While most of us rely on our cell phones for pretty much everything these days, they simply won’t cut it on the open water. A VHF marine radio remains the most versatile and efficient communication device for your boat by broadcasting messages to other vessels in the area. VHF’s reliable power source and high transmitter power make it an ideal communication tool for all boaters. Required by law, VHF enables collective safety, collaboration, and assistance for everyone on the water.
Digital Selective Calling (DSC) has drastically increased the importance of VHR radio. Now standard on devices made within the past 15 years, DSC enables you to accurately relay essential information—your name, your boat’s name, your location, and the nature of your emergency—with the push of a few buttons to all vessels within the signal range radius. Coordinated with your GPS receiver, DSC provides your exact coordinates to ensure help arrives quickly, drastically increasing the speed and reliability of distress calls. DSC also allows boats to communicate in non-emergencies with other vessels and shore stations for position reports and other routine calls, freeing up channel 16 for essential Coast Guard emergency calling.
In order to take advantage of DSC, though, you’ve got to set it up correctly before emergency strikes:
- Confirm your VHF radio is DSC equipped. Most have a red “distress” button. If you don’t see one, your radio is older than 2004 and you should likely upgrade to a newer model.
- Register your Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI), which is like a phone number for your boat. Recreational boaters can register at Sea Tow, BoatUS or US Power Squadrons.
- Follow your radio’s instruction manual to set up the DSC with your MMSI number.
- Connect the radio to your GPS.
- If it proves to be too challenging to set up the DSC and connect to GPS, seek help from a more experienced boater or hire a professional. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.