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Old 16 September 2012, 16:31   #1
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DSC - Is it all its cracked up to be?

So 3 weeks ago I discovered a website with a live feed of Solent VHF CH16, 67 etc. It also tracks DSC messages and DSC Distress Alerts.

I expected this to be full of DSC messages and alerts. Listening in there is certainly PLENTY of traffic on 16 and 67. Quite an eye opener as I've not been on the water in the solent since having a VHF radio and the amount of traffic is vast compared to my home waters. But good lord are there some numpties on the water down there.

Its been an amusing few hours ona weekend spent sat working at the 'puter listening to WAFIs and Gin Palaces discovering the concept of the tide means the water depth may change over time and they might bump their bottoms.

Virtually none of these groudnings, or the numerous 'lost engines' have been declared PAN PANs though I always understood they should be. in 3 weekends there has been 1 DSC distress alert which was sent as a distress but voiced as a PAN PAN for a grounding. Solent CG didn't acknowledge the DSC within 4 minutes as they were voice working the caller as a pan pan but the alert was a mayday so it was re-transmitted by the calling radio and at the same time retransmitted by 2 other stations as it hadn't been acknowledged.

So... ...if there is an alert it doesn't seem to get responded to as efficiently as the books would claim. They asked for all the boat details, position, call sign, MMSI etc then seemed to realise it was the DSC boat. So they already had all that.

However, thats not the bit that surprises me. In a panic people will never want to hit the red button till the water is round their ears.

What surprises me is that the number of digital calls is tiny. Less than 50 in today... and that includes replies to calls so <25. That seems miniscule. People seem happier to go to a listening channel, repeat their name 3 times far too quickly to be heard and then get impatient when they get no response...

Am I missing something or is DSC not all its claimed to be? I'd far rather programme in my Marinas and contacts and be able to page them direct and not worry about them hearing their name in amongst all the traffic...

Don't even get me started on the number of people who should be calling Port Solent on CH80 who call on 16! Or the constant radio checks to CG on 16 when even though I don't sail the Solent I know Solent CG prefer boat to boat radio checks and if thats not possible to do them on 67 with CG.
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Old 16 September 2012, 16:36   #2
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hmm what the web site.?
When I did my VHF course they made us call the CG on 16 then the CG directs you to 67 for the radio check. I have even been made to spell out the boats name for the radio check.

Is that not the correct porcedure? Call CG on 16 then move the th eworking channel when instructed?
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Old 16 September 2012, 16:47   #3
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ship-tracking.co.uk

In normal areas where you can get a word in edgeways on the radio that is considered normal practice call on 16, transfer to 67 (or for portalnd coz solent is so busy on 16 and 67 they'll move you to 73). Although if its just for a radio check it actually takes more air time to move you than for you to call and include radio check in your initial call. That should also let the CG guys understand the priority of your call. In Solent they often come back and say "If your call is routine traffic please go channel 67 otherwise go ahead" that seems to be because the callers don't identify to CG on 16 that their call has any urgency to it like a PAN PAN prefix! I guess they can hear the fear in their voices!!

In Solent Area 16 is so busy with people who parked their big shiny white thing on a rock and want the AA to come and top up their empty fuel they have a constant listening watch on 67 to deal with routine traffic so they prefer you to call all non-urgent work direct on 67 to avoid clocking 16 up.

But if you are using DSC you can call them with DSC and nominate the working channel as 67 in that process so you never speak on 16 so leave it free for a distress call.
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Old 16 September 2012, 18:34   #4
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The user interface and user experience on most dsc radios is so poor I'm not surprised average punters aren't using them properly. Especially since the rya course is largely focussed around distress rather than routine calling, and in the vast majority of cases will be on a single brand of radio - so at the very least excluding half the users.
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Old 17 September 2012, 01:44   #5
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An excellent point Pol.
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Old 17 September 2012, 04:22   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Poly View Post
The user interface and user experience on most dsc radios is so poor I'm not surprised average punters aren't using them properly. Especially since the rya course is largely focussed around distress rather than routine calling, and in the vast majority of cases will be on a single brand of radio - so at the very least excluding half the users.
Yes. To my mind, for routine traffic DSC just adds another layer of complication and delay to what should be quick and simple communication. Direct calling to CG on a working channel, bypassing 16, seems a good idea.

The real benefit of DSC is the automatic distress and urgency alerting which, provided the VHF is connected to a GPS, gives a position (and slightly better range than voice calls). It takes just a few seconds, there is no need to talk if there's no time.

