Rescue 21 expands reach

T his spring, the New York area joins the U.S. Coast Guard’s Rescue 21 system, which is part of the Global Marine Distress and Safety System. Rescue 21 is already operational in Atlantic City, N.J.; Eastern Shore, Va.; Mobile, Ala.; St. Petersburg, Fla.; Seattle; and Port Angeles, Wash.

A number of years ago, the FCC designated channel 70 exclusively for digital selective calling. To use the Coast Guard rescue system, you need a DSC-capable VHF radio and a Maritime Mobile Service Identity number. You can get a free MMSI and DSC tutorial from the BoatU.S. Foundation.

When you press the emergency button on your DSC-equipped VHF radio, you alert the Coast Guard, which receives your MMSI data and your exact position if you’ve linked your radio to GPS or LORAN.

Next, your radio automatically switches to channel 16, allowing you to announce the nature of the distress, the number of people on board and whether they’re wearing life jackets. The radio continues to send a distress signal in case the skipper is incapacitated.

In addition, DSC radios on all vessels within range switch to channel 16. If a Coast Guard vessel is too far away, another vessel monitoring your transmission might be close enough to render assistance.

You can also privately hail a DSC-equipped vessel or shore station, such as a marina, if you know its MMSI number. When you use a “VHF phone number,” the system notifies the radio of the call recipient and automatically switches to your chosen channel. This helps keep unnecessary traffic off channels 9 and 16.

DSC-equipped VHF radios have come a long way, and today you can buy a one for about $150.

To find out when Rescue 21 will be implemented in your area, check out the implementation schedule.