Previous VHF radio without DSC.
So far, VHF calls to other ships or coastal stations was done via channel 16. A prerequisite is that other ships are listening to this channel as well. Then they will agree to continue the conversation on another working channel. For emergency calls the common international emergency MAYDAY is sent.
VHF radio with DSC.
The MMSI or DSC-number: your personal "phone number". A fundamental innovation in DCS is the MMSI number. With the MMSI number, ships, rescue services and coastal stations have their own identifying number. Via the MMSI number other ships can be called directly with one button. (Instead of using the general channel 16, which is often not monitored). You can directly contact other VHF partners via DSC by means of programmable MMSI numbers.
With the novel feature of the group call, you can talk to a pre-selected group of yachts and ships via DSC/VHF. This is particularly beneficial when racing or flotilla sailing. During an alarm message, the VHF receiver will automatically switch to your working channel.
All ship security alert emergency services or coastal stations first of all involve weather and other navigational warnings. In this case, an alarm sound is emitted by your DSC/VHF radio. Then you only need to press one button for alarm acceptance to receive the ship's safety message.
Every ship that might need urgent help, but is not in a life-threatening situation, can issue a message via DSC/VHF, for example if a rudder is damaged or the vessel needs to be towed. After an urgent message via DSC/VHF, ships in the vicinity or coastal stations will reply and coordinate rescue efforts.
Emergency calls are sent and received via DSC. In case of a distress call, pressing the distress/alarm button of a DSC/VHF radio activates a distress alarm along with the cause and position/time (if combined with a GPS receiver), without other ships and coastal stations having to constantly listen to channel 16. The rescue services or other vessels will only have to stay in contact on channel 16 after that.
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In addition to a stationary maritime radio, a handheld radio at sea can make communication on board or over short distances much easier. Especially on larger ships, a handheld radio for internal communication is a reliable means, but more and more skippers of smaller boats are equipped with a handheld radio capable of sending and receiving DSC.