If a distress alert is received and no further contact is made then I think the GC will mobilise resources to the position as they know that there is some sort of casualty.
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Old 17 September 2012, 07:07   #7
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on my VHF training course, I spend time on routine traffic - after all hopefully this is the most thing you will use your radio for.

Different brands are slightly different to use, but this is like mobiles too!

I always offer to go to the persons boat if they are local to me and go through the radio with them, after the course.

the CG only listen to 16 on a speaker - no dedicated watch - and Forth Coastguard only had 4 on duty at any time. So making a "dedicated"watch on 67 not practical. If you used The DSC call there radio will bleep and no messing about on 16 or relying on somebody releasing you on 67.

Solent I believe is one of the few places that uses 67 as routine due to the sheer volume.

Programme the MMSi of the CG into radio and routine calling is easier...
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Old 17 September 2012, 07:32   #8
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All three Channel Islands CGs listen out on their working channel 24/7 as well as 16. Not saying what is right or wrong, just for info.

Spending time on routine calls and DSC seems like an excellent component of the course.
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Old 17 September 2012, 07:39   #9
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I only ever take 6 people as maximum on a course instead of 12! and routinely run courses with only 2! so suppose I have but more time for people to learn the radios..

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Old 17 September 2012, 07:52   #10
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Quote:
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Yes. To my mind, for routine traffic DSC just adds another layer of complication and delay to what should be quick and simple communication. Direct calling to CG on a working channel, bypassing 16, seems a good idea.
actually I'd disagree. I think its a perfectly sensible approach - its just its poorly taught and clumsily executed. The instructor on my course encouraged us to use DSC for routine stuff so we got more used to the functions of our own radios - but actually spent very little time (and no practice) doing it.

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The real benefit of DSC is the automatic distress and urgency alerting which, provided the VHF is connected to a GPS, gives a position (and slightly better range than voice calls). It takes just a few seconds, there is no need to talk if there's no time.
I think it is mis sold as this being the only real benefit. A fairly useful benefit is keeping 16 free. The ability to position poll a friends boat e.g. is also another useful feature but not taught on the course.

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on my VHF training course, I spend time on routine traffic - after all hopefully this is the most thing you will use your radio for.
In my experience (which is obviously limited as doing the course once was bad enough) this is probably not the norm. Whilst we did touch on routine calling, 80+% of the time was spent on distress calling. Something which as Alystra says is supposed to be pretty simple.
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Different brands are slightly different to use, but this is like mobiles too!
I have owned at least 4 different brands of phone, all of which had differences in how you found or set things. All were easier to use than any DSC radio the first time you pick it up, especially for key functions like making a call or sending a text. I've not seen any radios which were even remotely as intuitive to use as a smartphone.

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Programme the MMSi of the CG into radio and routine calling is easier...
is there anyway to programme them all as a group, make a group call to all the CG's and let whichever is local answer? Whilst I'm sure I will get a response if I call "Clyde Coastguard" when I am actually in "Stornoway's" patch with a voice call, presumably that is a potential problem with DSC?
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Old 17 September 2012, 07:56   #11
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Spending time on routine calls and DSC seems like an excellent component of the course.
The thing that disappointed me most on my course was not hearing a well constructed "traffic report". The CG want people to tell them their plans but unlike the Mayday message which should take a standard format (although in fact in the heat of the moment any clear message will do) it strikes me that people would be more likely to file if the expectation was clear.
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Old 17 September 2012, 08:01   #12
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Quote:
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The thing that disappointed me most on my course was not hearing a well constructed "traffic report". The CG want people to tell them their plans but unlike the Mayday message which should take a standard format (although in fact in the heat of the moment any clear message will do) it strikes me that people would be more likely to file if the expectation was clear.

for me you have hit your own nail on the head....

As long as its CLEAR it really doesn't matter how you say it ...its not an emergency and the big advantage of having a person on the radio is that our/thier brains ( hopefully ) can make sense of stuff.

I love talking on the radio .. I just always say to myself and onyone else that the person on the other end is there to make life easier / safer/ more simple etc ....
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Old 17 September 2012, 08:02   #13
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The thing that disappointed me most on my course was not hearing a well constructed "traffic report". The CG want people to tell them their plans but unlike the Mayday message which should take a standard format (although in fact in the heat of the moment any clear message will do) it strikes me that people would be more likely to file if the expectation was clear.
Hmm. I'm sure it was part of my course talking about general structures. Either call up and they then ask for specific info or make a list and read it out.

