Find out more about Digital Selective Calling (DSC)

Digital Selective Calling (DSC) is a safety technology that has been common in fixed panel mount DSC radios used in larger vessels. With the increase in the number of small boat owners taking to sea in the UK, including kayakers and jet skiers, there has been pressure from all parties within the marine industry to produce a specification that would allow these users to have a portable VHF/DSC device.

DSC handheld VHF marine radios bought in the UK can be used throughout Europe. However the register of licensing information held by OFCOM about the user and their radio is only effective in UK territorial sea (eg. within 12 nautical miles of low tide or for example half-way across the English Channel to France.) You can still use the radio and all of its features across the continent but each member state you visit will not hold this information.

A DSC Handheld radio works just like a standard VHF handheld with a couple of additions. A DSC Handheld has a red emergency button. By pressing and holding the button for 3 seconds you can send an emergency distress signal to other vessels equipped with DSC radios as well as the Coastguard. If you have time, you can select the type of emergency from an on-screen list of options. The screen will confirm that the help message with your coordinates has been sent, and then automatically switch the radio to Channel 16, where rescuers will try to contact you by voice.

DSC radios aren’t just for emergencies. They are also very useful for group communications. Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) numbers from other DSC radios can be entered and stored in your radio’s address book. Select a name from the address book of someone you want to call; each name has a corresponding MMSI number. His or her radio will start ringing with an alert tone and automatically switch to the same channel as your radio. You can start chatting. If you and other members of your group are monitoring Channel 16, you don’t have to first hail one another on 16 and then switch to another channel.

You can also request the position coordinates of any radio listed in the address book. The other radio will reply with its latitude and longitude, and its distance and bearing will appear on your screen. The radio can serve as a GPS and set a course to the other DSC-equipped unit. (DSC doesn’t provide continuous tracking, so if the other radio is moving, you’ll need to make multiple position requests to get the current coordinates.)

Handheld DSCs differ from their fixed counterpart by having their own, unique MMSI, starting with ‘2359xxxxx’. This is because Handheld DSC’s can be carried from ship to ship, so they must not be programmed with a ship’s MMSI. Anyone who already holds a Ship Portable Radio Licence can go onto the OFCOM website and simply add VHF DSC hand held to their list of equipment. As with non VHF/DSC handheld radios, the licence covers only one piece of equipment. Licences are free of charge if issued online.