically available to the Coast Guard so they are not calling you every two minutes to find out your home phone and your emergency information they have to get.”  

Then, do a test call to make sure it’s working.

Folkerts says overall, it’s a better emergency system.

“The benefit of the Coast Guard being able to help – because you can push that distress button and send out a DSC signal and your radio will continue to send out that information. You’re not hooked by the microphone umbilical cord- you can actually go about taking care of business if you have a boat fire or person overboard or taking on water – just push the dsc distress button and take care of business. So it’s a huge advantage in that regard alone.”  

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