Fitting a Digital Selective Calling (DSC) radio on your vessel and knowing the procedure in an emergency could save your life, says HM Coastguard

Fitting a Digital Selective Calling (DSC) radio on your fishing vessel and knowing the procedure in an emergency could save your life. Photo: Planefocus

Fitting a Digital Selective Calling (DSC) radio on your vessel and knowing how to use it in an emergency could save your life, says HM Coastguard.

If the worst were to happen at sea, using a DSC radio correctly can save vital time in getting those in trouble back to the shore.

Calling HM Coastguard with DSC in an emergency significantly helps in locating an incident and providing that help.

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Most fixed VHF radios come with built-in DSC, meaning the Coastguard can be called easily and fast.

Assistant Chief Coastguard Matt Leat said: “DSC means information is sent quickly and clearly so a rescue can begin right away. As well as having a registered personal locator beacon (PLB) per crew member on board, with DSC you’ll be assisting the Coastguard in locating you much faster.

“No one wants to be in an emergency situation and have to use DSC or a PLB, but that does not mean your vessel should not be equipped. Without these, we wouldn’t know someone was in difficulty, let alone where they might be.

“Fishing vessels in particular are repeatedly becoming involved in challenging situations, perhaps not responding in the correct and most efficient manner. We want this to change to help prevent further loss of life at sea.”

emergency radio procedures fishing

DSC radio and a PLB are just two of the items to have on board Photo: Planefocus


Your DSC radio in action

DSC Distress alerts work quite simply by pushing a button for three seconds. It demands no other skill or knowledge. The DSC signal is sent automatically every four minutes on a special VHF channel.

It will be picked up by any nearby VHF DSC-equipped vessels or by the Coastguard.

Your radio will switch to Channel 16, the emergency voice channel, to allow contact from HM Coastguard when they receive the alert.

Your MMSI number is included in every DSC distress alert. With this, Coastguard can get the vessel name and description as well as who it is registered to.

If your radio is connected to a GPS, then your location will also be immediately transmitted.

In an emergency you may not have much time, and this is where a correctly set up DSC radio truly matters.


Setting up your DSC radio

First, you will need a Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) for your radio, which, in the UK, can be applied for through Ofcom.

Once you have your MMSI, you need to manually input this into your radio. DSC will not work if you don’t do this.

You should also link your radio to your vessel’s GPS. DSC does work without GPS, but GPS connection enables your current location to be immediately transmitted to the Coastguard, as well as other vessels in the area that may be able to help.


Free resource for DSC use

A free emergency radio procedures sticker for your vessel, available for UK based fishing vessels only, can be ordered here.

This provides instructions on how to use DSC radio, as well as what to say on Channel 16 in an emergency situation.

Matt added: “It’s so important to know what to say in an emergency. Vessel name, MMSI number, position, number of crew members on board – the right communication can make a big difference to the speed of an operation and your chance of rescue.

“DSC radios should be on every vessel, but how to use it effectively is just as crucial.”

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