by Des Ryan
Both professional and volunteer coast guards who watch the ignorant and the irresponsible sail out on our oceans, call for help and then put rescuers lives at risk when they get into trouble, are continually seeking ways to educate boaters.
A valuable safety tool? or a piece of junk in an emergency? It might be installed, but is the DSC connected to the GPS? and is the MMSI registered?
In the USA this week the US Coast Guard have requested the National Marine Electronics Association (NMEA) to develop a new GPS product to improve safety.
The goal of the effort is to make sure that when a yacht sends off a distress signal, all the information that search and rescue teams need will be contained in the message.
New installed VHF radios are already required to be equipped with Digital Selective Calling (DSC). This extra function has streamlined distress calls, as it transmits the distress call not only to other similarly equipped vessels which may be in range, but also to search and rescue authorities like the coast guard. The data contains a unique number for the yacht – the MMSI or Maritime Mobile Service Identity. The MMSI has the boat's name, home port, owner's name. The unit also has a terminal which allows the owner to connect the unit to an onboard GPS. The problem is, owners often don't do this, and often don't even register their MMSI.
The problem is not a small one. Rear Admiral R.E Day told www.Synfo.com!Synfo this week: 'Of the roughly 100 digital selective calling distress alerts we are now receiving each month, about nine out of ten do not have position information, do not have a GPS received interconnected to their DSC-equipped radio.
'Despite the promises that DSC technology offers in significantly reducing the alert and search time for mariners in distress, there's little the Coast Guard can do after receiving a distress alert with no position information, using an unregistered MMSI and having no follow-up voice communications.
The NMEA are convinced that educating the yachting community will be the most effective way of approaching the issue. President David Hayden told Synfo this week, 'We will encourage our manufacturers and dealer members to educate the boating consumer of the need to link the DSC radio with a GPS and to register the MMSI numbers.
'But, at the end of the day, we can only recommend that boaters take these actions – we can't mandate them.'
It CAN happen to any of us, no matter what good sailors we think we are. No matter which country you are in, one day it could mean the difference between quick rescue and an untimely end, as happens to sailors across the world every month. Is YOUR DSC connected to your GPS? Is YOUR MMSI registered?