VHF - a diverse communications device you are not using enough?

 Sailor VHF/DSC Radio

Sailor VHF/DSC Radio

Seelonce Feenee forever?

For many, the smartphone has replaced much of the daily chatter amongst sailors. A modern smartphone offers functionality and ease of use never before seen. Several Facebook Groups keeps you updated and well informed on almost all maritime matters 24 hours a day.

The introduction of DSC further reduced the number of audible calls on channel 16. A few years ago channel 16 was buzzing all day long. Now a whole day can go by without as much as a whisper in some areas. But, it does not have to be like that.

Part of the funding and existence of the coastal radio stations are based on demand. There will always be commercial and offshore traffic that requires a Maritime Radio Service, but everyone else at sea in recreational craft should use the VHF much more. In fact, the Norwegian Coastal Radio Stations are asking people to use the VHF to other matters than declaring emergencies, such as asking for an updated weather forecast, to recommend a nice harbour or make free phone calls within Norway. So why not do a monthly radio check from now on?

Norway are digitising the costal radio stations in 2018

There is absolutely no reason to forget the old VHF mounted on the bulkhead at the nav table. No reason whatsoever. The VHF/DSC system is alive and well and we should be using it more. Safety is by far the most important argument.

But, there are also important changes in certain countries too. I april 2017. Maritime Radio must keep up with the development in tech. Telenor, Norways biggest telecommunications service provider, said in a press release they would cut three costal radio stations from five to two. From January 2018, Norway will have two stations. Station North and Station South who will now serve the entire 25000 kilometer coastline of Norway. Opponents of the move from Telenor are concerned valuable local knowledge amongst the operators is lost. The Ministry of Justice, who's mandate is what Telenors operations are based on, claim local knowledge has become less critical over the past decades because new modern technical solutions can replace this. However, the Ministry adds: "In spite of this, the two new main Coastal Radio Stations will be manned with personal from the stations now being closed, to partly maintain local knowledge".

 Beacon in Norway. Photo by Daniel Novello

Beacon in Norway. Photo by Daniel Novello

DSC/VHF radio protocol

DSC VHF radios work just like normal VHF radios but with some added extra features. They use a dedicated channel (Channel 70) to send and receive information digitally. When you register your VHF with you local licence office you will receive an MMSI number for the radio - think of it as your ship's telephone number. A DSC radio can send a distress message at the touch of a button. It simply broadcasts a programmed distress text message on Channel 70 to everyone in range. This text message contains your MMSI number but can also include your position if you link your DSC radio to your GPS.

The text message will set off alarms on all nearby commercial ships, at the coastguard, the coastal radio stations and on any other vessel that has a DSC radio. Sets receiving the call (and the transmitting set) re-tune to Channel 16 immediately.

On most DSC radios the button that sends the distress message is large and red – normally have to lift a cover and then press and hold it for a few seconds.

If you find the abbreviations confusing, this is what you should do: Turn the VHF on, dial in channel 16 and slowly broadcast your message like this:

Mayday message

Say slowly and clearly:

“Mayday, Mayday, Mayday”
“This is (name of vessel)” [spoken three times]
“Mayday”
Your vessel's name, call sign and MMSI number [spoken once]
Your position
The nature of distress [for example, “the boat is sinking”]
Immediate assistance required
How many people are on board
Any other information
“Over”

This voice Mayday message can be sent without using DSC.

Pan-Pan message

Say slowly and clearly:

“Pan Pan, Pan Pan, Pan Pan”
Your MMSI number and your vessel's name [spoken three times]
Your position
The nature of the situation [for example, “rig failure”]
What you intend to do
“Over”


 Channel Plan for Norway 2017. To be updated in 2018, by: Telenor Maritime Radio.

Channel Plan for Norway 2017. To be updated in 2018, by: Telenor Maritime Radio.

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