Usually POB, time on route, perhaps roughly where youre going and that you'll check in when you get there
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Old 17 September 2012, 14:52   #14
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is there anyway to programme them all as a group, make a group call to all the CG's and let whichever is local answer? Whilst I'm sure I will get a response if I call "Clyde Coastguard" when I am actually in "Stornoway's" patch with a voice call, presumably that is a potential problem with DSC?
No there is no way, and if there was no you shouldn't use that method! Your DSC message will go to potentially 3 CGs the one you want the one to your left and the one to your right. On the west coast of Scotland ireland too...

Your reach will be further than with voice. You'd have CG waiting for your voice call on 67 which they might never get.

Group Calling requires a Group MMSI and you'd need both the CG and you to have it in the set.
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Old 17 September 2012, 15:01   #15
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Yes. To my mind, for routine traffic DSC just adds another layer of complication and delay to what should be quick and simple communication. Direct calling to CG on a working channel, bypassing 16, seems a good idea.
If you accept that a normal CG station has a limitted number of staff, is listening to 16 (possibly only on speaker although in Solent they would never get anything done!) and someone taking phone calls and communicating with shore teams then its not realistic for everyone to have a listening watch on 67 as well as 16. A DSC call provides that capabiliy for you.

Quote:
The real benefit of DSC is the automatic distress and urgency alerting which, provided the VHF is connected to a GPS, gives a position (and slightly better range than voice calls). It takes just a few seconds, there is no need to talk if there's no time.
Clearly the magic red button is important. However, I think the menu structure is teribble on any set i've used. I'd far rather press the red button briefly to get a choice of distress reasons and switch between urgency and distress. Hold it in to just transmit with an unspecified alert.
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Old 18 September 2012, 14:48   #16
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I like DSC and use it frequently. However, I never use it to contct the CG for routine messages and can't see any benefit for doing so. Any non-urgent communication to the CG will always require voice communication so I just go straight to voice and get to the point as succinctly as possible.

The benefits of DSC from my persepective are a simple emergency system for non-trained radio users and also to get position reports or strike up contact will other boaters when I'm cruisung in company or can see the MMSI from AIS. The downside is the need to enter 9 digit 'phone' numbers if you haven't got them preprogrammed.
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Old 18 September 2012, 14:52   #17
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I like DSC and use it frequently. However, I never use it to contct the CG for routine messages and can't see any benefit for doing so. Any non-urgent communication to the CG will always require voice communication so I just go straight to voice and get to the point as succinctly as possible.

The benefits of DSC from my persepective are a simple emergency system for non-trained radio users and also to get position reports or strike up contact will other boaters when I'm cruisung in company or can see the MMSI from AIS. The downside is the need to enter 9 digit 'phone' numbers if you haven't got them preprogrammed.
Which is why AIS combined with an NMEA2k radio is so good because it gives "click and call" functionality

The whole group CG thing is not a bad idea though..
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Old 18 September 2012, 15:32   #18
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I never use it to contct the CG for routine messages and can't see any benefit for doing so.
The benefit is probably not yours. Either you may be overspeaking someone who is too far from you to hear or you are using airtime on 16 when it should be free for emergency work.

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Which is why AIS combined with an NMEA2k radio is so good because it gives "click and call" functionality

The whole group CG thing is not a bad idea though..
CG stations have AIS - so can you point and click them? Doesn't help if the CG station is MILES and MILES away (Berwick --> Humber!) as wont be on screen.
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Old 18 September 2012, 15:40   #19
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The benefit is probably not yours. Either you may be overspeaking someone who is too far from you to hear or you are using airtime on 16 when it should be free for emergency work.
To be fair, our CG expect all routine calls to be made on 82. If you call on 16 they almost condescendingly ask you to change to the working channel. There is an even higher risk of overspeaking someone as it is duplex too! But it seems to work fine overall.
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Old 18 September 2012, 16:46   #20
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The benefit is probably not yours. Either you may be overspeaking someone who is too far from you to hear or you are using airtime on 16 when it should be free for emergency work.


CG stations have AIS - so can you point and click them? Doesn't help if the CG station is MILES and MILES away (Berwick --> Humber!) as wont be on screen.
You would be able to do this however not really practical seeing as AIS range on a RIB is only 10nm absolute tops. Best thing to do is just program them all into your phone book on the drive at home
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